Time For Vrabel To Step Aside


Todd Haley once said that there were no sacred cows on the Kansas City Chiefs’ roster but there is one old steer roaming the pasture at Arrowhead Stadium that is so obviously worshiped by Scott Pioli that they might as well dip him in gold and stick him on top of the jumbotron for all to behold.

I’m talking about OLB Mike Vrabel.

I don’t blame Pioli for bringing in Vrabel to begin with and I don’t blame him for resigning the aging veteran. Leadership and intangibles are important, especially on a team as young as the Chiefs. However, when leadership and intangibles are all a player has to offer in absence of talent, it is time to put him out to pasture. Especially when there is a young steer in the barn waiting his turn.

Or should I say a brand new Studebaker in the garage collecting dust.

Pioli and Haley seem to understand that they have a pretty good player in Andy Studebaker. Pioli demonstrated this by extending the linebacker’s contract and Haley by working him into the defense on a limited basis. In fact, I was thrilled with the way the Chiefs were handling Studebaker early in the season.   Mike Vrabel was in on first and second down and Studebaker was coming in on third down to rush the passer and get some extra experience.

I thought it was brilliant. They weren’t rushing Studebaker, who was still developing after coming out of division III Wheaton College, while slowly working him in while slowly working the aging Vrabel out. I was even more than a little certain that by midseason, old man Vrabel would go down to injury and Studebaker would take his rightful place in the starting lineup.

Much to my chagrin, Vrabel appears to have gone bionic in the offseason. If memory serves he hasn’t been on the injury report all season long and while it is great that he now has bones made of titanium or something, his new metal parts haven’t made him any stronger or faster.

Vrabel’s leadership may still be sharp but his play has been slipping all season long. Pro Football Focus has him graded as one of the worst starting 3-4 OLB’s in the league. He currently sits at #27 out of 36, with a grade of -7.4. He grades at a -2.3 rushing the passer, -2.1 in coverage and -2.3 against the run. His traditional stats are even more damning. PFF credits Vrabel with 28 tackles, 10 QB pressures, 5 QB hits and 0 sacks.

10 pressures, 5 hits and 0 sacks in 13 games from an OLB in a 3-4 defense.

By comparison, PFF credits Tamba Hali with 21 tackles, 12 QB hits, 49 QB pressures and 13 sacks. *

And I assure you, Pro Football Foucus’ stats are not only more accurate than what the NFL puts out, they are harder on the players in their grading and awarding of stats. The reason PFF has Hali credited for more sacks than the official NFL scorers is because they do not award ½ sacks.On the flip side, they do not give guys garbage sacks. For instance, if a QB trips in the backfield and Tamba runs over and falls on top of him, he would be awarded an official sack but PFF would not give it to him because they do not consider that a true sack. PFF watches every player of every game and grades them on each play to get an individual grade. You will find no more an accurate account of how a player is playing than PFF. That is why I trust these numbers and grades (and my own eyes) more than the 5 or 6 stats they show on espn.com or nfl.com.

Is Andy Studebaker playing better than Vrabel when he is on the field? My eyes tell me yes. Let’s see what PFF has to say.

PFF grades Studebaker at a -0.5 overall. He grades at an -0.8 in run defense, -0.1 in pass rush, 0.00 in coverage. He is credited for 9 tackles, 3 QB hits, 4 QB pressures and 2 QB sacks.

Vrabel has played a total of 656 snaps to Studebaker’s 212.

While Stuebaker’s numbers aren’t overwhelming, they are a heck of a lot better than Vrabel’s. Given his average, if Studebaker had played as many snaps as Vrabel he would have 27 tackles, 12 pressures, 9 QB hits and 6 sacks.

Again, not staggering numbers but better than Vrabel. The other thing to consider is that Studebaker’s arrow is pointing up while Vrabel’s arrow is most certainly pointing down. Meaning if Studebaker was playing more, his play would likely improve as he gained more experience.

I have a great deal of respect for Mike Vrabel. I watched him and cheered him on at Ohio State, respected him when he played for the Patriots and I have been thrilled to have him as a Chief. I think that all of the Chiefs linebackers will be better for having had a guy like Vrabel around, however, all of his teachings are useless if he can no longer lead them by his example on the field.

The Chiefs are wasting an opportunity to really find out what they have in Andy Studebaker. With the draft fast approaching and Cameron Sheffield a long way from making any impact whatsoever, the Chiefs need to know if they have an every down OLB to play opposite Hali.

I’m not calling for Haley to take Vrabel behind the garage with a shotgun here. I’m just calling for him to follow his own philosophy that the best players will play. If he is so in love with Vrabel’s intangibles that he can’t see the guy is losing it on the field then he still has a lot to learn about being a successful head coach.

To be fair to Haley, it may be that Pioli is preventing him from making this move. Pioli dragged Vrabel to KC kicking and screaming. I don’t blame Vrabel for not wanting to be here at first. The Chiefs were a joke and he was getting yanked from a Super Bowl contender to a 2-14 train wreck. If Pioli is preventing Vrabel’s benching because he feels like he owes him one, then the GM is not doing what is best for the Chiefs.

It is time for Vrabel to take his intangibles to the sideline for the rest of the season. At this point, they will work much better there, in the ear of Andy Studebaker, than they will out on the football field.