The basic truth is that this Monday is just like every other Monday: we wake up, go to work, the Chiefs lost again, still no one has been fired.
Nothing else really matters right now, but as I was watching last night’s predictably loathsome outing, I was surprised by one thing – Pioli’s draft picks are starting to make a difference.
Up until this point, all the bright spots on this squad had all been drafted by the Herm Edwards regime or earlier – RB Jamaal Charles (3rd, 2008), OLB Tamba Hali (1st, 2006), ILB Derrick Johnson (1st, 2005), CB Brandon Flowers (2nd, 2008), LT Brandon Albert (1st, 2008), WR Dwayne Bowe (1st, 2007). It was looking like four years of drafts manned by Scott Pioli and company had been a total waste and the team had overall moved backwards.
Furthermore, looking at injuries and the past performance of both of these teams, this matchup looked brutal. The left side of the Chiefs’ O-line was to be run by two rookies against one of the league’s best pass rushes. With CB Stanford Routt cut, the Chiefs would be defending Peyton Manning’s passes at the flanker and slot positions with CB Javier Arenas and CB Jallil Brown. Four and five receiver sets would put Travis Daniels and Abram Elam on the field. With Jonathan Baldwin out and Bowe nicked up, Terrance Copper and Jeremy Newsome were to see significant action as number-two receivers.
I was mentally preparing myself for watching the blowout of the season. Maybe the century.
To my surprise, due to a valiant defensive effort, Charles, and some uncharacteristic miscues on the part of the Broncos, this was a close, competitive game. Basically, the only reason this game wasn’t a massacre was because Pioli’s draft picks — hitherto invisible and ineffective — finally came to play.
Let’s start with the aforementioned rookie linemen – LT Donald Stephenson (3rd, 2012) and LG Jeff Allen (2nd, 2012). Along with RG Jon Asamoah (3rd, 2010), both blocked extremely well in the run game and held their own in pass protection. Allen had already shown flashes this year. This was Stephenson’s coming-out party. With the exception of a dumb clipping penalty that stalled a drive, the ex-Sooner had a good game and looks to be a valuable situational tackle and reserve and for Albert down the road.
The cornerbacks not named Brandon Flowers that I was terrified about actually played head’s up all day. This was easily Arenas’ (2nd, 2010) most solid all-around game. He covered very well and put the offense in good field position several times in the return game (not that they did anything with it). While he still has his struggles, Brown (4th, 2011) also looked like a pro and stuck with his receivers all day.
S Eric Berry (1st, 2010) had a decent comeback game. Despite allowing one of the two touchdowns, he seems to be finding his way back to playing like a quality starter with a tackle-for-loss and two passes defended.
WR Dexter McCluster (2nd, 2010) caught every ball thrown his way and had a key 19-yard run on one of the Chiefs better drives. TE Tony Moeaki (3rd, 2010) is also showing he’s finally healthy after his preseason knee-tear last year.
As a unit, this was the D-line’s best game this year. While he hasn’t been racking up stats (as expected), NT Dontari Poe (1st, 2012) is coming into his own and had his name called a lot yesterday with four tackles, a tackle-for-loss and a pass batted down. DE Tyson Jackson (1st, 2009) is finally looking like a dynamic lineman in several consecutive games and was good following the ball and quarterback, getting to Manning twice for a QB hit and a tackle right on the line of scrimmage that otherwise would have been recorded as a sack.
But, of course, the star of the show (and clearly the best value pick of Pioli’s tenure) was OLB Justin Houston (3rd, 2011). Amazingly, Houston is outplaying even Hali – the Beast himself. He was a constant terror for Manning and finished the day with four solo tackles, two sacks and four QB hits. He now has nine sacks, one forced fumble, an interception, and four passes defended in 2012.
However, as much as this game would seem to compliment Pioli’s drafting acumen, it was also an indictment of his free agency wheeling-and-dealing. Aside from the obvious failure of the Routt signing, RT Eric Winston has played well but not outstanding and has a tendency to pick up a couple of penalties per game.
Most glaring of course is the quarterback position. Trading the 34th overall pick in 2009 netted the Chiefs: QB Matt Cassel and LB Mike Vrabel. Vrabel played just a couple of years for the team and was questionably effective. I don’t need to explain to you how the Cassel experience has been, but suffice to day he was riding the pine this game. Starting in his stead was another free agent acquisition who appears to be a low-end backup. None of QB Brady Quinn’s deep balls were even remotely on target. And while he was efficient in picking up short passes, he was too timid to stretch the field and was dreadfully inaccurate all second half.
WR Steve Breston, who got a five-year deal with $9.5 million guaranteed last year was inactive again behind two practice squad bodies. He has three catches since Week 5. I see absolutely no reason to give the ball to RB Peyton Hillis anymore, who was signed for $3 million this year. He’s slow, accident-prone and just doesn’t give the Chiefs anything they can’t get from RB Shaun Draughn.
Still, the fact that several of the Chiefs’ recent draft picks in the defense and O-line are starting to come to life is unambiguously positive for the team long-term. Hopefully, if these guys can maintain consistency, the next coach/GM won’t feel the need to blow the team up and start over with new young players.
No matter how well these guys play down the stretch, however, I just can’t see a scenario in which it saves Pioli’s job. Even if we do somehow look back at his drafts as being effective a year or two from now, he will still be on the books for constant coaching disarray. We’ve had five offensive coordinators in four years. He fired and denied pay to one head coach after two and a half years, and replaced him with his absolutely hapless friends who turned the brand into a laughing stock. He totally ignored the development of the most important position on the field, and inspired at least one character for the film Horrible Bosses (guess which one).
So, on his way out the door, I’d like to thank Pioli for not drafting totally uselessly. We’ll keep some of these guys as you move on to destroy a different team. Much appreciated.