MHR: Andy Reid is thought of as an offensive coach. How is it that he has brought about this defensive dominance in one season? What scheme and personnel changes have the Chiefs employed to find this success?
AP: The Chiefs defense was already talented. You could see it even when they played last year. They were hamstrung last year by a horrible offense but still they didn't live up to their potential last year. This year, the players are all hitting their potential at once, which has resulted in the amazing season they've put up so far. The scheme change comes from new defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. The 3-4 defense remains but the Chiefs are attacking more instead of playing Romeo Crennel's bend-but-don't-break type of defense. Dontari Poe is no longer asked to just take up blockers. He is now attacking up the field. Poe's emergence is, in my opinion, the biggest difference this year. He does so much for the outside linebackers, Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. The idea being that Houston and Hali come around the edge, forcing the quarterback to step up in the pocket. And when he steps up, Poe is pushing the pocket back. In the secondary, Eric Berry is having his best season. His versatility is his strength as he often lines up as a linebacker to stop the run. The surprise this year was Marcus Cooper, the Chiefs third cornerback. He was picked up on cut down weekend and he's turned into a hell of a player. He gives the Chiefs three solid cornerbacks, which allows them to match up well with the Broncos (on paper).
MHR: Who is the best offense the Chiefs have faced this season, and why was the Chiefs defense so effective against them?
AP: The Cowboys are scoring 27 points per game, good for fourth best in the NFL. The Chiefs held them to 16 points. Early on in that game, the Cowboys attacked Brandon Flowers on Dez Bryant to the tune of nearly 100 first quarter yards. They made adjustments and essentially shut him down after the first quarter. Dontari Poe picked up two sacks in that game and that was a point where we started to realize that Poe could be really, really good this year. The Chiefs did what they always did -- played press coverage on the corners, rushed the passer well and forced Tony Romo to make quick decisions.
3. Where have you seen chinks in the Chiefs' defense's armor? Where and how would you attack them if you were the Broncos?
AP: Go deep. That's where they are weak. The Chiefs put a LOT of trust in their cornerbacks to man up against the receivers so they are susceptible to the long ball. What makes that difficult is that the Chiefs pass rush is good enough that they often don't give the quarterback enough time to wait for his receiver to get down field. But if you can have a solid offensive line performance, you can get over the top of the Chiefs defense. The other area would be the running game. The Chiefs have had two bad performances against the run -- 200-plus yards to the Eagles and Bills. LeSean McCoy and CJ Spiller and Fred Jackson were good cut-back runners, which cost the Chiefs a number of times. Outside of those two games, though, the Chiefs run defense has been pretty good. If you can run on them in the nickel, you could do some damage.
4. What was Alex Smith's best game, and how can the Chiefs find that success again?
AP: Probably against the Browns three weeks ago. He completed 24-of-36 passes for 225 yards, two touchdowns and no picks. That's basically the "best" you get out of Alex Smith -- efficient, moving the chains on offense, capitalizing in the red zone and not making mistakes. Outside of the touchdowns, his numbers are pretty darn consistent from week to week. I could see him completing 20-25 passes on 35-40 attempts. The key for Alex Smith is better production on third down and the red zone. The Chiefs defense often creates short fields for him so he needs to pick up six when he's down there, especially against Denver. Alex Smith won't beat you by himself but he is very capable of making a critical play at a critical time.
5. In a season full of surprises, what is most surprising to you about this 2013 Chiefs team?
AP: The lack of mistakes. They simply will not beat themselves. That goes a loooong way in the NFL. Andy Reid brought about a professionalism to the team that has carried over onto the field. Alex Smith sets the tone, only doing what is asked of him and nothing more while avoiding mistakes. The defense is living up to their potential and creating turnovers at the absolutely perfect time. The Chiefs are just clutch. They won't beat themselves and they will make the huge play when they absolutely need it (Sean Smith returning an interception 100 yards while the Bills were about to punch it in comes to mind).
Big thanks again to Joel for taking the time!