Props to DJ for his great post, I just wanted to add a lengthier biopsy on what exactly happened.
We were outplayed. But we did it while creating plays, while moving the ball, while attacking the other team, and while bouncing back from taking our lumps. Tyler Thigpen threw a pick-six in the last three minutes of the game. What did he do after that when he got the ball back? Roll over and die? Hand it off to the RB to run out the clock?
No, the kid threw a touchdown.
This is a rebuilding team, and this is the pattern we're going to see all year. There are going to be moments, even entire games, where this team can make anything happen. Croyle will go 20-32, 200+ yards with a couple TDs. Our OL will open holes. Our defense will get to the QB. Our safeties will be hell on earth. Our kickers will hit their kicks. Our returners will nail their returns. Our playcalling will click.
And then... there are going to be moments, even entire games, where this team will spin its wheels and nothing will come of it. Croyle will go 7-31, 85 yards, 0 TDs and 3 INTs. Our OL will get dominated and penalized. The opposing QB will have a clean jersey by the final whistle. We'll fumble hand-offs and fumble for no reason. Our secondary will get picked apart. Our playcalling will continue to run LJ into brick walls.
It just so happened that yesterday, this team did a little bit of both. More after the jump.
The #1 biggest problem for the Chiefs yesterday was that we just couldn't punch it in. Five different times we weasiled our way into their red zone; thanks mostly to LJ in the first half, and mostly to Thiggy in the second. But once we sniffed that endzone paint, we couldn't find a way to get past the defense until, of course, the final minute.
Some of that was our playcalling. Gailey called a solid game in the second half, but his offensive scheme in the first was too conservative. I know that's an odd complaint to make when we actually had a running back take a snap, but our plays only asked Croyle to look downfield a handful of times for the entire half. Herm admitted afterward they wanted to run the ball. For the most part, they succeeded, but they did it to the detriment of Croyle, whose few downfield throws were off; he almost looked rusty.
I think the most maddening playcall of the first half was that 3rd-and-goal from the 16. Gailey called for LJ to run up the gut, something that I'm not even sure Solari would have called. Setting up our kicker for a 30-yarder isn't going to tell us anything about our offense, our kicker, or our young quarterback of the future. Worst playcall of the preseason.
Yes, Croyle was unimpressive. It's going to happen. But he was not helped by Gailey's hand-cuffing playbook. I believe that a young QB in the NFL should be treated like a shooter in the NBA: when they're off, you keep feeding them opportunities to get back in. Our gameplan showed no confidence in Croyle. But his poor performance is something that we needed to see; it not only prepares us for sequels throughout the season, it will show us how he bounces back next week.
Thigpen gets unfairly derided, I believe. First of all, and I'll get to this in a minute, but when Thiggy was on the field, he was protected by a leaky line (to say the least). This put Thiggy into Casey Printers mode for a while, scrambling after 2.5 seconds of scanning. But Thiggy also did what Printers couldn't do: delivered when he stayed in the pocket.
Thiggy's going to need another year before we see what he's made of. The kid came from Coastal Carolina, for crying out loud. The calls for his head are premature, but it is crucial that the Chiefs continue to give him more and more snaps during games. The more snaps he gets, the faster he'll mature. Thigpen has the tools, he's mentally tough, he's athletic, and he can be accurate. But he's young, and he'll over- and under-throw receivers and stare-down his targets until he learns otherwise on the field.
Our RBs, however, have nothing to fear. Two-Sev looked fantastic. There's not much to say there. I was a little nervous when Kolby Smith's first couple touches were iffy, but they just proved to be rust-shakers. Smith looked solid for the rest of the game. Smith has a quality of simply "wanting it more," and it shows when he gets any wiggle room whatsoever.
Speaking of wanting it more, who is this Dantrell Savage kid? Not only is he the best returner we have on our team (I'm on board to cut Sams), he has the biggest heart. Savage runs with his hair on fire, and for that I believe this team simply has to make room for him on the final roster, or get fair value for him in a preseason trade. You don't let a guy like this walk for nothing.
Our first-string offensive line once again was only given a few plays to protect Croyle, as Gailey's playcalling featured lots of misdirection and rollouts. Herb Taylor once again kept Brodie clean on the blind side (!!!). Our other sixth-rounder, Barry Richardson, got embarrassed for a sack in the second half, but was sturdy on run-blocking. I've said this before, but Barry may have a future on the inside of this line, and Herb might have a future at RT.
And my goodness, what kind of lunch did Adrian Jones and Damion McIntosh have yesterday? These two were human wrecking balls for the Arizona defensive line. Jones and McIntosh kept the strong-side clean for Brodie, and their run-blocking was devastating and fantastic. It's really hard to tell what to make of these two, but if nothing else, we've seen the potential they bring for this season.
Our wide recievers were unable to show much of anything until the second half, when Gailey called for more downfield plays. The first half was nothing but limited opportunities for the WRs, and they mostly flubbed them. I don't know if Croyle and Darling's lack of connection is more Darling's fault or Croyle's but it can't bode well for Darling's chances at #2. As of now, they have a lot of work to do for DVD. Bowe didn't have much to do either, and his one highlight was when he hopped around like a moron instead of blocking for LJ. Bowe needs to put down Samie Parker's Rules To Live By, because they're not helping.
By the second half, the second-string receivers showed us what they're worth. Maurice Price has all but made this team, as his speed and his route-running has just given back-up corners too much to handle these two games so far. Don't be surprised if Price makes a run at the #2 job in the next couple games. He has so far looked great. Kevin McMahan and Jabari Arthur once again gave us sure hands, making the most of their limited opportunities. And the lanky Sergiori Joachim, the last WR on our depth chart, listed at 6'5" but the kid looks 6'7" or taller, was the stud of the night by hauling in a Thigpen touchdown pass in the game's final minute.
I have been worried all week that the team's biggest achilles heel would be at a total lack of passrush. However, with the right line-ups and the right playcalls, the Chiefs proved they can get to the quarterback. This defense's biggest problem right now is linebacker play. Outside of DJ and Demorrio Williams, there's not a Chiefs LB on yesterday's field that can consistently shoot the right gaps or play a lick of pass coverage. Pat Thomas continues to earn very inconsistent reviews, as he is usually in good position but always under-delivers on playmaking.
Our playmaking on defense as a whole is improving, though. Several times throughout the game the Chiefs got both palms on Kurt Warner's and Matt Leinart's passes. They're hungry and it shows. But they have to not only create these opportunities, they have to start converting them. Right now the only players who could convert yesterday were Flowers at CB and Turk McBride at DE.
Speaking of Turk, Batman at ArrowheadAddict.com was vindicated for at least one glorious first-half yesterday, putting my initial fears of Turk to rest. Turk was a beast coming off the left side, getting his hands up in QB's faces, bullrushing, beating OT Levi Brown around the edge, and overall displaying a great motor. Turk is still struggling to find a place on this team, but he came a long way yesterday at strong-side DE. His combination of strength and speed are undeniable; now it's just about execution.
Our DTs looked solid, not great. There was some push, but nothing to write home about. I'm happier that they weren't eaten up on run-plays. Dorsey actually came in for a couple plays to my surprise, and wasn't budged an inch on a run directed right at him. He was, however, shut out on the next pass play when he was virtually triple-teamed.
Tamba Hali continues to underperform. He's turned in two disappointing efforts in two preseason games so far. I can't tell exactly what his problem is, or if that nose of his is bothering him, or if he's simply suited better for LDE. But at this point, if this is any indication of the season to come, we're going to have to send blitzes if we want to get a rush on the blindside. Fortunately we have the best blitzing LB on our team on that side. Kudos, by the way, to the reserve DL, who didn't get obliterated this time around.
The second-half collapse was due more to LB than DL. In the first half, we surrendered less than 100 yards. That's a great half, but unfortunately Leinart came in and lit up our linebackers who showed little-to-none coverage ability. In the Cover 2, you must have LBs who can mark up. At this point, I don't know where that depth is going to come from. Virtually none of the second-string LBs looked solid.
Our secondary was also beat a few times, but we expected that. The main question was going to be how would they rebound from getting beat? The results were great, I thought. Both draft picks looked great at CB. Carr almost picked off an errant Kurt Warner pass, and Flowers made that brilliant play on Fitzgerald at the beginning of the game. Patterson even got in on the action, which confirms to me that Patterson may be short on talent, but he is chock-full of heart.