“The defense was focusing on ‘We’ve gotta stop Jamaal Charles.’ Now, they’ve gotta stop a team,” Chiefs running back Charcandrick West during the week leading up to Sunday’s game against San Diego. At first glance, it sounds like typical player speak – one guy talking up the team’s effort after a key guy went down. When you take a second look, and only then, do you realize just how much truth is in his words.
Since Andy Reid came to town in 2013, Charles took productivity to a whole new level. As the NFL’s best do it all back, he recorded 3,304 scrimmage yards and 33 total touchdowns in two seasons. Considering the rest of the Chiefs offense gained 10,496 yards and 44 touchdowns in the same time span, Jamaal’s accomplishments are other-wordly. Through five games this season, Jamaal gained 541 total yards and 5 scores, meaning he was on pace for 1,731 scrimmage yards and 16 scores. That was before he tore his ACL in the Chiefs loss to the Chicago Bears. They would lose to Minnesota the next week, at after a 1-5 start, Kansas City was written off. From mainstream media to their very fans, the Chiefs offense wasn’t expected to produce without its star back. “Game manager” Alex Smith couldn’t possibly take reign of an offense that had run through Jamaal Charles.
Eight weeks later, they all have been proven wrong.
Now, in Week 15, the script has completely changed. Kansas City is riding a seven-game win streak, the most recent coming in a rain-filled slugfest at Arrowhead over the San Diego Chargers. Since Charles went down, Kansas City has scored 30+ points in all but four games, and gained 330+ offensive yards in four games. Winning streaks are a great hype train, and along with a resurgent defense (18 turnovers during the win streak) that has put opposing offenses in a chokehold, everyone seems to be back on the Kansas City bandwagon. My question is, amidst all the victories, who is deserving of the most credit? You can argue that it is the offense, which has turned a corner and become an expose unit anchored by the Alex Smith/Jeremy Maclin connection. You could say it is the defense, which has played better and more soundly than any other unit in the entire league thanks to the physical play of safety Eric Berry and linebacker Derrick Johnson, among others. All those answers may be correct, but I’ll argue you down to blood and bones that there is one reason that trumps them all. This may sound extraneous, but I’m wondering how many people know who put this team together in the beginning?
The man upstairs, General Manager John Dorsey.
Kansas City has become one of the NFL’s best teams because of incredible roster management by Dorsey, who has traded and stolen (more on that later) his way to a very formidable, albeit little known, roster. Take a look at look at the offensive line. Three years ago, this line was anchored by tackle Branden Albert, guard Geoff Schwartz, and center Rodney Hudson. Now, Eric Fisher, Laurent Duvernay-Tardiff, and rookie Mitch Morse occupy those same positions. Fans and media alike laid a collective egg when Dorsey calmly let all three walk in free agency to chase bigger contracts, and instead looked to Canada and Central Michigan to replace those Pro Bowl-caliber players. Three years into his career, and 2013’s No. 1 overall pick, Eric Fisher, has endured injury, position change, and condemnation to become one of the Chiefs most consistent linemen. Much of Alex Smith’s newfound vertical passing can be attributed to Fisher’s dominance of the blindside. Morse, the 2nd round rookie from Missouri, has taken hold of the center position and used his versatility as a run and pass blocker to pave lanes for Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware, while picking up last-second blitzes like a 10-year veteran.
Speaking of West, he leads the team with 462 rushing yards and four scores and all Chiefs running backs with 670 scrimmage yards. Looking deeper, he gained 100 scrimmage yards and scored in all three games he started and finished. Ware, who wasn’t even added to the active roster until Charles went down, has rushed for 312 yards and five scores while gaining 100 scrimmage yards and scoring in the two games he started. West was signed as an underrated free agent in 2014, and Ware was signed in December of the same year. While West is closer in style to Charles, Ware has been no pushover as he boasts a 6.1 yards per carry average on the season. Both were expected to backup Knile Davis when Jamaal went down, but they both overtook him due to their ability to be three down backs and show excellent recognition and pick up of blitzes.
But Dorsey’s genius doesn’t stop there, as he’s had just as much success adding secret superstars to the defense. When he took Auburn pass rusher Dee Ford 23rd overall in 2013, many eyebrows rose. The skepticism was warranted, given Tamba Hali and Justin Houston were both coming off 11-sack seasons. Hali was 30, and Ford just 23, so the pick made sense. Unfortunately for Ford, Hali didn’t slow down all that much, posting 6 sacks while playing in all 16 games in 2014. With just 1.5 career sacks in 26 career games, many felt that Dee Ford was well on his way to becoming an all-time bust. Even after Houston hyperextended his knee in their week 12 win over Buffalo, Ford didn’t do very much the next week, watching special teams stud Frank Zombo record two sacks in the win over Oakland. This, the skeptics believed, was proof Ford would be nothing but a colossal bust on an otherwise stacked unit. This Sunday, the headlines changed. Quite simply, Ford saved the game. In a game where the Chiefs offense did little scoring, Ford led the Chiefs defense to the tune of 7 tackles, 3 sacks, 5 pressures, 3 QB hits, and the game-saving pass deflection on a Philip Rivers pass intended for Danny Woodhead on 4th and goal from the 1-yard line with 2 seconds remaining in the game.
Five interceptions, one score, 19 pass deflections, 49 tackles. Who does that sound like? Richard Sherman? Darrelle Revis? Josh Norman? How about rookie cornerback Marcus Peters. Taken 18th overall back in April, Peters was regarded as one of the best cornerbacks in the nation. The problem? His on-field temperment scared most teams away. Come draft day, 17 teams passed on Peters. With presumed needs along the offensive line and wide receivers, is was expected he would be passed up by Dorsey for a tackle (Cameron Erving?) or receiver (Dorial Green-Beckham?). What nobody could have predicted was Dorsey’s ability to look past his emotions and realize Marcus was a young man who simply loved football. So far, he’s been nothing short of amazing, especially when you compare his numbers with the two corners taken before him, Trae Waynes (Vikings) and Kevin Johnson (Texans):
- Waynes: 23 tackles, 4 pass deflections
- Johnson: 44 tackles, 9 pass deflections, 1 INT
Remember when I mentioned John Dorsey’s stealing? Well, consider that the Chiefs 2nd leading tackler (Ron Parker, 53) and 4th leading sacker (Jaye Howard, 3.5) were signed from the Seahawks practice squad in 2013. While underrated, Parker has played solid football during his time in Kansas City (5 INT, 5 sacks, 155 tackles) and Howard has provided valuable depth along the defensive line while also being talented enough to start on his own (22 starts in two seasons).
Finally, who leads the Chiefs in points? That would be Cairo Santos, who despite being undrafted out Tulane, beat out veteran incumbent Ryan Succop for the starting job last season and responded by breaking the Chiefs rookie record for points (113). This season, he’s converted 27 of 34 field goals (both figures are 2nd in the NFL) and scored 111 points (4th in the NFL). In the process he set a Chiefs record with seven field goals in one game.
Kansas City has improved on all levels this season, leading to the incredible turnaround. However, it is blatantly ignorant to tout the Chiefs accomplishments without first giving credit to the man who put them together.
In Dorsey we trust.
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