There are seven NFL teams sitting at 2-0, and none of them has looked as good as the Kansas City Chiefs. This is weird.
Not that the Chiefs being good is weird. The Chiefs have had a winning record each season and missed the playoffs just once in four years under Andy Reid.
But for the Chiefs to look utterly dominant is something else. Under Reid, the Chiefs have become the sort of high-floor, low-ceiling team that you wouldn’t really expect to see in the Super Bowl. They’ve gone down swinging (read: painfully, excruciatingly) in all three of their playoff losses under Reid and have yet to get past the Divisional round. They could be counted on to be pretty good in all phases — to rush better than most teams, to be frustrating to score on, and to not cough up the ball — but fall short when games are tight and matter most.
In two games against two good opponents this season — the Eagles finished last season fifth in DVOA, the Patriots were first and, like, won a Super Bowl — the Chiefs have scored 69 points and given up 47, rushed for 331 yards, passed for 519, and generally look like an enhanced version of the team we’ve come to know. A rising tide lifts all boats — or in this case, a rejuvenated Alex Smith makes the Chiefs a helluva lot harder to deal with. He has been spectacular through two games, throwing for 619 yards at 9.8 yards per attempt and a 134 passer rating.
With not even two weeks completed in the season, we have only enough data to overreact to what we see. That said, the Chiefs seem worth overreacting to. They have always been good. The idea that they may be great isn’t at all farfetched. They have been building toward this for years. On its current trajectory, this would be one of Reid’s finest teams ever — and oh, it’s bucking NFL conventions along the way, which is always good and never bad.
This is basically a college team
The axiom goes that champions are built through the NFL Draft. By my count, the Chiefs are starting 16 players who they drafted, with just one of those players — veteran linebacker Derrick Johnson — having been on the roster longer than Reid.
This team has been built in Reid’s image, particularly on offense where the Chiefs have finally stockpiled a critical mass of squat, fast-twitch, space-destroyers to hornswoggle the league.
The most shocking thing about the Chiefs’ season-opening win over the Patriots was that they did it while running what looked like a college offense. Early in the game Smith, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce formed a backfield, and Kelce stepped up to take the snap and ran the option:
And it worked! So the Chiefs kept running it all night, sometimes throwing three backs and two tight ends on the field to complete their Navy impression.
A rookie — running back Kareem Hunt — was maybe the most important player on the field. He finished with 148 yards and a touchdown on 17 carries, and he looked explosive, and tough, and remarkably balanced in the process. The circumstances of general manager John Dorsey’s firing this offseason are somewhat cloudy, but he gave the cash-strapped Chiefs an incredible parting gift in the third-rounder.
Hunt and the running game opened up the downfield passing game, and Smith cleaned up, throwing for 178 yards on just three deep balls. He had two more deep passes for 79 yards against the Eagles, which is good for anyone and outstanding for a notorious dink-and-dunker. Smith looks like a brand new quarterback this season.
Alex Smith is playing with cuss
After rookie backup Pat Mahomes unleashed a series of spectacular passes in the Chiefs’ final preseason game, Smith was spotted on the sideline looking ... not enthused. The moment recalled his body language in the midst of losing his starting job to Colin Kaepernick with the 49ers.
Smith never got his starting job back in San Francisco. So far after stepping back into the Chiefs’ lineup, he has not only played well, but so unlike himself.
Smith is averaging 6.8 yards per attempt over his career, which is paltry given he’s completing 62 percent of his passes. Last season, just 8.16 percent of his passes traveled more than 20 yards through the air, according to Cian Fahey’s Pre-Snap Reads Quarterback Catalogue, fewer than every qualified quarterback except Sam Bradford and Jared Goff.
This season, Smith has attempted seven passes longer than 20 yards, roughly 11 percent of his attempts, and complete five of them. One of his best was a dime he dropped to a covered Chris Conley on the Chiefs’ final touchdown drive against the Eagles for a 35-yard gain.
Maybe it took a much younger, rocket-armed existential threat to draw out this new, aggressive Alex Smith, or maybe it’s the fact that he’s finally playing in an offense that he’s truly comfortable in ...
“One of the things we did when Alex came here was we went back and kind of looked at some of the stuff he had done in college and was familiar with,” Reid said, referring to what would become part of the base offense.
Whatever the case, the Chiefs’ offense is well-positioned to go much further than it has in years.
And yet there are two things that could bring the Chiefs to a screeching halt
The first: The Chiefs lost Eric Berry for the season to a non-contact Achilles injury in the season opener. Perhaps no defensive position is as heaped with responsibility as safety in today’s NFL, and Berry plays it as instinctually and beautifully as anyone in the league.
He was a big reason why Rob Gronkowski couldn’t get open against the Chiefs’ secondary. Should they face the Patriots again this season, Berry’s absence could be costly.
The second: This is still an Andy Reid team, and for all the good that means — his teams are as consistent and well-balanced as they come — the Chiefs will be hamstrung in late-game situations.
This is the Reid Paradox: He is somehow both the best and worst thing to happen to NFL teams. There is nothing more to do than to point at the team’s last two playoff losses. Reid is hardwired to make egregious game-management mistakes. And yet, it’s not like we ever see him panic. You get the sense that Reid is a laborious thinker who is uncomfortable being sped up. At some point this season, the Chiefs will enter the final minutes of the fourth quarter with either too many timeouts or not enough, and when they lose by one score, Reid will be the only person who isn’t miffed.
I can’t help but make this personal: I love Andy Reid
I love that his players love him, I love that he loves Hawaiian shirts, and I love how he tweaks the game. He and Bill Belichick are perhaps the only two NFL head coaches who you can count on to truly innovate a game plan rather than simply iterate on a few guiding principles. Every week, they’ll do something that no other NFL team is doing, and it’ll work. And unlike Belichick, Reid is a person. Bill Belichick has never looked this happy.
I’m a Lions fan, so every year I pick another team I want to win a Super Bowl since mine won’t. I am so here for a Chiefs title run. Innovation deserves to be rewarded. Time — not just Reid’s near-20 seasons, but Smith’s quest to be deemed worthy and Berry’s constant battle against his body — deserves to be rewarded. Fun deserves to be rewarded, and it’s been so long since that has felt like the case in the Super Bowl.
This is a team in Reid’s image. It is quirky, and disciplined and unassuming for how good it has been. This is what his tenure in Kansas City has been building up to. The roster is of the team’s own design, and now it’s up to Reid to guide it. He is the biggest reason why this might the Chiefs’ year, but he’ll be the biggest reason if it’s not.