To be honest, my hand has been hovering over the Chief’s panic button pretty much since the 2011 schedule was announced. Even as the Chiefs signed their draft picks and free agents — when every team is feeling pretty good about itself — I tried to temper that enthusiasm. Now, after three humiliating preseason showings, the protective cover is off, I’ve gotten code confirmation from Paddy, it’s time to push the damn thing.
After the jump, here’s three things I think we now know about the Chiefs with the preseason nearly over:
1.) Haley must know something about Matt Cassel that we don’t. There’s no other way to say it. While Cassel hasn’t had an overwhelming amount of reps – a total of 27 pass attempts in three games – he hasn’t shown much in the opportunities he’s had. So far, Cassel is 12/27 for 132 yards 0 TD’s in the preseason. By comparison, 49ers QB Alex Smith – possibly the worst veteran starting QB in the NFL – has gone 10/20 for 136 yards and 1 TD, thus beating Cassel in completion percentage, passer rating and yards per attempt.
Still, Haley has insisted on showing Cassel limited work in all of these games. He didn’t throw a pass in Game 1, played sparingly in Game 2, and mysteriously came out for a series against the Rams only to return for a futile two-minute offense session. Look, I know Cassel is better than what we have seen from him, but that’s why I’m perplexed as to why Haley isn’t giving him more game reps – which he clearly needs. The only explanation would be that either Cassel is battling some scary injury, or has been playing like Peyton Manning in practice – but that’s not what I’ve been hearing from AA’s correspondents.
2.) The Chiefs have not gotten better on offense. WR/RB Dexter McCluster is the one exception to this observation has he has clearly upped his game after an injury-plagued rookie season. For all the rest of you reading this, ya’all need to step up. Either FB La’Ron McClain has been slow to pick up the playbook, or Haley hasn’t yet figured out how to use him, as he’s been essentially a non-factor so far. Likewise, WR Steve Breaston has only logged a few passes for short gains, and we all know the Jonathan Baldwin story. The result is that Cassel has had to continue to rely on Dwayne Bowe and Dwayne Bowe alone as his security blanket, unnecessarily forcing the ball to him because he clearly doesn’t trust his other targets. RB Jamaal Charles has seen limited work as KC coaches are clearly trying to avoid him getting injured, but man, our passing game is sorely exposed without him.
In the trenches, it looks like Chiefs have gone backwards. It’ll be interesting to see what we’ll get out of a still-not-100% Jarred Gaither, but with him, what looked like a nice luxury signing now looks like a guy who the Chiefs absolutely need to be an impact player. Second-round pick Rodney Hudson is looking like he may not be ready to start on opening day, and overall, the line looks slower and less effective. RT Barry Richardson was called for an impressive three holding penalties against the Rams and was embarrassed pretty much all night.
Now, I know that preseason games don’t matter, but the Chiefs first-team offense has made ineffectiveness into an art form in these three showings. So far, all they have produced is two field goals – both off of turnovers deep in enemy territory that they were unable to capitalize on. In the first quarter against the Rams, the Chiefs produced one 1st down and 16 yards, possessing the ball for just over two minutes. By the end of the half, they had racked up 99 yards to the Rams’ 210.
3.) The defense shows flashes, but remains inconsistent. I hesitate to pile on the defense because they recorded the only big plays in the game and they were on the field basically the whole first half. Still, consistency and conditioning have been the problems I have been harping about the most when it comes to the Chiefs’ front seven. The Brandon’s didn’t have a particularly good game, but DJ showed up big. If he can keep it up, I’ll be worrying a little bit less about our mostly unproven linebacking corps.
So where do we go from here? Generally teams give only minimal reps to their starters in the fourth preseason game, but I don’t see how we keep our offense off the field for most of that game. In my opinion, it’s worth the risk of injury to at least show that the first-team O can get into a rhythm and be productive in a game situation. I will not be happy until I see a TD.
What could save us? Well, for starters I think it may be time to see if Brian Waters would be interesting in getting off the fishing boat and giving us some O-line insurance. And, in a similar vein as with Gaither, Baldwin now needs to step up big once he is back from injury as the regular season begins. Hopefully the fight with Jones will be a learning experience and Bowe can turn this guy in the right direction. Otherwise, it appears teams already have the book on the Chiefs passing offense – they’ll be ready for screens and desperate passes to Bowe.