Addicts, we have a very special treat for you today. I got the chance to sit down with Field Yates, a former Chiefs employee and Patriots intern. Yates was with the Chiefs the last two seasons, serving as a coach’s assistant to Todd Haley as well as doing work in the scouting department.
A huge thanks to Field for chatting with us. Enjoy.
For starters, can you just give the readers a quick background on what your duties were with the Chiefs the last couple of years?
I spent two seasons with the Kansas City Chiefs (2009 and 2010), and served in two different roles. The first season I worked in the scouting department as an in-house scout, which is essentially the grinder role in scouting where you learn the building blocks of player evaluation. My second season I spent as Todd Haley’s assistant on the coaching staff, and I handled a multitude of responsibilities. I spent game days in the coaching box (for both of my seasons) charting our defensive calls and the opponents’ tendencies, and worked closely with our defensive staff in doing so.
I came to the Chiefs after interning with the New England Patriots for four summers during high school and college (I played collegiately at Wesleyan University in Middletown, CT). I spent two summers in the scouting department and two in the coaching department, and was on the field for every practice, sat in on team meetings, and learned the ropes of the revered “Patriot Way.”
The Chiefs got off to a terrible start to the season and put themselves in a hole that they finally dug out of last week with their big win over the Raiders. A lot of people have wondered if Todd Haley’s approach to the offseason was the responsible for the slow start. Others think it may have just been some bad luck, combined with the injuries to Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry.
What is your take on why KC started off so poorly?
Although the majority of NFL franchises debunked the notion that the NFL lockout would cause a league-wide slow start, the Chiefs were one of the exceptions who started 2011 off in sluggish form.
You can pin point a couple of reasons as to why this may have been the case, but I’ll start with one: coaching changes. The Chiefs lost Charlie Weis as offensive coordinator, and subbed in offensive line coach Bill Muir to take his place. They also brought on Jim Zorn to be the quarterback coach and work closely with Matt Cassel.
Beyond the fact that Matt Cassel was now working with his 4th offensive coordinator in 24 months, you also had three strong offensive presences (Muir, Zorn, and Haley himself) influencing the offensive operation. Although the trio had plenty of time to work together with the players gone, inevitably it was going to take some time to iron out details once the players arrived post-lockout. Any time you involve new coaches, there are going to be some alterations in the verbiage, concepts, and intricacies of the offense. The Chiefs weren’t the only team to bring aboard a new offensive coordinator, but they are still a young offensive team, and incorporate one of the more complex pre-snap offensive schemes with their array of shifts and motions. September was, for lack of a better team, orientation for the Chiefs, and October is closer to what you can expect to see from this squad.
(As for the slow start in Weeks 1 and 2 on defense, chalk that up to playing against two really talented offenses and being put into a lot of short field situations. In the NFL, when it starts to rain on your defense, it often pours. The Chiefs found that out in Weeks 1 and 2).
What has been the single biggest difference you’ve seen from the team during it’s three-game winning streak vs. the three-game losing streak?
It’s hard to focus on one specific difference given the night-to-day turnaround this team has had, but there are four differences that collectively add up and have made a world of change. First of all, the Chiefs have done an outstanding job generating turnovers on defense and protecting the football on offense. During the three-game streak, the Chiefs are +5 in the turnover differential category, and that’s one of the few statistics every head coach values. The interceptions have turned into short fields (or touchdowns, in the case of last week), and that’s led to increased offensive efficiency.
Speaking of efficiency, the Chiefs have picked it up in the red zone, converting on 5-9 trips. Although every team aims for 100% in the red area, converting at over 55% is a good start for Kansas City. The third difference has been the Chiefs defense holding offenses without big plays. You could argue that the only impactful big play from the last 3 games was Garcon’s 67-yard score in Indy, but other than that the defense has not been gauged for major yardage. It’s a curious reality given the fact that the Chiefs have struggled to generate much pressure on the quarterback, but the defense has made strides as tacklers and credit the defensive line for improved technique of late (Chiefs fans: Tyson Jackson is steadily improving and looks much better this year). The last difference has been the revamped special teams. K Ryan Succop’s early season woes were well-documented, but he’s been red hot of late. Additionally, the Chiefs are covering kicks tremendously well, and this starts with taking good angles, fitting blocks and tackling at a far better clip.
Matt Cassel has seemed to have finally developed some nice chemistry with Steve Breaston, while continuing his connection with Dwayne Bowe. How do you see Jonathan Baldwin fitting in now that he is finally seeing action?
Bowe and Breaston have teamed up to provide Cassel with a nice duo of steady receiver play, but Baldwin is the x-factor in this entire offense. Certainly Baldwin’s absence due to his locker-room-scuffle-injury has cast a dark cloud over his young NFL career, but Baldwin still presents the Chiefs with a unique skill set that will pay dividends in due time.
Essentially, Baldwin is what the Chiefs haven’t had in quite a while. He’s a field-stretching receiver with very good linear speed and a unique ability to snatch the football in competitive catch situations. Baldwin is the kind of guy Cassel can throw to even in blanket coverage, and he’ll still have a chance to make a play. Having a player who can run down the field “takes the top” off of defenses. What I mean by that is it forces them to drop a safety deep into coverage and prevent them from holding that safety in as an extra run defender. With Jamaal Charles out, the Chiefs lack a home-run hitting runner, but Baldwin will help de-congest the box and open up room for the Chiefs to run. We rely so often on numerical data to quantify a receiver’s impact, so those looking for Baldwin to have good enough numbers to sign him to their fantasy team shouldn’t hold their breath (yet), but as he continues to play more he’ll still affect the ways teams are forced to defend the Chiefs.
Jon Asamoah seems to be quietly putting together a solid season. How high do you think his ceiling is?
Asamoah was sort of the unheralded member of the Chiefs spectacular 2010 draft class, but that is quickly becoming a distant memory. Asamoah contributed as an extra/fill-in lineman in 2010, but is now fully entrenched as a starter. In Asamoah you have a powerful in-line guard (the new school blend) with enough athletic ability to pull and move in space (the old school blend). Asamoah is smart, instinctive, and most of all he plays with a serious mean streak. He’s a work in progress as we speak, and he’ll stand to improve his lateral agility (like almost any offensive linemen), but he’s the type of guard who can man the middle for years in Kansas City. With him and Rodney Hudson, the Chiefs should have two-thirds of their interior anchor for a long time. Fans were sad to see Brian Waters leave, and although he’s having a nice season in New England, I think Asamoah has been a very effective guard in Kansas City and will be for a long time.
This Monday the Chiefs have set themselves up for an epic clash with the Chargers on Halloween Night and on Monday Night Football. While they’ve won three in a row, the Chiefs have done their damage against the Vikings, Colts and the Kyle Boller-led Raiders. Even the win against the Colts took a 17-point comeback. In your opinion, is this team ready to take down the Chargers?
Make no mistake about it, the Chiefs have yet to beat a quality opponent in 2011 (Oakland with Boller/the newly acquired Palmer wasn’t one), but San Diego presents a chance to do exactly that. Philip Rivers has not been himself in 2011, but this team is loaded with talent on offense and the defense remains solid on the whole. San Diego’s receivers are the best group the Chiefs have played since…well San Diego in Week 3, and I doubt the Chiefs will pick off six more passes this Monday.
That being said, San Diego has cracks in the defense the Chiefs can expose, and that includes the run defense. The Chiefs have run the football an incredible 77 times in the past two weeks, and I expect them to set the tempo early on Monday by pounding the rock with the physical Jackie Battle.
Defensively, the Chiefs need to generate pressure on Philip Rivers. The running backs in San Diego are banged up, so look for the Chargers to try and throw the ball more than they’re accustomed to (which is a lot as it is).
Marcus McNeill, San Diego’s talented left tackle, is iffy for the game, but even if he does play, the Chiefs need to take advantage of him not being his usual self.
I expect this to be a tight game, but with the Chiefs being at home and Arrowhead generating ear-blasting support, I think the Chiefs will take home a 22-20 victory.
The Chiefs have a sort of murderers’ row schedule later in the season. Things start with a trip to New England. Then they get Pittsburgh, @Chicago, @New York Jets and then they wrap it all up with the seemingly unstoppable Packers. Can this team survive a stretch like that with its playoff hopes still intact?
October has been fun for the Chiefs, but by the time they take off for Foxboro heading into their Week 11 match-up with the Patriots, the fun is no longer. But as brutal as the Chiefs schedule is down the stretch, remember one important caveat: the other members of the AFC West have a similar misfortune. Although both Oakland and San Diego have already played the Patriots (and lost), they have yet to play Chicago, Detroit and Green Bay. The point is, it’s going to be a tough road to hoe for every AFC West contender, so the Chiefs have to simply take their schedule one game at a time. Head coach Todd Haley loves breaking the season down into quarters, but I’d argue the Chiefs ought to break each those quarters into quarters, and simply focus on the game at hand. Looking too far down the road is an easy way to ride yourself out of the playoff hunt.
All that being said, I think Monday night is the determinant for Kansas City. If the Chiefs can hit Week 9 tied with San Diego and Oakland at 4-3 for the division lead, it’s any man’s game. Right now, no team stands decisively above the rest, so being in a deadlock after seven games is all the Chiefs could ever ask for. Should Kansas City lose Monday night, I hate to say it, but I think they’ll have dug themselves too deep of a hole to climb out of.
Speaking of the Patriots, that game in New England has to be sort of special for Scott Pioli and Matt Cassel, as it will be the first time they’ve face the organization where they cut their teeth. There will certainly be no shortage of story lines heading into that one. How do you see that game, in particular, shaking out.
This match-up will feature the two organizations that I have worked for and know best. New England and Kansas City are perhaps the hottest AFC teams right now, and I don’t need to tell you about how good Tom Brady is.
The game will carry obvious pre-kickoff hype as Scott Pioli and Matt Cassel head back to where they made their names, but I’m sure neither will care very much to build attention around that.
The game will come down to this: can Matt Cassel make enough plays against the watered-down New England secondary? Tom Brady will get his on offense, and the Patriots are very good against the run, but if Cassel can make plays down the field and hook up with Bowe, Breaston, Baldwin and others, the Chiefs have a shot. Being that the game is still four weeks away, it’s tough to have the true pulse of how it will shake out, but Kansas City is not in the class of New England right now, and it’ll take their best effort (and a relative off-night from the Patriots) for KC to topple Belichick, Brady & Co.
Lastly, what are your thoughts on Matt Cassel? Many KC fans question whether or not he has what it takes to lead the team to a Super Bowl. What do you think? Is Cassel’s arrow still pointing up or is he as good as he’ll ever be.
Let me be the first to say that Matt Cassel has traits that I admire the heck out of, and he has them in abundance. He’s a fierce competitor, ridiculously hard-working, and tough beyond measure. He’s been an at-times productive quarterback and one of the central figures in Kansas City during the Scott Pioli-Todd Haley era.
But Matt isn’t the kind of guy that is going to take a team on his back and win a championship. He’s not cut from the same poised mold as the guy he used to back-up, Tom Brady, and simply put, his inconsistent decision-making makes me wary. Amidst a bizarre end to the 2010 regular season and the Chiefs Wild Card Round Playoff game versus the Ravens, Cassel’s play tapered off at a time when his team most needed him.
Matt is more the quarterback that can win with complimentary pieces around him. Too often we compare quarterbacks to Trent Dilfer when he led Baltimore to a Super Bowl XXXV victory behind an amazing defense, but I see Cassel’s role on a championship team being closer to what Dilfer did than what Aaron Rodgers did a year ago. The importance of quarterback play is ever-maturing, and Cassel would have to be surrounded by a deep, talented roster to become a championship player.