Yes, I know the Patriots lost, but if the Chiefs truly are going to follow the Patriots Way, then there was a lot of positive to take from New England’s performance last Sunday.
It’s no secret to anyone that the success from the Patriots offense has come from their ability to scheme things brilliantly and create massive matchup problems for opposing defenses. They do this through flexible personnel groupings and versatile players in ways that I think KC can emulate.
In the end, the biggest difference of the night was the absence of Rob Gronkowski. Sure, he was there, but the second-year tight end, who was good for 1,327 yards and 17 touchdowns during the regular season, was obviously a step or two slower with an injured ankle. Aaron Hernandez was New England’s best weapon of the night with 8 catches and a touchdown.
The good news is that the Chiefs’ Gronkowski is coming back this year. Moeaki and Gronkowski had very similar stats in their rookie years (although Gronk pulled down more TDs), and their skills are comparable. Both guys are great route runners, have big, reliable hands and are also good blockers. I think Moeaki is going to have a colossal season in 2012. The guy the Chiefs don’t have is a Hernandez type. Hernandez is not as physical, but is faster and has the reach to be a threat along the sidelines. Even while covered by Michael Boley, the Giant’s best cover linebacker, Hernandez was about to consistently move the chains for them.
I think the Chiefs were hoping Leonard Pope could be that guy, unfortunately he just doesn’t have the speed or football smarts to make it happen. Especially given that he was part of Haley’s entourage that was brought over from Arizona, I think his days in red are numbered.
I definitely think the Chiefs should go for a mid-round TE in this year’s draft. Crock brilliantly broke down the class this year, and I think a guy like Orson Charles or Ladarius Green should be on the KC’s draft board. We need a guy who may not be the best pass blocker, but who causes opposing defenses to scratch their head about what personnel they send out on the field. With a running game as prolific as we will have once Jamaal Charles is back, getting our opponents to think pass when we have two TEs on the field will be a very, very good thing for us.
Another thing that the Patriots whipped out at times this year was creative use of their rookie tackle, Nate Solder. Against the Chiefs, they played Solder at tight end and fullback numerous times to punishing success. BenJarvus Green-Ellis had his second best game of the year on just 20 carries. How many of you out there would like to see David DeCastro or Jonathan Martin mowing down the Raider’s linebacking corps ahead of Jamaal? I would.
Speaking of Green-Ellis, he’s a free agent this year and there’s talk that the Pats aren’t likely take him back. At 26, he could be a long-term third-down running back for the Chiefs. Like Charles, he’s got some elusiveness but he’s also got about 20 lbs on Jamaal, and is able to fight for short yardage a bit better than him.
Another free agent that has been key to the Patriots’ success is Wes Welker. While he usually doesn’t produce flashy big-gainers (his longest catch of 2010 was for 35 yards), he is unstoppable as a guy who catches the ball for 4 yards and gets 3 more after the catch every single time. He had an amazing 77 catches for first downs in 2011. When the Chiefs drafted Dexter McCluster, I think they intended him to grow into Welker’s role, but that hasn’t exactly happened. McCluster is more of a Danny Woodhead guy – the little speedster that can do the most damage coming out of the backfield in a variety of ways. I know you’ve heard me criticize a lot of the signings Pioli has made for targeting older dudes, but this is a signing that I think would make sense for the Chiefs.
With Welker and two pass-threat TEs there is a lot more that the Chiefs could do in the short and mid-range passing game. There’s a reason why Matt Cassel and Tom Brady don’t chuck it down the field very often – they’re not very good at it. When Cassel has short-range options (and time to throw), he has been very efficient. Assuming Welker only has a few productive years left, the Chiefs won’t be risking much by throwing some money at him – God forbid he take a roster spot for Jerheme Urban.
Now, you might say that taking on Welker would automatically alter the Chiefs’ offensive philosophy in ways they aren’t built to handle – their current passing game is built to feature two large, down-field WRs in Dwayne Bowe and Jonathan Baldwin – but I think this gets to one of the Chiefs’ biggest weaknesses in 2011. The way the Chiefs are currently assembled, their gameplan is extremely fragile. If either Bowe or Charles get taken out of the game – due to injury or effective defense – their hands are tied. When both are down, KC is absolutely screwed.
Also, at 31, I think Welker is at the point in his career where Belichick classically lets him move on. In his almost pathological fixation on hoarding resources for the future, the man in the hoodie always lets his stars walk when they become truly expensive in their thirties (Brady being the obvious exception). Meanwhile, the Chiefs have somewhere between $20-27 million in cap space, plus the carry-over from last season. Therefore, the Chiefs could potentially spend around 40 percent more on players this season.
The franchise tag numbers for wide receivers and cornerbacks are $9.4 million and $10.6 million, respectively. Meaning that to franchise either Bowe or Carr and sign the other to a long-term deal, the Chiefs will likely end up spending somewhere in the neighborhood of $17 million for the 2012 season. That leaves at least $23 million to play with.
The Chiefs’ 2012 draft picks won’t cost them more than about $10 million total for the season, so with (again, at least) $13 million left in the bank, the Chiefs can afford luxury experiments like Wes Welker.
If we’re going to go Patriots, we might as well do it right.