I’ve been living in Europe for several years now, and while I haven’t brought myself to becoming a full-fledged soccer fan, I do appreciate that fans of the sport get to watch the game all year. With so many overlapping leagues and looser management rules, there is literally always something to talk about in global soccer, and on any given day when you want to watch a game, all you just have to flip on the tube.
That said, I have a secret love for the NFL offseason – at least this stage of it. By summer, the cold sweats of football withdrawal set in, but the period from the end of the regular season until the weeks following the draft is a few months of cool. There are endless hypothetical conversations to be had, revisionist retrospection on the year past and every team’s fan base is somehow imbued in the optimism that “next year we’ll be better.” Statistically speaking, only about half are right.
To kick off this process I want to start the conversation by looking simply at what we were bad at last year, and the options on the table for fixing them. It’ll be a long time before we have more actual football to breakdown so I’ll be looking at each of these particular issues individually and in detail in the weeks to come. For now, these are my general thoughts, after the jump.
Shaky Offensive Line Play
Paddy had a good post this week looking at how, statistically anyway, the Chiefs O-line isn’t that bad. I think by and large he is right, but those aggregate statistics for the entire season don’t capture just how bad the line was blocking at times. They seemed to get their act together down the stretch and gave Kyle Orton significantly better pocket protection than they did when Cassel was still out there. Mid-point through the season, the Chiefs were near the top of the league in sacks allowed.
Meanwhile, we ended up 5th in the NFL in rushing attempts, but the 15th in yardage. Granted some of that falls on the fact that Jackie Battle and Thomas Jones don’t have breakaway speed, but most of the season Dexter McCluster was only marginally better, finishing the season with 516 yards with a 4.5 average. That’s a good average if you’re are an every-down back, but as a situational weapon, we should have been able to get more bang for our buck when he was on the field.
Possible solutions: Even though they performed admirably in the Chiefs’ last few games, O-line is a position where I think we actually need a lot of new bodies. We need a new starting right tackle, a starting-quality interior lineman if Wiegmann retires (we still don’t know what we have in Hudson) and at least a couple of depth guys. I think the Chiefs would ideally pick up a veteran tackle and center, but currently the free agent pickings look pretty slim. I think KC should put at least a couple of low- to mid-draft picks toward the line as well. This is a unit that has been totally reconstructed, and they need to keep pulling in bodies until something solid shakes out. Still, the Chiefs may not have the draft ammunition or free agency money to pull off all the changes needed to make this a top 10 unit. Just as important as the roster moves will be the hiring of a new offensive coaching staff, with Bill Muir moving on. I think we need to look for an offensive coordinator and line coach tandem that has a solid background in productive running schemes. Hue Jackson comes to mind.
The Chiefs were dreadful passing the ball last year, but then again, we hardly even tried. Only six teams had fewer passing attempts than the Chiefs in 2011 – only two of which, the Texans and 49ers, finished with a winning record. The good news is that if the Chiefs can get a tougher, more bruising run game, San Fransisco’s model for success is within reach. I think we are solid at wide receiver, and with Moeaki coming back, our pass-catching unit is fine. I don’t think there’s any doubt that with a healthy offense either Matt Cassel or Kyle Orton could take us to the playoffs in 2012. The question is whether their game-management style is good enough to win playoff games. The Texans showed it’s certainly possible by winning their first playoff game this past week with a rookie 3rd-string quarterback on the field.
Possible solutions: This will probably be the biggest dilemna of the offseason – what to do at QB? I can make cases for both trading 2-3 drafts’ worth of picks for RGIII and also for staying pat and filling gaps in the team to end up a solid running team with a QB that can be consistent enough to get it done.
The cornerstone of every defense is stopping the run, and that’s something we didn’t do very well in 2011. We gave up the 7th most rushing yards in the NFL (granted a lot of that was in garbage time in blowout losses) and our starting defensive lineman leave a lot to be desired.
Kelly Gregg is old, and we’re just renting him until we can figure out how to replace him. Both Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson have shown flashes but both are grossly underperforming their contracts. Actually, all of our most exciting players on the defensive line are currently depth players. Both Allen Bailey and Wallace Gilberry are studly situational pass rushers, and Amon Gordon may be the most reliable defensive lineman on the roster. Still, this is a unit that hasn’t figured out how to stop the run, and that’s a serious problem in a division populated by the #1 and #7 rushing attacks in Denver and Oakland, as well as San Diego, which tied with Oakland for the 7th highest scoring running game.
Possible solutions: I called for us to draft either a nose tackle or a right tackle with the 1st-round pick last year, and I still think it’s a good idea. Obviously, it all depends on whether the Chiefs make their big QB move through the draft. But, assuming they don’t, I think that 1st round pick has to go to one of those two positions. I look forward to seeing what Jerrell Powe has after a second offseason, but it appears he is still very rough as he was hardly ever even activated for a game in 2011. Other than that, although it does seem to be a position that’s getting better, I wouldn’t be opposed to totally blowing up the unit. I have a feeling that Jackson and Dorsey have kept their starting jobs largely due to their draft history. The Chiefs have felt like they had to get the two of them to develop by tossing them into the fire, but we’ve now gotten to the point where I think we know what we are going to get out of them. Every year there is talk that a variety of 4-3 teams really liking Dorsey and would be willing to trade a mid-to-high pick for him. At this point, I think that unburdening ourselves with his contract and getting another pick in a draft that might be largely traded away for a high 1st-round quarterback is more valuable to us than his services on the field. Jackson is more of a conundrum, because he is being paid way too much money to ride the bench, but the Chiefs aren’t a whole lot better when he is on the field. Gregg finished with 39 tackles on the year. Even for a D-lineman, that’s bad. He needs to be replaced and soon.
So these are the three general areas where we need help and there’s a lot of ways to fix them. Let the games begin.