The 2012 Kansas City Chiefs were undone by a number of factors but perhaps none so damning than their lack of focus and execution.
Their fans were undone before the season even started, thanks to a good old-fashioned case of self-deception.
Last year’s Chiefs came into the season with high expectations. The team had just won seven game in 2011. While seven wins is not all that impressive, the fact that the Chiefs managed the feat with Tyler Palko starting four games at QB and without RB Jamaal Charles and SS Eric Berry, most fans and experts figured KC had nowhere to go but up in 2012. Former head coach Todd Haley had been axed during the 2012 season and Romeo Crennel led the Chiefs to a surprising victory over the then undefeated Green Bay Packers. This was a team on the rise.
Or so we told ourselves.
The good vibes continued throughout the offseason. When the Chiefs selected NT Dontari Poe in the first round of the draft, though the pick was considered risky, many Chiefs fans I talked to insisted that if anyone was going to turn Poe into a star, it was Romeo Crennel. I agreed with them.
In training camp, WR Jonathan Baldwin began turning heads. KC media members were salivating over Baldwin’s circus catches in practice and the expectations for the second-year WR were ratcheted up even higher.
Finally, on defense, the Chiefs had allowed CB Brandon Carr to jet to the Cowboys while bringing in free agent Standford Routt as a replacement. At the time, there was a lot of talk about how Routt’s man-to-man style would be the perfect compliment to Flowers. KC fans raved about how terrifying the team’s defense would be with Routt and Flowers giving Tamba Hali and Justin Houston all the time they needed to get to the QB.
There was a lot of self-deception.
July is a time for optimism in the NFL. All the teams are 0-0 and fans are convinced that their team “definitely improved” over the offseason. There is rarely talk about what the other 31 NFL teams did during the offseason, unless it is apparent that a team got significantly worse. In general, however, NFL fans seem to prefer the narrative that everything else stayed the same over the offseason, save their own team getting better.
We saw this phenomenon in the Chiefs Kingdom in 2012. The signs of the doom to come were there but most fans chose to ignore them. Whenever realities were pointed out, there was often a canned excuse to explain them away.
Reality:Romeo Crennel had never had much success as a head coach.
Excuse: He was coaching the Browns. The Browns are cursed. He led them to a 1-6 record with a roster full of scrubs. He just needs the right situation and he has it in KC.
Reality: New offensive coordinator, Brian Daboll, had been bouncing around the league and had never produced a top offense.
Excuse: But the second half of last season, the Dolphins offense was really good. Daboll has just been a victim of walking into bad situations where coaches are getting fired. Plus, his time in New England will help him improve Matt Cassel.
Reality: Matt Cassel wasn’t really getting the job done in 2011 and couldn’t beat the winless Dolphins when the Chiefs were trying to hold on to first place. He was clearly faltering before going down to injury.
Excuse: Cassel’s failures were because of no receivers and because Todd Haley ran Charlie Weiss out of town. Daboll’s system will usher in the return of 2010 Matt Cassel. Also, Cassel didn’t have Charles in 2011 and the defense didn’t have Berry.
Reality: Dontari Poe is physically talented but he was clearly a reach by the Chiefs where they selected him. He is likely to start as a rookie and will probably struggle considering he had been playing against lesser competition in college.
Excuse: Poe is a beast and Romeo will get the most out of him. With Dorsey and Jackson on either side, he just needs to hold his own early on and he will improve as the season goes on.
Reality: Baldwin didn’t play very well in any of the preseason games, despite all of the hype about his training camp.
Excuse: Preseason isn’t real, you can’t trust anything you see int he preseason. Offenses are vanilla.
Reality: Stanford Routt just got cut by the Raiders. Should we be concerned?
Excuse: Routt will be a great #2 CB. The Raiders were just dumping his salary because Al Davis overpaid him.
Despite the concerns above, I don’t think even the most devoted pessimist could have predicted the Chiefs would go down in flames as spectacularly as they did in 2012.
This year, let’s make sure we are on our guard. Yes, this is the time of the year when we like to throw out the term “cautiously optimistic” and feel like we are being incredibly realistic and reasonable when we predict a 9-7 or 10-6 Wildcard berth.
In reality, however, going from two wins to 10 is going to be a tall order for the Chiefs. I’m not saying it can’t be done but there are a lot of realities it is important Chiefs fans begin to face now. Throw out the excuses and let us look at the potential problems the 2013 Chiefs face.
1. Andy Reid
Andy Reid has an excellent track record as a head coach. His final few years in Philly were not so good. Reid made some poor decisions that forced the team to switch gears and higher a new head coach. Has Reid learned from his mistakes in Philly? Did he just need a change of scenery? Can he reinvent himself in KC?
These are all fair questions that Reid will have to answer when his team gets on the field.
2. Can Bob Sutton be a successful defensive coordinator?
Sutton is an experienced and respected coach that managed to hang on through a couple of coaching changes in NY. Still, everyone has their limit. Just as Romeo Crennel should probably never rise higher than a defensive coordinator, perhaps Sutton is at his best as a defensive assistant. In his three years as the Jets’ defensive coordinator, Sutton had a very mediocre defense. The team ranked 6th in points allowed in 2006 but in 2007 and 2008, the defense was 19th and 18th in oints allowed and 18th and 16th in yards.
3. The Receivers
If you aren’t concerned about the Chiefs’ receivers, you’re engaging in some serious self-deception. Aside from Dwayne Bowe, there isn’t a single proven receiver on the roster. Bowe, for all his talents, is inconsistent. Maybe Alex Smith and Andy Reid will help guys like Jon Baldwin and Dexter McCluster be effective but the Chiefs shouldn’t rely on that. As for Donnie Avery, his 2012 season was impressive. Can he do it again?
Nico Johnson is a rookie and Akeem Jordan is a backup at best. The Chiefs have three of the best linebackers in the league but they need Johnson or Jordan to step up to complete the unit. This position could be a huge weakness in 2013.
5. Backup RB
Nile Davis is intriguing but if something happens to Jamaal Charles, the Chiefs lack a veteran backup to carry the load.
6. Alex Smith Sans Harbaugh
Nobody really knows how Alex Smith will perform under Andy Reid and without Jim Harbaugh and anyone who says they do is talking out of their rear-ends. And lets stop with the “Smith will at least be better than Cassel” talk. Before Harbaugh, Smith WAS Matt Cassel and under Harbaugh, Smith was a slightly more accurate 2010 Matt Cassel.
Can Smith be better than he was in San Francisco? Can he continue to improve? That is what the Chiefs need if they want to beat out Peyton Manning in the AFC West.
7. The Offensive Line
Stocked full of young talent, the offensive line is still a huge question mark. Albert is good and Asamoah is solid but beyond that, we have no idea how these chaps will perform. Jeff Allen left a lot to be desired last season. Hudson missed most of the year with an injury. Eric Fisher, despite being picked No. 1 overall, has never played a down in the NFL and is switching from the left to the right side. Geoff Schwartz has played well but he hasn’t played a lot. This unit could be good but it could also be young and mistake prone. Be careful here.
8. Doug Pederson and Andy Reid and the Offensive Coordinator
Pederson is the OC but Andy is calling the plays. Nobody seems to be concerned with Andy calling the plays, despite loud complaints from Chiefs fans in 2009 when Todd Haley did the same thing on the KC sidelines. Does Reid get a pass because of his experience and pedigree? Maybe. Is it going to work? No idea.
9. Defensive Line Questions
Do you feel confident that Tyson “Tim Man” Jackson, Mike DeVito and Dontari Poe can get the job done in 2013? If you do, you’re fooling yourself.
I’m not saying they will fail. But the reality of the situation is that both DeVito and Tin Man are historically bad at getting to the QB and Poe didn’t show much ability to collapse the pocket as a rookie.
Might Sutton’s system be better for Tin and Poe? Maybe. But let’s not pretend we have any clue how this is going to work out.
10. Peyton Manning, Wes Welker and Von Miller
Yeah, so the Broncos are good. The Chiefs got their backsides handed to them by the Cleveland Browns last season. KC has a lot of work to do to even be mediocre. They can certainly accomplish that feat in one offseason but having to play two games against a Hall of Fame QB isn’t exactly the best way to get your franchise back on track.
The good news is that the Chiefs don’t have to play the Broncos until the second half of the season, so they have some time to work out their problems.
I’m not trying tobe a Donnie Downer here. What I am trying to do is start an honest dialogue about some of the problems the Chiefs could face this season in an excuse-free, self-deceptionless (Note to my Editors: Natasha, Franklin, can I say “deceptionless?”) arena.
If 2012 taught us anything it is that we don’t know jack squat about how the Chiefs are going to play from one season to another. It also taught us that we need to think more critically about our beloved team so that we can offer up a more thorough evaluation of their prospects.