1. What have the Chiefs been doing to make up for the loss of Jamaal Charles?
The first few games after Jamaal Charles' injury (Week 5) was Charcandrick West, who did a really nice job. He is the back that's most similar to Charles in that he can run the ball, pass block and catch the ball out of the backfield and do it all well. He's not as explosive or as elite as Jamaal in those categories but he was just a good overall player, and he proved it with his production. Two weeks ago West was hurt so the Chiefs brought in Spencer Ware, who impressed in two straight games. Ware is more of a bruiser type of running back but he's still averaging 6.5 yards per carry. The Chiefs offense wasn't playing very well even when Jamaal is in so to see the improvement from the offense as a whole with these two backs has been surprisingly to say the least.
2. I discovered this week that the Chiefs have had the best defense overall and best pass rushing team over the past five games. How much of that would be lost if Justin Houston's knee injury keeps him from playing?
A pretty significant portion of it. The Chiefs have a handful of pass rushers, including Allen Bailey and Dontari Poe up the middle, but Houston is the best of them all and demands the most attention. It would change how you view this game if he weren't to play. That said, Tamba Hali is showing he's still got it. Houston went out last week and Hali forced a fumble and pressured the quarterback without Houston in the lineup. Hali will keep the Chiefs pass rush competitive but you need to add Houston for them to reach those elite levels.
3. Coming into the season, the Chiefs still had that fun stat of no wide receiver touchdowns. They broke that early in the season and now have six wide receiver touchdowns this season. What changed?
The Chiefs were the 16th ranked offense last year so I think the no receiver touchdown thing was more a fluke than anything. They were still scoring points. The fact remains however that the Chiefs improved significantly at receiver in the offseason with the addition of Jeremy Maclin, the emergence of Albert Wilson as well as third round pick Chris Conley. Maclin, in particular, is the difference maker for the Chiefs offense. He added a vertical threat to the offense in last week's Bills game that we really haven't seen in the Andy Reid era. And it's not just short dumpoffs for Alex (although a lot of it is). Maclin caught a 41-yard touchdown pass last week.
4. This might require a long answer, and you may have answered some of this question in your previous responses, but how in the world did this team go from 1-5 to winning five straight? Alex Smith's crazy long streak without a pick have anything to do with it?
I'm going to run off a bunch of reasons here:
- The Chiefs are playing easier teams. Go back and look at their early season schedule: The Broncos and Bengals are 9-2 and the Packers are 8-4. Even the Texans and Bears are both potential playoff teams. The Vikings are leading the NFC North. Those were the Chiefs first six games which in hindsight was a really difficult schedule.
- The Chiefs lost on a fluke play against Denver in Week 2 and a last second touchdown pass from Jay Cutler in Week 5. They weren't as bad as what you typically think of at 1-5.
- The Chiefs stopped turning it over. Alex Smith hasn't thrown an interception since September. He might break the NFL record for consecutive passes attempted without an interception.
- The Chiefs defense is playing so much better. Lights out, really. From Week 2-4 the Chiefs defense gave up 30-plus points in three straight games. They haven't given up more than 22 points in a game since then. The Chiefs gave up 48 points in the month of November.
- The Chiefs started running the ball consistently. Maybe it's because Andy Reid couldn't be as creative as he wanted without Jamaal Charles but the Chiefs running attack has been key in several games post-Jamaal Charles.
- The offense is scoring more points. Insightful, I know. But look at their last four games: 30, 33, 29 and 45 points. Did you know the Chiefs are the fifth ranked scoring offense?
5. If the Raiders are to disrupt the Chiefs' hot streak and play spoiler (again), how might they go about doing that?
Damn it, Levi, don't remind us about last year's game. The Raiders will need to attack the Chiefs vertically - Sammy Watkins had some success with that. Sean Smith and Marcus Peters are aggressive at the line so there will be opportunities. Defensively, the Raiders will need to pressure Alex Smith and take away the mid range passing game. I'm not convinced that Alex Smith will make you pay by stretching the field, although he did that last week against Buffalo pretty well.
I will add the link to my answers to his questions when they are posted.