Midseason report: Kansas City Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- In the first half of this season, the Kansas City Chiefs have played one of the NFL’s most difficult schedules, lost two Pro Bowlers plus three other starters to injuries, and dropped a home game against the Tennessee Titans, now one of the league’s worst teams.

So the Chiefs will happily accept their 5-3 record.

They recovered nicely from their 26-10 loss to the Titans in the season opener. Their most surprising aspect has been the pass defense. The Chiefs gave up a lot of big pass plays last season. But without making any significant player acquisitions, they have become the No. 1 defense against the pass, allowing 199.4 yards per game.

Midseason MVP: Linebacker Justin Houston. The Chiefs have a greatly improved pass rush and Houston deserves a lot of the credit. He leads the NFL in sacks with 12 and hasn't done his good work in just two or three games: Houston has at least one sack in every game except one. He is the one defensive player the Chiefs can least afford to lose. Their pass rush disappeared in the final five games last season when Houston didn’t play because of a dislocated elbow.

Biggest disappointment: The season-opening loss to the Titans still could be devastating to the Chiefs’ playoff chances. Home losses to one of the worst teams in the league are difficult to overcome in any circumstance, particularly when you’re playing one of the NFL’s most difficult schedules. The Chiefs didn’t appear ready for the regular season to begin. They looked out of sorts in every phase of the game. Quarterback Alex Smith has protected the ball extraordinarily well since, but threw three interceptions that day.

Best moment: Kicker Cairo Santos made a 48-yard field goal with 21 seconds remaining to give the Chiefs a 23-20 victory over the Chargers in San Diego on Oct. 19. The win was big on a lot of levels. It allowed the Chiefs to finish a brutal early stretch with a 3-3 record. It allowed them to remain a factor in the AFC playoff race. It was their first road win over the Chargers since 2007. It cemented the confidence of their rookie kicker after he struggled early in the season. And it gave the Chiefs their first fourth-quarter, game-winning scoring drive of the season since Smith arrived as their starting quarterback in 2013.

Worst moment: Down by seven points late in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs had a chance to win or send to overtime their Sept. 14 game against the Broncos in Denver. But they failed to score a touchdown when their playcalling suggested they were more interested in not leaving any time on the clock for Peyton Manning. With a first down at the Denver 9, they tried two Knile Davis runs and a pass well short of the end zone to Donnie Avery. On fourth down, the Chiefs finally threw into the end zone, but Smith’s pass for Dwayne Bowe never had a chance. Smith hurried the throw and it was deflected at the line of scrimmage and went incomplete.

Key to the second half: If the Chiefs can find a way to create more turnovers, they will find themselves in the playoffs for the second straight season. It’s crazy that a team successfully pressuring the quarterback, as the Chiefs are, hasn’t forced more turnovers, but they have just five takeaways, including four interceptions. Both numbers put them near the bottom of the league. While the Chiefs are efficient offensively, they don’t get many big plays. They’ll need the favorable field position turnovers will generate in order to keep up with the high-scoring opponents coming up on the schedule.