Nov 21, 2011; Foxborough, MA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs head coach Todd Haley watches from the sideline in the fourth quarter as they take on the New England Patriots at Gillette Stadium. The Patriots defeated the Kansas City Chiefs 34-3. Mandatory Credit: David Butler II-US PRESSWIRE

Exorcising The Ghosts Of Todd Haley

In 2011 the Kansas City Chiefs were coming off a 10-6 season and a division title. The NFL was coming off a lock out that wiped out the entire offseason program. Every team in the NFL was scrambling to get ready for the coming season. Then head coach Todd Haley decided that these special circumstances warranted a new approach to training camp and the preseason. Haley decided that instead of jumping right in and hitting, he would put an emphasis on conditioning. He wanted to get his team in shape and try to protect them from injuries that might occur if they rushed into things before the players were ready.

Let’s just say that thing didn’t go quite as he had planned. The Chiefs looked horrible in the preseason, going 0-4 and getting outscored by a margin of 90-42. Unfortunately, the hangover from the preseason lasted into the regular season where KC would be outscored by a whopping margin of 89-10 in the first two weeks. To make matters worse, not only was the team not ready to play, but also his plan to protect his players from injury was equally unsuccessful. By the time the curtain closed on week two of the regular season the Chiefs had lost three vital players in Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry, and Tony Moeaki. The early season blows proved too much for both KC and Todd Haley to take. The Chiefs finished 7-9 and in last place in the AFC West and Haley was fired with three weeks left to go in the season.

Fast forward to 2012 and it doesn’t take an expert to see that the Chiefs have a different approach this season. In fact, it literally appears that KC is dead set on making sure that no trace of the “Haley Way” of doing things can be found. The Chiefs started having physical practices right out of the gate in training camp. The Chiefs came into the first preseason game and looked ready to play football. The first team players got extended looks and even seemed to run plays that might be used in the regular season instead of the “vanilla” play calling of the Haley era.

What really caught my attention during the game were the quotes from both Clark Hunt and Scott Pioli as they sat in the announcers’ booth at different points in the game. I’m paraphrasing here, but Clark Hunt pointed out that the Chiefs underachieved last year and Pioli commented on how much more prepared the team was this year and specifically pointed out how much more effective the staff was at getting the plays in to Cassel (a clear shot at Haley’s OC by committee disaster last season that often led to Cassel barely having time to get the play off). Hunt and Pioli did everything but say, “Todd Haley really messed things up last season and now that he’s gone we think we’ll be a lot better.”

Does the blame for last season lay solely at the feet of Todd Haley? I don’t know. He certainly deserves a lot of the fault, but was it his idea to keep Barry Richardson at RT, Thomas Jones at RB, Tyler Palko as the primary backup QB, and Sabby Piscatelli as an NFL player? We’ll never know how much of that was on Haley and how much was on Pioli. What we do know now is that the anti-Haley approach to training camp and the first preseason game this year produced un-Haley like results.

In other words, the Chiefs won.

In Haley’s three seasons as the Chiefs head coach the Chiefs went 0-3 in preseason openers and 1-11 overall in the preseason. Not only did the Chiefs go 0-3 in preseason openers, but they scored only 6.7 PPG in those games and didn’t score a single first quarter point as they were outscored in that quarter a combined 20-0. That’s a far cry from Friday night when they scored 27 points and led 14-0 at the end of the first quarter.

Does this mean that KC will play better when the games count? I don’t know. I do know that last season’s preseason opener against Tampa Bay was one of the worst preseason games I’ve ever seen and the Chiefs followed that up with one of the worst regular season openers I’ve ever seen (a 41-7 home loss to the Bills). The sad part is that Tampa Bay went on to finish 4-12 and Buffalo only 6-10. So even if Arizona isn’t very good this season, the Chiefs are still clearly off to a better start after one preseason game.

How much better? Take a look for yourself.

Basically, everything was heads and tails better this year. The one area that looks worse is rushing yards allowed and that’s only because the backups allowed one 67-yard long run by William Powell. The interesting (or sad) thing is that TB was actually the worst team Haley faced in the preseason opener in terms of their end of the year record that season (4-12). KC also lost 20-10 at Atlanta (13-3) in 2010 and 16-10 to Houston (9-7) in 2009. If you average out the numbers from those 3 games and compare them to Friday night it is still equally favorable.

Finally, Matt Cassel’s play was by far the best we’ve seen in a preseason opener. In the other three preseason openers combined Cassel has gone 8-13 for 40 yards and no TDs or INTs. So on Friday night when Cassel went 5 of 6 for 67 yards and a TD he threw for more yards and TDs than he had in his other three preseason openers combined. He also led his only two first quarter TD drives in a preseason opener.

All in all, Friday really couldn’t have gone much better than it did. Again, we don’t know if that will lead to more regular season wins. After all, Tampa Bay had a FANTASTIC preseason opener last season and ended up going 4-12. The only thing we really know is that the “Todd Haley Way” is no longer the Kansas City Way. Based on the early results, it looks like that might be a very good thing.

Other random observations from Friday:

I REALLY like Brian Daboll. Based on what I saw at training camp and how he called the game and had the offense ready on Friday I think there is every reason to be excited about KC’s new offensive coordinator.

I stand by my prediction that Peyton Hillis will end 2012 with more touches than Jamaal Charles. Not because Charles won’t be healthy or effective, but because Hillis will be productive and KC will try to keep Jamaal fresh and explosive.

Steve Maneri could just be a starter in the making. I expected him to win the third TE job because of his blocking ability (and Jake O’Connell stinks), but if Maneri can catch (and run) like he did Friday he could become more than just a third TE. Imagine if KC lines up in a three TE power/short yardage set and then goes play action, who is going to get the least attention from the defense in coverage? Maneri, of course, and if he can consistently catch the ball like he did Friday it gives Daboll one more toy to play with.

The offensive line gets a great big thumbs up from me. They made me eat my words. I reported that pass protection looked bad the day I was at training camp, but they didn’t allow a single sack. Not only did the first string look good, but the backups held their own as well. That’s a HUGE improvement over last preseason when poor Ricky Stanzi ran for his life on every single snap.

Justin Houston beat Tamba Hali to the QB for a sack. Just take a moment and think about how scary that is for the teams KC will face this year.

Abram Elam, welcome to KC. Donald Washington, say hello to Sabby Piscatelli for me.

Did anybody else notice that Matt Szymanski booted every kickoff he did for a clear touchback and then did a pretty good job punting as well. There’s no place for him on the roster, but keep that guy’s number on speed dial in case something should happen to one of our kickers.

I think that’s it for this week. Let’s hope the good times keep rolling against the Rams this weekend.

As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

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Tags: Brian Daboll Kansas City Chiefs KC Chiefs Matt Cassel Romeo Crennel Todd Haley

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