After finishing as the worst team in the National Football League last year, the Kansas City Chiefs are the surprise of 2013, being the only team left with an unbeaten record.
A big part of the turnaround is Chiefs coach Andy Reid, who joined the team after being fired by the Eagles. Kansas City went 2-14 under Romeo Crennel in 2012, earning the top pick in the draft.
Defensively, the Chiefs are allowing the fewest points-per-game in the league (12.3) and have a league-best turnover differential of plus-12.
The Daily Messenger asked Randy Covitz, a Chiefs beat writer for the Kansas City Star, some questions about this year's Chiefs.
Q: How has the leadership of John Dorsey and Andy Reid helped turn things around in KC?
A: Dorsey and Reid brought credibility to an organization that had become dysfunctional. Both had been associated with winning programs, Reid as head coach for 14 years at Philadelphia; Dorsey as a top personnel man at Green Bay for 16 years. Reid brought in a plan that had worked in Philadelphia, where the Eagles appeared in five NFC Championship Games and a Super Bowl. He had grown stale in Philadelphia, but the move to Kansas City rejuvenated him, and he's still hungry to win a Super Bowl. He also hired two outstanding coordinators in defensive coordinator Bob Sutton and special teams coordinator Dave Toub. He promoted his quarterbacks coach from Philadelphia, Doug Pederson as offensive coordinator but Reid calls the plays. Reid also relinquished control over personnel matters to Dorsey. Despite picking at the top of each round in the draft, including No. 1 overall pick Eric Fisher, the draft did not yield much. Fisher has started all but one game, and the Chiefs spent their second round pick on Smith. But Dorsey did a great job in free agency, signing three new starters (Sean Smith, Mike DeVito and Akeem Jordan) and three on offense (tight end Anthony Fasano, fullback Anthony Sherman and wide receiver Donnie Avery), plus the trade for Smith.
Q: The Chiefs are No. 2 in the NFL in taking the ball away after being one of the worst in the league last year. What's caused the big improvement?
A: The difference in the defense is Sutton's attacking style. Instead of playing the read-and-react scheme of Romeo Crennel, the Chiefs play man-to-man press coverage, and bring a lot of pressure on the quarterback. Hali and Houston are tough to block, and nose tackle Dontari Poe has been a beast inside. They've created turnovers and lead the league in sacks largely because they've been ahead in every game, obviously. Also, they've played five of their first eight games at home, where they have benefited from crowd noise. It hasn't hurt that they've played some backup quarterbacks (Tennessee's Ryan Fitzpatrick, who you know, and Cleveland's Jason Campbell, who did not turn the ball over) and inexperienced quarterbacks (Oakland's Terrell Pryor and Houston's Case Keenum).
Page 2 of 2 - Q: How would you assess Alex Smith's performance at the midway mark?
A: Alex Smith has been exactly what the Chiefs hoped he would be. He doesn't beat himself. After watching Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn throw 20 interceptions last season, Smith has thrown just four interceptions in eight games. He's been a good game manager, taking the sack or throwing the ball away rather than throw an interception. He's benefited from a great running back in Jamaal Charles, and good field position created by the turnovers and an outstanding kicking game.
Q: Who is a player on the Chiefs that Bills fans may not have heard of, but will have a big impact on Sunday's game?
A: Cornerback Marcus Cooper was two picks away from being Mr. Irrelevant when taken No. 252 by the San Francisco 49ers in the seventh round of the 2013 draft. Cooper, a converted wide receiver at Rutgers, was released by the 49ers in the final cutdown and claimed by the Chiefs, who had first crack at all waived players. He's worked his way into the starting lineup at left cornerback, freeing Brandon Flowers to play the slot receivers. He's got two interceptions and also recovered a muffed punt for a touchdown at Tennessee.
Q: The Chiefs come away with a win on Sunday if …
A: They continue to do what they've done through eight weeks ... take care of the football, run the ball effectively and stop the run. If they get the Bills in second and third and long situations, they'll be after the quarterback.
Follow Randy Covitz on Twitter at RandyCovitz and follow Dan Goldman on Twitter at MPN_DanGoldman.