Kansas City Chiefs head coach Todd Haley likes to preach that the NFL season needs to be looked at in quarters. The theory being pretty simple: win each quarter and you will more than likely find your way to a playoff spot.
With the quarters system in mind, let’s look at who the Chiefs best (and worst) performers have been during their 1-3 first quarter.
Rookie of the Quarter: Justin Houston
As the only member of the Kansas City Chiefs 2011 draft class to even see the field, this was an easy one. But don’t think the third-round pick hasn’t been impressive.
After being one of the final selections in the entire NFL to sign and report to camp, Houston was out of shape and looked lost his first days with the team. Then the natural athleticism that made him a first-round talent started to show up more and more. Throughout the preseason he started getting more looks with the first team, finally taking over the starting outside linebacker position opposite Tamba Hali from Andy Studebaker.
In four games, Houston has 11 tackles but has yet to pick up a sack. As we head into the second quarter of the season, expect to see the rookie get after the quarterback more often.
Offensive Player of the Quarter: Dwayne Bowe
He still drops too many passes, but Bowe is following up his Pro Bowl 2010 season by proving to be the Chiefs only consistent big play threat (a revitalized Steve Breaston will give him a run for his money going forward) with Jamaal Charles out for the season.
Of the Chiefs 14 plays of more than 20 yards, Bowe is responsible for five of them. Only four other players on the entire team have recorded at least one. His ability to extend plays was on display in the fourth game of the season against the Minnesota Vikings when he caught a pass down the sideline while wide open, but quickly made two defenders look silly on his way to the end zone.
Bowe’s 292 yards is only good for 22nd in the league, but his 18.3 yards per catch is ninth. If Kansas City can get him the ball more, he will deliver even more big plays.
Defensive Player of the Year: Tamba Hali
Don’t look now, but the Chiefs best pass rusher is quickly becoming one of their most well rounded players. A year ago Hali was 8th on the team with 51 tackles, but led the team and AFC with 14.5 sacks.
This year Hali is once again on track to finish as one of the league’s top sack masters, but he’s also on pace to be one of Kansas City’s top tacklers. With 25 tackles, Hali ranks second on the team and is on pace to nearly double his total from 2010.
Go back and pick any series and you will see that Hali is recognizing and reacting to running plays much better than he has in years past. Some players get paid and take a step back, but it appears Hali is using it as motivation to take his game to another level.
Biggest Surprise: Dexter McCluster
Expected to once again be a once-in-a-while change of pace type player, McCluster has been involved in the offense more than he ever could have expected before the season. A big reason for that was the injury to Charles that all of a sudden left a lot of carries up for grabs.
In the first quarter McCluster carried the ball 28 times for 164 yards (Charles-esque 5.9 ypc). All of last year he only had 18 touches in the running game for 71 yards with a pedestrian 3.9 ypc.
Haley has talked about not overusing McCluster and part of that plan is taking him out of the return game. He opened the season with four returns, but that number has gone down steadily since: 3, 1 and 0. With Javier Arenas now exclusively handling kickoff and punt returns, look for McCluster’s role in the offense to continue to expand.
Biggest Disappointment: Jonathan Baldwin
No one expected Baldwin to come in and dominate right away, but at the very least he was expected to hit the field. Instead he hit Thomas Jones — or didn’t depending on the version of the story — and has been missing in action since the first game of the preseason with a thumb injury.
The longer he sits out, the better chance that Baldwin’s entire rookie season becomes a wash. Beyond Bowe and Breaston, the Chiefs desperately need help at wide receiver, but Baldwin has a lot of work to to. If he wants to turn his season around, Baldwin needs to get on the field and prove he has used his time off studying the playbook and improving his attitude.
Team MVP: Hali
There has been no more consistent player this season. He is once again a one-man pass rushing show and is still finding his way to the quarterback every week. If anyone on the defense can give him a little regular help, it’s scary to think what he — and the Kansas City defense as a unit — could do.