“We’re just trying to get a little bit better each and every day.”
If you’ve watched his daily press conferences dating all the way back to last season, then you know this is a phrase that Chiefs coach Todd Haley likes to use a lot. He repeats its it over an over again as if banging on a drum searching for a beat.
If you’ve ever tried to teach yourself to do something new, whether it be playing an instrument or solving a puzzle, you know how maddeningly frustrating it can be. Early on it seems as if you will never get the hand of it. You keep making the same mistakes, you get frustrated and you think about giving up.
Then, one day, something clicks and you are starting to get it. You aren’t a master by any stretch but your taste of success, the small reward you get from even the smallest sign of progress, emboldens you enough to keep at it. You learn the value of hard work because it wasn’t easy and it didn’t happen over night. It just slowly evolved.
Last night against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the Kansas City Chiefs showed signs of progress.
The negative among us will point to some stalled drives and some defensive lapses as evidence that the 2010 Chiefs will be as bad as the 2009 Chiefs. They will claim an easy schedule is the only thing that can help the Chiefs surpass their meager win total of a year ago.
This is shortsighted.
The overly optimistic among us will point the long offensive drives, the sense of urgency and the fact that the Chiefs only gave up 99 yards on the ground as proof that the tide is turning on both offense and defense. They will look to the schedule as an opportunity to make a quick turn around. They will say last evenings successes are proof that the Chiefs have it in them to go 8-8 and if they can go 8-8, why with a few lucky bounces, they could make the playoffs.
This is “homerism.”
Chances are, both groups are wrong. Each is on one side of an argument and as with most things, the reality is likely to fall somewhere in the middle. Even the biggest Chiefs homer won’t dare project a 12-4 season and even the most negative nancy won’t predict a lower win total than 2009.
Being a fan is hard. The emotional investment one places in the Kansas City Chiefs makes it almost impossible to view them objectively. Some will try to stay optimistic and upbeat and others will will set the bar low for fear of again feeling the disappointment they know so well.
Thus when we review the events of last night’s game in our heads, we must strive to take the very worst and the very best and use them as anchors to establish a more realistic view.
Before going on, I want to establish two ground rules for this evaluation. The first is that I am talking only about the first team. While what happened in the second half isn’t irrelevant, it is much less a reliable vision of what the 2010 Chiefs will resemble than what we saw in quarters 1 and 2. Many of the players on the field in the 2nd half will never have careers in the NFL.
The second rule is that I will no longer compare this squad to the 2009 Chiefs. The 2009 Chiefs were a different team with many different players living a very different situation. That means I will also not point to Tampa Bay as a “bad team.” I know I did that last week, calling the preseason game a “fair fight,” and while there may be similarities in the talent level of the Bucs and the Chiefs, basing my findings on evidence from last year is folly. We’ve seen too many teams in the NFL go from worst to first, from worthless to talented in the span of one offseason. The 2008 Bengals were horrible and the 2009 Bengals made the playoffs. They were different teams.
Thus, in evaluating the 2010 Kansas City Chiefs, I would say I saw a big improvement from preseason week 1 to preseason week 2. The Chiefs were much more effective on offense. They seemed to be paying with more urgency and they were able to establish a rhythm fairly early, something they were not able to do against Atlanta. The offensive line seemed to get more push in the running game and Ryan O’Callaghan looked much better in pass protection than he did in Atlanta. In fact, the entire offensive line generally did a g0od job. Matt Cassel often had plenty of time to find an open receiver and the blitz pickups, with the exception of one play where Jamaal Charles missed his block, was very good. This is especially encouraging because the pressure in the Atlanta game did not come from blitzes but regular four man rushes. The line looked more confident and appeared to be working more as a unit as opposed to individually.
Cassel did a nice job of managing the offense and of limiting mistakes. His footwork looked a little shaky and his throws appeared to be be lacking some zip. He was of target a few times, often throwing behind his receivers. He must do a better job of getting his balls to his receivers in a manner that allows them to quickly secure the ball and continue to gain yards. Very often receivers are forced to adjust to Cassel’s off target throws and this allows the defense to stop the play at the spot of the catch or even break up the pass completely. Plays like this can lead to stalled drives that end in field goals instead of touchdowns. Cassel must continue to improve his accuracy but he did take care of the ball and he did move the offense. This is a positive sign.
The running game, in particular Thomas Jones, looked mush more effective. Jones was quick and patient, often picking up tough yards. The line did a nice job of blocking and keeping to their assignments and this allowed for a pretty decent third down conversion rate.
Jamaal Charles is running well but he appears to be playing it a little safe. I’m not sure why but I think Charles has one more gear he hasn’t shown us yet. He is picking up yards and big chunks but I have a feeling he could turn it up a little bit.
It became clearer to me why Haley isn’t sending Charles out as the starter. I think he really wants to wear down the defense and get them used to Jones and then send in Charles to blow by them. It makes sense to pound away at the D for a bit before sending in your speed demon.
Have you ever jumped on a trampoline and then gotten off and tried to jump on your own? You feel as though your feet are cement blocks and you are only getting an inch or so off the ground. I think Haley is trying to maximize Jamaal’s home run potential but starting with Jones. Bringing Charles first and then sending in Jones will create the opposite effect, like say swinging a baseball bat with weights on it and then taking them of. The bat feels lighter. If the defense adjusts to Charles and his speed, Jones will appears slower to them and you never want to slow down the game for a defense. The goal of an offense is to keep the D off balance.
Haley has been saying that Jones and Charles “understand what we are doing.” As long as Jones is effective when he is out there, it doesn’t matter who “starts.” If Jones becomes ineffective, the Chiefs need to get Charles on the field. Against Atlanta that strategy failed. Against the Bucs, it worked (assuming Jones doesn’t fumble every opening series).
The last thing that was evident when the Chiefs offense was on the field was that this team has weapons. It wasn’t just one guy doing all the heavy lifting. It was a team effort. Bowe, Chambers, McCluster, Charles, Pope, Cox, Cassel and even Horne were all getting involved. Not every drive produced results and there is certainly room for growth but the offensive unit appears to be heading in the right direction.
On the defensive side, the Chiefs still appear weak. They were certainly stouter against the run than they were at Atlanta but it didn’t help them because they were soft against the pass. Both Carr and Flowers struggled at times. Since the secondary is supposed to be the strength of this defense, they have little room for error. They must stop giving up pass plays in big chunks.
The pass rush looks to be coming along but it still has a ways to go. The Chiefs had no shortage of pressures and for once, they were coming from people other than Tamba Hali. The problem is that the defensive pressures are not resulting in sacks. Some bad passes were forced both against the Bucs and Atlanta but QB’s are still getting rid of the ball and finding open receivers. If the Chiefs are going to blitz to create pressure that is fine but the secondary in turn must cover the receivers like a blanket.
The play where Flowers gave up the touchdown was a prime example of poor play. Flowers has got to be aware of the situation. He knew the play was a blitz and he knew that he had no help behind him. His coverage was pretty good but his priority has got to be to make the tackle and protect his endzone. Jumping routes without safety help is like playing Russian Rullet. It might work out but if it doesn’t, you’re dead.
Again I am encouraged by the pass rush. Josh Freeman got knocked out of the game because his hand hit Tamba Hali’s helmet. The Chiefs got pressure and made things easier on themselves. It wasn’t a big step forward but it is something to build on.
Special teams appears to be the strength of the team. The Chiefs punted well and Succop made all of his FG attempts. Javier Arenas appears to be a game changer and he should greatly help the Chiefs offense consistently get better field position. Dustin Colquitt did have one poor punt so there is some room or growth.
The Chiefs were better against the Bucs than they were against the Falcons but they still have a long way to go. Their contest against Philadelphia this week should present a nice challenge. This team has holes and inexperience in a lot of areas and to win games they are going to have to limit mistakes. That means plays like the Jones fumble and the Fowers flub can not happen.
What do you think Addicts? Set your anchors and tell us your impressions of last night’s contest.