We're a day away from the Week 5 contest matchup between the San Francisco 49ers and Kansas City Chiefs, and it's time for a little "5 questions with the enemy". This week, Joel Thorman from Arrowhead Pride took a few minutes to tell us more about his Chiefs. On Thursday, we talked Under the Radar players on each team, and on Friday we discussed why each team might lose.
AP: That has to be a concern for the Chiefs. Last week's win over the Patriots on Monday night was very energetic and emotional for everyone so you're crazy if you don't at least wonder about that. That said, dating back to last season and with only a few outliers, the Chiefs have been pretty consistent. Andy Reid isn't an overly emotional coach which should serve the Chiefs well in a week like this.
NN: Alex Smith was a big part of the Chiefs playoff run last year. How do Chiefs fans reconcile that playoff run and the subsequent contract extension with the fact that Smith sometimes leaves you pulling your hair out with the more conservative play style? Or have you seen more from Smith than what 49ers fans might have grown used to?
AP: This requires some context from where Chiefs fans were coming from. We were coming off four years where we were sold Matt Cassel as a franchise quarterback and a season (2012) where the Chiefs turned it over a comical amount of times. So a quarterback coming in who doesn't necessarily light up the scoreboard but keeps the turnovers down was actually a welcome change. Plus, our first impression of Smith is him winning 11 games in Kansas City. You can talk about how great the Chiefs defense has played at times but a great defense only works if the quarterback isn't throwing 20 picks. So credit Alex for fitting into the system. Alex is on pace to have over 500 attempts for the second straight season, which he never did in San Francisco. From that standpoint, we've seen more from him than 49ers fans did.
But I have to ask myself: What are the Chiefs asking him to be? Go back and look at Andy Reid's history. Would you be surprised to hear he has never had a 4,000 yard passer? Once you step back and look at what the Chiefs need him to do to be successful, you look at it differently. As for the extension, I chalk that up to the quarterback contract market being awful right now. Smith's extension puts him just outside the top 10 paid quarterbacks. Once Andrew Luck, Russell Wilson and Cam Newton get their new contracts, he'll be around the middle of the pack, which is about right. Quarterbacks are just too damn expensive!
NN: It seems like Jamaal Charles's involvement is a little less pronounced this season. Is this because of Travis Kelce? Given what Kelce has done, tell us a little bit about what he now brings to the table.
AP: Jamaal Charles has been dealing with a high ankle sprain suffered in Week 2, which caused him to miss the Week 3 game. He came back in Week 4 but split carries with Knile Davis, and things turned out nicely. Travis Kelce on the other hand has been a beast for the Chiefs. I watched him in training camp and he looked like he could be a star, but you never really know during training camp. He will line up all over the place -- in-line tight end, in the slot or anywhere else. The Chiefs are looking for the best matchups (like a 5'10 Jimmie Ward). He is deceptively fast, has great hands and knows how to use his size. As he develops as a blocker -- thus bringing more flexibility to the Chiefs offensive formations and making the defense guess more -- he will be more involved in the Chiefs offense.
NN: What is the primary strength and primary weakness of the Chiefs defense?
AP: The strength of the Chiefs defense is the pass rush. It's really all based on that. The Chiefs will have Tamba Hali and Justin Houston coming around the edges. Once Colin Kaepernick steps up in the pocket to avoid them, the idea is that Dontari Poe is pushing the middle of the pocket. If the Chiefs pass rush is on, they create turnovers, which is the key. The Chiefs have had some run defense issues, particularly when they're in the nickel. They can also get beat deep when the pass rush doesn't get there. The secondary play has been up and down since the second half of last season so that would be an area to target.
NN: What exactly do you make of this Chiefs team at the quarter point? They dropped that opener to the Titans, but followed it up with a competitive loss to Denver and then back-to-back wins. They seem to be better than the loss to the Titans would indicate, but where do you think they actually settle in?
AP: That Titans game is such an outlier. Go look at all the Chiefs games last year -- they didn't really get blown out by anybody, especially not a team like the Titans. After that Titans game, the Chiefs took the Broncos to the wire and dominated the Dolphins on the road and the Patriots at home. I sit here at the quarter mark and think the Chiefs are closer to an 11-win team than a 4 or 5 win team (which we thought was coming after Week 1).
The real test for the Chiefs is beating the top quarterbacks in the league. Tom Brady last week was a start. Last season the Chiefs losses were to Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers and Andrew Luck -- all very good quarterbacks. The secondary tends to get exposed against those quarterbacks. Until the Chiefs prove they can beat a quarterback like that, which is who they'll face in the postseason, their ceiling is probably the same as last season's team -- possibly playoff contender but not a real threat to advance until they can prove they can beat those elite teams.