Chiefs mailbag: Spotlight falls on AFC West showdown in Week 13

There should be no more looking behind at the Chiefs’ Week 12 loss because the focus shifts to a Week 13 showdown against the Denver Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium.

The battle for AFC West supremacy between the Broncos (8-3) and Chiefs (7-4) headlines this edition of the mailbag.

Thursday night’s loss against the Oakland Raiders reinforced the need to not be overconfident in any NFL game where the unexplainable occurs every week.

While the Chiefs lay an egg against Oakland, keep in mind the Broncos did the same the week prior in a stunning 22-7 loss to the St. Louis Rams, a team the Chiefs destroyed 34-7 in Week 8.

Still, the Chiefs should have confidence by owning wins over the three teams Denver lost to this season, which includes NFL powers Seattle Seahawks and New England Patriots.

Kansas City hung tough against the Broncos in Week 2 before losing 24-17, and now flips the table by hosting Denver at Arrowhead Stadium where the Chiefs are 4-1 this season.

And home-field advantage is huge because three of Denver’s losses came on the road.

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning, of course, is 5-0 against the Chiefs since his arrival in Denver. But this is arguably the best Chiefs defense he’ll face since joining the AFC West in 2012.

Kansas City has yet to surrender a 300-yard passing game to an opposing quarterback on the season, which is a remarkable statistic considering the video game-like passing nature of today’s NFL.

The Chiefs held Manning to 242 yards passing in Week 2. Manning, however, threw three touchdown passes in that contest.

Denver may not have a full deck the second time around, as the offense is dealing with injuries to running back Montee Ball (groin), running back Ronnie Hillman (foot) and tight end Julius Thomas (ankle).

Meanwhile, the extra time for the Chiefs to prepare for Denver can be viewed as a mini bye week.

That could prove an advantage because if there’s a head coach in the league capable of taking advantage of an additional preparation period it is clearly Andy Reid, who is 14-2 in his career coming off a tradition bye.

With time to prepare, wins over like opponents and home field advantage, the signs point to the Chiefs possessing an edge in Week 13’s showdown.

Ultimately, the Chiefs offense must return to an area it excelled in Weeks 1-10, and that is time of possession (TOP).

[Related: Chiefs offense thrives by dominating time of possession]

The Chiefs entered Week 10 ranked sixth in the league in the league in TOP (31:57) but slipped to ninth entering Week 12 (30:54), which will take another hit after losing the TOP battle to Oakland 30:05-29:55.

Kansas City must start fast, convert on third down and control the clock to keep Manning off the field.

Even if the very questionable pass interference call in Week 12 is tossed out, Ron Parker has appeared to struggle in two straight games since shutting down Buffalo Bills wide receiver Sammy Watkins in Week 10.

Whether the Chiefs are ready to move away from Parker at left cornerback remains to be seen. The Chiefs like Parker’s versatility in the defensive backfield, as he can play cornerback or either safety position, so he’ll have a role.

Nevertheless, there are options should the Chiefs look to get a traditional corner in the lineup.

Third-year pro Jamell Fleming, who has missed four straight games with a hamstring injury, could be close to returning to action.

Fleming took over at left cornerback from former starter Marcus Cooper in Week 7 before suffering the injury in Week 8. Fleming practiced last week, even putting in a full practice on Tuesday, before being inactive in Week 12.

The Chiefs also have rookie Phillip Gaines, who started at left cornerback in Week 9. Gaines moved to the nickel position with Chris Owens dealing with a knee injury.

It is hard to see a scenario where the Chiefs return to Cooper at left cornerback. Cooper hasn’t logged a defensive snap in three straight games and contributes mostly on special teams since his demotion.

Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning also burned Cooper on a 48-yard pass to wide receiver Emmanuel Sanders in Week 2.

Of the cornerbacks, Fleming makes the most sense depending on his health. Gaines will continue to hold down the nickel spot as long as Owens is out of the lineup.

But left cornerback is Parker’s position to keep for now barring a change.

Chiefs strong safety Eric Berry is taking flak for the bad angle he took on Raiders running back Latavius Murray’s 90-yard touchdown run, but chalk it up to a bad play and not his health.

Berry missed five straight games with a right high-ankle sprain suffered against the Broncos in Week 2 before returning to the lineup against the New York Jets in Week 9.

The best sign of his overall health is found in snap counts.

He logged 51 of the team’s 69 defensive snaps (74 percent) in his first game back against the Jets. Berry then went on to play every defensive snap in Weeks 10-12.

Rookie wide receiver Albert Wilson commanded attention during training camp and preseason. The undrafted free agent out of Georgia State displayed talent and a knack for making plays.

But Wilson’s lack of production and targets likely has nothing to do with his skill set.

Keep in mind coach Andy Reid’s version of the West Coast offense is complex, making it difficult for a rookie wide receiver to make an immediate impact within the scheme.

From the tight end position to the wide receivers, I’ve written a lot on Reid’s system since he arrived in Kansas City and those previous articles are not based solely on statistics or speculation.

It is often best to go straight to the source, in this case personnel with a full understanding of what is expected in Reid’s system based on past relationships with Reid while with the Philadelphia Eagles.

The articles are based on numerous conversations and interviews with a former Eagles scout and former Eagles players, including wide receiver Todd Pinkston.

“It took me a year and a half to process the whole terminology of the West Coast offense,” Pinkston told me in March. “Once they get that down pat, going into their second season I think everything will improve from there because you want to learn a little bit each year.”

[Related: Second year in system should help Chiefs WRs]

Outside of the wide receiver position, former Eagles tight ends Chad Lewis, a three-time Pro Bowl and second-team All-Pro selection in Reid’s scheme, and Luther Broughton echoed Pinkston’s stance on becoming comfortable in the offense.

“That playbook, I think that thing weighed more than 10 pounds,” Broughton told me in April. “I remember telling my college teammates, ‘You’ve got to be kidding me. I’ve never studied this much in my life.’ I went to Furman – it’s not a shabby school – and I studied more than I studied for class. That offense is complex.”

[Related: Healthy tight ends the key to Chiefs offense]

Wilson’s time will come, but his biggest impact and consistent contributions won’t occur until the 2015 season.

Prior to Donald Stephenson’s shoulder injury in Week 12, the Chiefs have held firm on not messing with the offensive line chemistry since Stephenson returned from a four-game suspension to start the season.

“It was a situation obviously with the suspension four games at the start of the year and moving Ryan Harris out there to tackle,” offensive coordinator Doug Pederson said on Nov. 13, “and Ryan’s done a good job. He’s done well and I guess at this stage in the season you don’t want to disrupt that chemistry a little bit.”

Harris is firmly entrenched at right tackle, which was Stephenson’s projected starting job before the league announced his suspension in August, and the same applies to Mike McGlynn at left guard.

Stephenson has seen time as an extra offensive tackle in short-yardage packages, but his role going forward now depends on the shoulder.

Wide receiver Donnie Avery (groin) is close if his participation in practice offers a hint.

Avery has missed seven straight games since undergoing a sports hernia procedure in early October, but has practiced in a limited fashion the last two weeks.

The extra time off from Thursday night to when the Chiefs return to the field in preparation for Week 13’s game against the Broncos should help.

An interesting fact despite the missed time: Avery still ranks fifth on the team with 14 catches and his 153 yards receiving ranks fourth.

Great question because wide receiver Dwayne Bowe does that often.

I assume it is a matter of Bowe showing respect and concern for fallen players, but I’ll make it a point to ask him in the coming days if he’s in the locker room during media availability.


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