We were all duped.
The coaching change. The fancy new free agent pickups. The positive reports from camp. The first preseason game.
They all conspired to to pull the wool over our eyes about the 2012 Kansas City Chiefs.
The expectations for this latest incarnation of Lamar Hunt’s ball club aren’t unfounded. The talent on this team can’t be denied and considering the lack of talent the Chiefs have had in recent years, it is natural that fans and media alike were getting excited about the possibilities.
But talent along doesn’t get a team to the promised land in the NFL. It takes a combination of talent, coaching and luck for a team to hoist the Lombardi Trophy.
And time. Most importantly, time.
Despite the holdovers from the Todd Haley era, the 2012 Kansas City Chiefs are but a mere shadow of their 2011 and 2010 selves. In fact, the group that has trotted out onto the field for the last two preseason games isn’t event the group most fans expected would be kicking butt in the AFC West this season.
Consider, for a moment, how different the Chiefs looked on defense last night.
2 new starting CBs.
1 new starting safety.
1 new starting NT (both Toribio and his replacements)
That is four players, more than a quarter of the entire unit.
Did we think that Stanford Routt was just going to step in and replace Brandon Carr immediately? Routt is a talented player and I’ve no doubt that he can be successful in Romeo Crennel’s defense but let’s be realistic here: there is a learning curve.
Practice is one thing. It lays the ground work for regular season success but Routt has a grand total of three starts under his belt in Romeo Crennel’s defense and the first two starts combined did not even equal four quarters of play. Routt is going to get better.
Jalil Brown (who I accidentally refereed to as Colin on Twitter last night) is starting in place of Brandon Flowers. Talk about a drop off in talent. But what should we really expect from Brown?
Do you know how many snaps Jalil Brown played as a rookie?
Now he’s thrown out there as a starter? This guy was a fourth-round draft pick, #118. He is seeing his first extended action in the NFL and considering likely 0 of his 31 snaps a season ago were on the outside, Brown is basically a rookie fourth-round pick starting at CB.
Naturally, teams are attacking him. It doesn’t mean Brown isn’t going to be any good. The fact that the Chiefs are starting him likely means Romeo Crennel sees something in the young corner he really likes. But it is going to take some time.
There was excitement when the Chiefs finally drafted a NT in Dontari Poe. Clearly the Chiefs don’t think he is ready so they are trying to shove some guy named Anthony Toribio down our throats. Crennel has said Toribio is a technician but understanding of technique is one thing, starting experience at the most important and challenging spot in the 3-4 defense is another. This guy didn’t play at all last year. Last night he was hurt, taken out and replaced by a combination of Dontari Poe and Jerrell Powe. The latter Powe actually made some plays but regardless of which of these guys ends up being the full time NT, they won’t have between them, the amount of experience last year’s starter Kelly Gregg acquired in one season of play.
Abram Elam is a veteran who, like Routt, has plenty of NFL experience but is new to Romeo Crennel’s defense. Last night Elam was thrust into a starting role in relief of the injured Kendrick Lewis. Elam is still getting his feet under him and is likely not quite as quick to react as he will be later this season. He’s getting his reps and that is what the preseason is for.
Lastly, let’s not mention Eric Berry who is most certainly shaking off the rust from missing an entire season. If Berry had five years of NFL experience when he went down to an ACL injury he would likely have come back to the Chiefs this year playing at the same level he was before the injury. But this guy had only one season in the NFL and then missed an entire year. He doesn’t have a ton of experience to draw on and he is still re-adjusting to the NFL game. I wouldn’t go so far as to call this a second rookie season for Berry but the kid is certainly going to need some time to adjust.
One or two of these things happening on the KC defense might not be that noticeable. Unfortunately, that isn’t how things are going. There is going to be a learning curve for this defense and we are witnessing it right now.
The same goes for the offense. Dexter McCluster is back at WR. Jon Baldwin has been thrown into the deep end of the pool as a starting WR. Peyton Hillis, who wasn’t even on the team last year, probably knows more about the offense than any other Chiefs player because he has played for new offensive coordinator Brian Daboll before.
KC also added back in Dwayne Bowe last night. When they did run the ball, which was rare, they were rotating in running backs. Jamaal Charles got a handful of carries and was effective. Hillis got only two.
No, the Chiefs came out throwing. The offense looked a lot different than it did in the first two preseason games. Cassel and Daboll seemed to be testing their deep passing game a little bit. The results were poor, to be sure, but did you really see a balanced offense out there?
You can point to the lopsided score as the reason why the Chiefs threw so much but I don’t buy it. KC came out throwing on their first four drives and throwing deep. Before last night, Jon Baldwin had one catch, Steve Breaston and Dwayne Bowe had zero.
The Chiefs ran the ball only 11 times in the first half. Two of those carries were Cassel scrambles. Brian Daboll called only nine runs in the first half. This team is built to run and pass off of the run. KC was trying something funky here and it didn’t work but I wouldn’t panic about that just yet. What we saw from the offense last night isn’t how this team is going to play offense.
I’m not trying to make excuses for the Chiefs’ lack of execution. There are real games around the corner and new players and starters on every team in the NFL. The Chiefs have to be ready to win with whoever is out there.
Still, we have to put the situation in perspective. There is a lot of new on the this Chiefs team. New starters, coaches, new offense, new special teams and three important players returning from significant injuries.
The Philadelphia Eagles showed last season that despite loads of talent, it takes a team time to gel. Unlike the 2011 Eagles, the 2012 Chiefs had the benefit of an entire offseason but that still doesn’t mean they’re sure to be ready by the third preseason game.
Before we sound the alarm, before we suggest, as Kent Babb of the Kansas City Star did this morning, that Romeo Crennel drop his defensive coordinator duties and give them to Gary Gibbs, let’s step back and look at this Chiefs team for what they are: an extremely talented group of players and coaches trying to figure out how they can best work together and win.
I still think this team is going to be good. It just may take them until October before they hit their stride. If they can keep things respectable early, a favorable late-season schedule could mean a playoff run come November and December.
But right now, the Chiefs are still learning.
And that’s what the preseason is for.