With their thumping 27-17 win (with the score 17-0 as the starters left the field), the 2012 Kansas City Chiefs have made their presence known, and while I always anticipated the Chiefs to be improved this year, it was clear that this game was all about surprise.
Suddenly, the national media have looked up from their Peyton Manning talking points and realized that there is another team in the AFC West – one far more likely to be playoff bound. ESPN’s Chris Mortensen said as much after the game via Twitter, “I’m starting to agree with #Chiefs fans – national media (ESPN included) has fallen asleep on KC. They may be team to beat in AFC West.”
It’s important to remember that the Chiefs and the Cardinals were considered to be evenly-matched teams before this game. In fact, Pete Prisco of CBS Sports had the Cards ranked 16th in his July 25 power rankings, with the Chiefs at a lowly 22nd, justified by a rote comment about Matt Cassel defining the team’s overall worth (the laziness of what passes for analysis by national football writers astounds me at times).
But, it wasn’t just surprising that the Chiefs were impressive, or even that they gave Arizona a shellacking – it’s how they dominated. WR Dwayne Bowe wasn’t on the field. Neither WR Steve Breaston, nor WR Jonathan Baldwin, who has been blowing up training camp, caught a single pass. RB Jamaal Charles had just three carries for 12 yards. OLB Tamba Hali had zero sacks, and NT Dontari Poe barely registered his presence. And the Chiefs dominated.
Matt Cassel looked polished and comfortable, going 5/6 for 67 yards and a TD. RB Peyton Hillis, coming off a down year, looked fantastic running for 41 yards on four carries plus an 11-yard touchdown pass. WR/RB Dexter McCluster showed his skills as a matchup nightmare, reeling in three passes for 45 yards. On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs defense started with back-to-back 3-and-outs followed by an interception and tallied seven sacks on the night. In the limited amount of time that the Chiefs’ starters were out on the field, it was a massacre. In the late first quarter, I wrote in my notes “THIS IS CHILD’S PLAY!”
This game was also all about surprise because of the play-calling of OC Brian Daboll. I already love this man. Most notable was his fantastic call on 4th and 3. The Chiefs lined up with heavy personnel in a goal-line formation. As the defense began stacking the box to charge in up the middle, Cassel motioned all the backs and TEs out wide making it a five-receiver set with an open backfield. This threw the defense into chaos as they tried to adjust to coverage in panic. While they were still yelling at each other, Cassel slid in behind C Rodney Hudson for a sneaky conversion. I cannot tell you how much I loved that play – great design, perfectly executed.
Ever since Daboll was hired, we at AA and across Chiefs Nation have been pondering what Daboll’s offence “based on matchups” really meant. I think we’re now beginning to figure that out. While I think this game confirmed my assertion that Hillis could end up the Chiefs’ biggest free agent acquisition, I’m already eating my words about WR Devon Wylie and RB Cyrus Gray replacing McCluster. Dex’s move to being a pure slot receiver already looks like it will pay off dividends in 2012. On two big plays, Daboll drew things up so that Baldwin – the #1 target – would force a one-on-one on McCluster, who has now definitely shown that he has improved his route-running and ability to get open.
Most fundamentally, as Paddy pointed out, it’s clear the Chiefs generally grasp his offense and are executing it well. During the second half, GM Scott Pioli was in the press box talking about how the Chiefs now run like a well-oiled machine, getting plays in on time and communicating efficiently. As much as his image as a disciplinarian and ultra stickler for detail put me off, it is clear that the overall culture he is trying to install works. Players were always walking with confidence out there, and coaches seemed to be able to communicate well without wasting time with petty bickering.
The other big surprise is how deep the Chiefs seem to be at nose tackle. While Poe showed he still has a lot to learn, former practice-squader Anthony Toribio showed why he has taken the starting spot. He consistently got off blocks and single-handedly stuffed a running back in the backfield playing against the Cardinals’ starters. Meanwhile, Jerrel Powe was also impressive, getting penetration several times and even notching a sack from the nose tackle position. Poe clearly pushed the pocket on a few downs, but often times seemed to be playing patty-cake with the O-linemen – still unsure of how to use his hands effectively. He seemed to either be focusing too much on his hands or not enough. But, at the very least, he did get double-teamed nearly every time, which was a large part of why KC racked up so many sacks on the game.
The only negative surprises in this game were in the play of the Chiefs’ backup QBs. Although they are in a tight competition, neither played well. Still, neither arguably played worse than Arizona’s two quarterbacks competing over the starting job. I look forward to seeing Tanney bank some passes off the uprights for a touchdown in Game 2 of the preseason.
Generally speaking, it was hard to come away with anything but positive vibes after this game. The Chiefs are back with a vengeance this year and they have shown that they can beat you in any number of different ways. Wherever you are weakest, that’s where we will strike, because we have the tools to get you anywhere, anytime.