A couple of weeks ago, I mentioned that the NFL preseason is like a bizarro world version of the NFL. Generally, it’s inconsistent play all around, which allows some players to look good while entire units look lost. Amid all that chaos, it’s really hard to judge anyone or anything accurately. The only way to get around it is with large sample sizes.
Two weeks into the preseason, I think there are only a few things you can assert confidently about the Chiefs:
1.) Put very little stock in the fact that the Rams were able to get on the board quickly this weekend. As Paddy rightly pointed out, the best indicator of how teams are going to fare in preseason games isn’t the quality of the talent on each side, but rather which coach actually cares about winning the game. Many coaches couldn’t care less. They are throwing darts randomly at a board. “Hmm, ok, let’s see this guy in this play against a first-team defense and see what happens.” “Mmm, ok, let’s see what this guy can do.” They’re not game-planning, they’re not scouting matchups on the other team, because to do so would be a waste of valuable time coaching up players and refining general techniques.
There is an argument for trying to win preseason games if you are a very young team, and/or a team with lots of new players and you are trying to foster team-spirit and get the band of strangers in a winning attitude before the regular season starts. That is the exact situation St. Louis is in right now. Not only do they have more new players on their 90-man list than any other team in the NFL at 56, but they are also the youngest team in the league. Furthermore, Jeff Fisher is known to like to win preseason games. He has the second-best career record in the preseason among active head coaches at .608, beaten out only by Mike Shanahan with .681. Not to mention, the Rams got mauled 38-3 the week before by the similarly young and hopeless Indianapolis Colts. Fisher knew he had to get some good vibes going with his team, and give young quarterback Sam Bradford some confidence.
On both the big opening pass to slot receiver Danny Amendola, and the subsequent touchdown pass to TE Lance Kendricks, LB Jovan Belcher was covering. In both cases, I couldn’t really tell if it was zone coverage or man-to-man, because, quite frankly Belcher was so far off. Both times, a safety rushed in to try and break up the play but even Berry couldn’t get there in time. Now, I, of course, can’t prove that Fisher game-planned the first couple series or scouted the Chiefs. All I know is that if you were going to design plays to attack the Chiefs’ defense – that’s exactly how you would do it. By far our biggest defensive weakness is when Belcher is caught in pass coverage on fast, pass-catching tight ends or slot receivers. As stout as he is in the run game, he is just not fast enough to keep up with those guys. As such, Belcher is never put on those guys and is generally not even on the field on likely passing downs. Even in situations where Belcher would be on the field, the Chiefs would have likely adjusted from the beginning to put a safety on the TE or slot guy. The Chiefs started the game in standard base defensive sets and not only did the Rams’ play-calling target Belcher for big gains right off the bat, they ran the plays on 1st down when he was likely to be on the field as a probable rushing down.
I’m not a conspiracy theorist, but I believe that often times when something happens where motive and opportunity meet, well, it’s no coincidence. They got what they wanted — two quick, injury-free scores, and an ego-boost for their QB. Immediately afterwards, their starters left the field feeling like they had won. And again, it’s not like it’s a crime to game plan in the preseason to try and show something against soft competition with nothing on the line. There’s a chance Brian Daboll was doing the same thing to boost Cassel’s confidence and make sure the Chiefs came out with a bang against the Cardinals last week.
2.) Unless Matt Cassel has a total meltdown or gets injured, he is going to go into the regular season with strong momentum. Hidden among the general Chiefs’ shock about how good the Rams played against the Chiefs’ first-team D is the fact that Cassel has hit on 75 percent of his passes so far. Against the Rams, he even nailed the kind of play that we have seen very rarely out of him – flushed from the pocket on 3rd and long, under heavy pressure, he chucked a dart to McCluster (his smallest target) in tight coverage for a first down.
3.) In limited action, Charles has shown he still has it. Chiefs fans likely won’t be happy with Jamaal Charles’ recovery until he busts out a huge gainer, but, with the additional weapons that KC has accumulated, we no longer need him to be THE dynamic threat. Hillis has shown himself to be worth every penny, and the Chiefs have a plethora of receiving options. So far this preseason, Charles has had 6 rushes and 3 receptions for 6.4 yards per touch, including 9.7 yards per catch. If we are facing 2nd and 4 every time by getting to ball to him, I don’t think anyone will be complaining even if he’s not streaking down field for big plays. But don’t worry, he will be.
4.) Glamorous he is not, but Brady Quinn looks like he can help us in a pinch. Look, he’s not Tyler friggin’ Palko, alright? Do I need to say anymore? Ok, fine. 12/19 151 yards 1 TD, 1 INT, good for a 83.44 passer rating. Amazing? No, but how good does a backup on a run-heavy defensive team need to be?
5.) The Chiefs are going to have to make their hardest roster decision on the D-line this year. KC will probably only keep six or seven defensive linemen on their 53-man roster. I think it is safe to say that Glenn Dorsey, Dontari Poe and Tyson Jackson are staying with the team. So, who gets the remaining three spots? Allen Bailey is probably not going anywhere either as the team’s only true nickel rusher. That leaves two spots for a number of standout backups. Anthony Toribio currently holds the starting NT job and presumably the Chiefs want another passing-down rusher. Amon Gordon was the consistent jack-of-all-trades last year, but he hasn’t shown it so far in camp or in preseason games. Ropati Pitoitua has impressed in camp and has seen the field early preseason action (there’s also an unwritten NFL regulation stating that every team must carry at least one scary dude with an unpronounceable name). Brandon Bair has also shown some sparks in that role too, however.
And finally, although it may not make the most sense at the moment, I like the idea of keeping Jerrell Powe. He has finally come on as a penetrating NT, which is what they want Poe, his homonymal brother, to become. He was consistently getting pressure in the last two games, and may also be effective as a rotational guy at the other positions. Who knows, with another year of development Powe might even turn out to be straight-up better than Poe, and these types of man-monsters don’t grow on trees. The painful part is that I know that at least a couple of these guys are going to be scavenged off the Chiefs as soon as they’re moved to the practice squad because there is a league-wide demand for such players and a DL-deprived team like the Broncos will be more than happy to take them off of our hands.