Nothing soothes the soul quite like breaking down game tape. And after watching that poor performance on Saturday evening by the Kansas City Chiefs by every string the team put on the field, my soul is in desperate need of soothing.
As I’m sure any coach will tell you, the silver linings of butt-kickings come in the form of breaking down game tape, targeting the mistakes, and finding something to improve on. A loss can shake that into a team, so I’m not a believer that the Rams actually found any significant chinks in the Kansas City armor. They just played a better game, which is allowed to happen.
Nevertheless, after rewatching every single play of the game (and I mean every… single… play), I can conclude that the first string did not get beat as badly as we thought they did. The second string, however, did get embarrassed on both sides of the ball. But the third string provided some face-saving int he final minutes, led by Brady Quinn on offense and Jerrell Powe on defense.
So let’s break down the game, and what it tells us about where this team is.
The running backs were all solid, although I think Draughn is a bit overrated. But it is so great to see All Pro RB Jamaal Charles back at it again — such a slippery guy. He juked Rams LB James Laurinitis out of his pants at one point, and Laurinitis is a very mobile linebacker.
We tried out Shane Bannon at starting FB this week, and it was a disaster. Not only can he not block, but he can’t block. There’s no blocking in his blocks, and his blocks don’t look like blocks. HE CAN’T BLOCK. Add to the fact that he’s slow and has no use in the passing game, and you might as well trot FB/RB Nate Eachus back in there like they did in the Arizona Cardinals opener. At least Eachus can block. I wanted Bannon to succeed, but it was clear last year that he sucked, and this year it’s even more clear.
Baldwin does not look like a feature receiver just yet. He’s definitely got the tools, but we need to gradually work him in as a component at this point. The slant pass to open the game was a good start, maybe get him on a few dragging routes across the middle. Get him moving somewhere before you make him work the outside. Get his confidence way up.
McCluster played solid for a second straight week. I thought he made a really impressive catch from a rolling Cassel with a defender draped all over him. Contrary to popular opinion, I actually think McCluster is underrated. He runs sharp routes, and has underrated hands. He really is our version of Rams WR Danny Amendola, the only difference is the canyon-wide gap in QB quality, and the Rams actually let Amendola run a variety of routes, rather than just the lowest branches of the route tree like we’ve asked McCluster to run.
The long lost TE Tony Moeaki brought in a couple passes today, good for him. We were clearly forcing the ball to him on the first play of the game (a 0.5 yard out route) and his other catch was called back for holding. But I liked hearing his name again, his hands are as good as ever. And he’s blocking well again. I think he was open a few more times when Cassel settled for one of his eight million checkdowns, too. Cassel is getting used to him, still. It’s easy to forget Mo didn’t actually see the field with Cassel until two weeks ago.
TE Kevin Boss, however, looks like he has better chemistry with Cassel. Probably because Mo has slowly been recovering all offseason. But Cassel looks for Boss in ways that were pretty similar to how he looked for Mo in 2010. He saw him down the seam, he saw him across the middle. Also the coaches trust Boss a lot more as well. He blocked pretty well all game, but they asked him to take on passrushing linebackers (like the gigantic, 273-pound LB Mario Haggin) all game by himself, most of the time winning. But he did lose a couple times. The coaches clearly love him.
The offensive line was pretty good. LT Branden Albert had a couple penalties, but one of them was a phantom call. Otherwise, he continued last week’s domination. Although there was one play we asked Shane Bannon, not our franchise LT, to block the Rams best passrusher. That had to be play design, rather than Albert taking a dump on his responsibility. Right? Because Rams DE Robert Quinn beat Bannon like a red-headed stepchild and Cassel was as good as sacked.
LG Ryan Lilja got overpowered a couple times, as is his MO, but always in the up-the-gut RB Peyton Hillis run plays. Clearly backup OG Jeff Allen has a lot more power to him than Lilja does, so we won’t have to tolerate this problem long. RG Jon Asamoah and RT Eric Winston are money on the right side. Add Boss in there, as the Chiefs often did, and you get a guaranteed three yards of push every play up that right side.
C Rodney Hudson continues to concern me. He did better this week, because he was only wrestling a 2-technique defensive tackle in the 4-3 defense instead of a massive nose tackle from a 3-4 like he did against the Cardinals. But there were at least a couple of plays where Hudson failed to pull effectively and get out in space. The first was the play we all remember, Charles running into WR Steve Breaston’s back and going down. That play was created by Laurinitis, who charged past Albert unmolested to pressure Charles, who promptly juked his jock off. The problem? It took Charles so much to get around him that he charged into Breaston. Hudston was pulling that play, and Laurinitis was his man, whom he was never close enough to even reach (although, once realizing he missed him, he kept going downfield to block another guy — the right thing to do).
The other play was Cassel’s stalled drive at midfield. Draughn was supposed to run the ball behind Albert, who had his guy dominated. The problem was that Hudson was supposed to free himself and get to the second level and take out the first guy darting to Albert’s far side. Hudson was about 20 minutes too late, and the guy takes out Draughn in the backfield. Chiefs punt.
I think Houston and OLB Tamba Hali played decently well. Rams QB Sam Bradford reminds me a lot of Chargers QB Philip Rivers, in that he’s very rhythm-based and gets the ball out quickly. The most you can hope for is consistent pressure on him. We lacked that in the first drive but ended up getting more as the first half went on. Poe put him on his ass. Hali put him on his ass. When Rams backup QB Kellen Clemens finished the half out, Poe knocked a ball down. Hali got to him as well.
But the Rams gameplanned pretty well for us, and punked our back seven more than a few times. The two biggest punkers were TE Lance Kendricks and Amendola.
Kendricks is a talented tight end, but the Rams consistently attempted to disguise him as a blocker only to release him downfield. This worked once when he lined up inline and Belcher was responsible for him. Belcher eyed him pre-snap, and then nched away from him to the line of scrimmage, suggesting Belcher was sold on Kendricks as a blocker. Kendricks then releases from the line, sprints downfield, and Belcher is a mile behind him the entire play. Later in the half, Berry was following Kendricks’ every pre-snap movement, and Kendricks ends up right next to Bradford in the shotgun. At this point Berry inches up to the A-gap and starts to hit the line of scrimmage when the ball is snapped. Kendricks is released to the flat, and Berry is a mile behind him by the time he figures it out. Berry’s fast enough, just barely, to prevent the first down. But not by much.
Amendola, I think, is just a case of the wrong guy covering him more often than not. We will see a handful of Amendolas throughout the regular season. Fast, squiggly little guys like McCluster and WR Devon Wylie. The idea is to put the right corner on him, not to just assume any secondary player will do. These guys survive in the NFL because they punish folks who can’t cover them properly.
You put CB Brandon Flowers on him. You put CB Javier Arenas on him. Maybe later when he gets on the field, you put CB/S DaQuan Menzie on him. You don’t put CB Jalil Brown on him, who is made to cover lankier possession receivers (and did a decent job of it when put on such a receiver). You don’t put CB Stanford Routt on him, who’s made to cover more physical receivers. And you don’t put any safety not named Eric Berry on him. Kendrick Lewis simply doesn’t have the quickness or straight-line speed to keep up with him.
The one target Amendola received while Arenas was on him was the touchdown pass. Arenas had him blanketed, and Amendola had to make a fantastic catch to reel it in. That’s what you do to neutralize him. I’m willing to bet Amendola can’t make amazing catches all the time. Clamping him down with Arenas would do the trick.
All told, the Rams got up on us early, but in the 2nd quarter it was clear we were the better team. If we continue to come out in the 2nd half of a theoretical regular season game against the Rams with the right assignments with our secondary players, ‘backers in position, and Rodney Hudson blocking a little better, this game is a Chiefs victory.
THE SECOND STRING
Draughn saw lots of carries, and received more carries this week than Stanzi and Quinn actually threw the ball combined. I think he’s overrated, but I do really enjoy his decisiveness running the ball. He is not the jukester that Gray is, but he is a solid runner who is eager to block for the QB.
Nate Eachus I like way more as a fullback than as a running back. He shows no dynamism running the ball. He is just a straight north-south runner, and not a very good one. But I think he’s solid as a blocker, and by far better than Shane Bannon.
Blocking TE Steve Maneri came back to earth in this game, and we saw a really solid performance in the 2nd half out of him that is indicative of what he’ll do all season. He’ll run routes, but mostly be kept inline to block.
TE Tim Biere got some time on the field today, and did nothing. I don’t think he earned separation, but even if he did it’s not like Stanzi or Quinn were looking for him. Stanzi wasn’t really looking for anybody.
I hope we find some space for WR Jamar Newsome. I think he’s a pretty solid receiver, and of the first two preseason games, backup QBs Brady Quinn and QB Ricky Stanzi are way more comfortable throwing to him than they are anybody else it seems. It’s hard to tell what makes him stands out because he does so much of his work offscreen, but I think he runs pretty decent routes and doesn’t have butterfingers like a similarly talented backup receiver, Josh Bellamy. He’s very workmanlike.
I’ve always thought WR Zeke Markshausen had some ability as a slot guy, but that roster spot seems to be heavily weighted already with McCluster and Wylie.
A quick review of the second string OL:
LT Donald Stephenson: Solid game. They didn’t really run behind him much, but he had his assignments dead-to-rights on every run play. His pass protection was also solid, showcasing a polished kick-slide with good mirror ability. I believe he gave up one pressure all game that was genuinely his fault (I believe his man sacked Stanzi in the 4th quarter, but Stanzi’s pocket presence was awful on the play — he double pumped and stood there like a statue).
LG Jeff Allen: Very meh. After looking like the second-best guard on the team against the Cards, Allen played his second-stringer to a mere draw in this game. He’s got to work on his leverage, as he can get driven back and lose his assignments if his man is lower than him. The Stanzi-fumble disaster started by Allen being pushed back into Stanzi’s lap. Allen missed a couple other assignments and simply wasn’t the force he was last week.
C Luke Patterson: Solid, but not in beast mode like he was last week. He screwed up his pass protection assignments a couple times, but is still plowing very good run holes up the gut. He seems more mobile than any other player on the line. When the Chiefs go with an imbalanced line this year, they should consider Patterson as the extra guy. Allen is quick, but right now Patterson seems to be much quicker and more polished. Find this man a roster spot.
RG Darryl Harris: Did not show well at all. He was giving up pressure and ended up in Stanzi’s lap a couple times. He didn’t look “lost” like he did against the Cardinals, but he still isn’t getting much of a hole going. If his man can diagnose the play, than Harris is good for about a speedbump’s worth of protection. Not much more.
RT David Mims: Did his job pretty well, I thought. He wasn’t getting beat like a drum against the Rams, like he was against the Cardinals. This was a pretty solid performance all around, with one exception. The Cardinals beat him by lining up their men wide, almost in a wide 9, which is fairly typical of their 3-4. The Rams utilized the wide 9 on Mim’s side a couple times, and reaped some rewards doing it. Lining across from Mims doesn’t yield much. But lining way out wide of him pays dividends.
So you know what? Powe was the #3 nose tackle and deactivated for all of 2011, and he’s showing well now. I say we should consider doing the same thing for Poe.
Powe is looking like a force right now. He is blasting off the line of scrimmage, he is not getting moved, he is getting to the QB and he is demanding double teams. I believe in meritocracy, and right now Powe is deserving a chance to challenge Toribio as the starter, not languish on the #3 team.
I was unimpressed with all of our linebackers in this half. ILBs Leon Williams, Brandon Siler, and worst of all, Corey Greenwood… All three of these guys looked like they’d never had to fight off an offensive lineman in their lives. It sucked.
Also miserable were OLBs Edgar Jones and Andy Studebaker. Studebaker was beaten so badly rushing the passer that he ended up off the screen several times. But at least he could drop back and cover a little. Jones, after a promising Cardinals game where he flashed and rushed the passer, was the most useless defender on our team all half. He never beat a single pass protector, and his passing defense was so horrid he’d give up passes by giving his man three yard cushions at all times.
I’m assuming OLB Cameron Sheffield was injured, because he’s clearly the best OLB this team has.
Our secondary wasn’t doing too poorly for much of the third quarter, not that they were doing great either. But with about a minute left in the 3rd quarter, Crennel flushed the secondary with the 650 secondary scrubs the Chiefs picked up this offseason, and none of them showed anything. Receivers were wide open all 4th quarter, like they weren’t even being covered. They were so alone, some of them got back up and started running.
The only player from this squad that I have any iota of interest in seeing again was SS Terrance Parks, but I didn’t see an ounce of good protection from him, just some ability to plug the box and play a short centerfield. Everybody else was garbage.