Things can change quickly in the NFL.
Just three months ago, the Indianapolis Colts were a perennial Super Bowl contender with one of the greatest QBs of all time leading their offense.
Now they’re the league’s worst team, and their offense is led by the blond guy Bruce Willis killed at the end of Die Hard.
At the end of the 2010 season, the Kansas City Chiefs were a young, up-and-coming division champion. They were looking to use the offseason to fill holes and surround their developing QB with the receiving tools he needed to take his game and his team to the next level.
Three games into the 2011 season, Matt Cassel was a bum and head coach Todd Haley was likely just games away from getting canned.
Fast forward a few weeks, and the 2011 Kansas City Chiefs were a first place team; Matt Cassel was building chemistry with his receivers; Jon Baldwin was in the mix; and Todd Haley was getting the very beginnings of Coach of the Year buzz.
Well, if you aren’t confused yet, you haven’t been paying attention. Hell, even if you have been paying attention you are likely flummoxed.
The NFL narrative changes that fast.
Trying to figure out the Kansas City Chiefs is like trying to solve a Rubix Cube while wearing a blindfold on. If we are to find any answers to the nagging questions about who the Chiefs are and where they’re heading, we have to narrow our focus. Significantly.
Forget about Jamaal Charles. Winning NFL teams lose running backs every week. Forget about Eric Berry. Winning NFL teams are deep and their reserves step up. Forget about the difficult schedule the Chiefs face this season because it hasn’t even started yet. In actuality, the Chiefs have had a remarkably soft schedule thus far.
This Kansas City Chiefs team has some holes but they also have a ton of talent. Berry, Charles and Moeaki are out. Yet Flowers, Carr, Hali, Albert, Colquitt, Bowe and Breaston remain. There are solid players in Dorsey, Wiegmann, Lilja, Gegg, McGraw, Gordon, Battle and Belcher. There are exciting, emerging youngsters in Baldwin, Asamoah, Hudson, Arenas and Houston. There is even an exciting player who, if all the other pieces were being used properly, could be extremely explosive and dangerous in Dexter McCluster.
In other words, there is enough talent here to win football games. Maybe not a Super Bowl, maybe not yet, but enough to compete in the AFC West for a playoff spot and certainly enough to dispatch of the likes of Miami and Denver.
This discussion really only comes down to two men.
Matt Cassel and Todd Haley.
The head coach and the quarterback are the brain and heart of any team. Good coaches can get their teams through tough times. See Bill Belichick when Tom Brady went down. Good QBs can carry not-so-talented coaches. See Jim Caldwell before and after Peyton Manning.
One or both of these men just aren’t getting it done.
Is Haley letting Cassel down with poorly designed game plans and play calling? Or is Matt Cassel just not good enough to execute, regardless of the play?
I’m leaning toward the latter.
This is the NFL. It is a QB-driven league. The best teams all have QBs who make the other players around them better. In Kansas City, it is the complete opposite. The players around Matt Cassel are supposed to make him better.
It is time to stop blaming everyone but Matt Cassel for Matt Cassel’s poor play. It is time to stop making excuses for him. The Kansas City Chiefs need a QB who is a difference-maker not a caretaker.
As for Haley, I think the jury is still out. He has to coach his way out of the mess he currently finds himself in, just as he did earlier in the season after the team started 0-3. If that means benching Cassel in favor of Tyler Palko, then that is what he needs to do. It would be a massive gamble, but the Chiefs are nearing the point where Haley needs to take drastic and decisive action.
Whatever Haley decides, he had better win. 2012 is the last year of his contract, and Scott Pioli may not want a lame duck coach next season. That means the decision on Haley’s future could very well be made this season.
A stretch of incredibly difficult games lies ahead. For both Haley and Cassel, it could very well be the most crucial stretch of both their professional careers.