First, let me be crystal clear on one point: I know the Chiefs stink and I hate watching them lose. The only way any fan can endure a season like this is to focus not on team results, but instead focus on the little things. What little things we do right and what little things we do wrong. And then you pay attention to trends. Are there mistakes that frequently recur? Are there mistakes that happen randomly?
When the same mistakes happen over and over again, that's exciting to me because it usually means you can make the appropriate fixes and the mistakes will go away. It's like this. If your car is struggling because you need an oil change, you don't blame the entire car for your problems. You change the oil and you hope the rest of the car will function better as a result. You don't buy a new car when all you needed was an oil change. To me, the Chiefs are a squad filled with a lot of fixable problems. Some of those problems will take some time and some of them can be fixed immediately. Either way, they can be corrected.
As the season goes on, I'm going to continue to point to some things the Chiefs can do to make some major improvements. Most of those things probably won't happen until next year. However, a lot of those things can be improved marginally this season as "stopgap improvement" (e.g. improving a horrible offensive line to "below average" is an important improvement for the Chiefs). And understanding the Chiefs' top problems will help us prioritize the biggest area of need in the offseason so come draft and free agency time, we're not talking about bringing in a quarterback when a safety is clearly a much higher priority.
See my top 5 fixes after the jump.1. The front 7 isn't playing great, but they're playing inconsistently better. They aren't the problem. The Chiefs got some decent pressure onTony Romo but they're getting destroyed in two areas: teams attacking our nickel backs and our safeties. In the first half, the Cowboys had a huge bullseye on Donald Washington's back. Maurice Leggett is playing far too inconsistently and when he misses, he missed very badly.
What has depressed me most is the horrible play of Jarrad Page. I thought his failures over the last few years were due to a lack of a pass rush. Now, it's become painfully clear that he doesn't have closing speed. He's showing up to the ball two steps too late far too often, and today we saw yet another example of him diving to swat a ball away on a pass rather than staying on his feet and trying to make a tackle.
FIX: Bring in a big league, playmaking Safety. Closely evaluate Washington/Leggett throughout the year. I'm beginning to think Taylor Mays and Eric Berry should be on top of the Chiefs' draft board.
2. We saw it. Hopefully Haley saw it. The biggest problem for the Chiefs is the interior offensive line. And Goff and Niswanger have gotten a free pass from the coaching staff all year long. What have I said for weeks? Cassel doesn't have any room to step into his throws. The Chiefs' tackles are bad, but they're not as nearly as big of a problem as the interior linemen are. The Chiefs replaced Albert with a far less capable Left Tackle in Wade Smith and Cassel looked equally uncomfortable in the pocket.
Surprise surprise. Mike Goff leaves the game and Cassel has some pocket to work with, and he pieces together a few masterful drives.
Most fans pay close attention to the play of Defensive Ends and to sacks, as if that's the true measure of a pass rush. And so, when Cassel misfires on a pass where there's no pressure from the outside Defensive Ends, most fans will suggest that Cassel had protection but just plain misfired. Wrong.
Watch any good QB behind a good interior offensive line. Now imagine the quarterback standing in a pocket with a bat, swiveling the bat around in front of him like a windshield wiper. Look at the kind of protection you see in this picture. That's the kind of protection you want for your quarterback. It gives your quarterback room to step into his throw and it gives him spots to slide into when he feels pressure elsewhere. Cassel hasn't had that kind of "windshield wiper" protection. The protection moves backward and collapses the pocket. If Cassel swung a bat around him, he'd usually hit a defender within seconds of snapping the ball. Think about how Cassel adjusts to pressure. He doesn't slide into the pocket; instead, he bootlegs to the outside because there is no space in front of him. If the Guards and Center don't do their job, then Cassel has no option but to move backward and hope that he can find enough space to throw the ball out of bounds. Cassel would improve markedly if he could get some consistent protection from up the middle. We got a taste for that today when Andy Alleman went into the game for Goff.
FIX: Forget Mike Goff's past. He's not the answer now. The Chiefs CANnot and MUST not let Goff start another game. Test out Alleman at Guard. Test out Ndukwe at Guard. Test out Wade Smith at Guard. See if one of those players can even play Center. The Chiefs probably won't find an answer at the position, but all that matters is finding improvement. If Goff is playing Guard again on Sunday, I seriously question Haley's ability to evaluate offensive linemen.
3. We all laughed at Herm Edwards when he said: "you play to win the game." But it's not obvious to everyone, I guess. I do not and cannot understand the logic behind Todd Haley's overtime playcalling. The only time the Chiefs moved downfield was when he let Cassel rare back and attack. I don't understand the cute delayed handoffs to LJ late in the game. And I especially don't understand the dink-and-dunk, hide-in-your-shell pass offense when the Chiefs faced a first and 20, followed by a 2nd and long, followed by a 3rd and long.
Haley didn't play to win the game in overtime. He played to protect field position and that ended up losing the game for the Chiefs.
FIX: The Chiefs need to bring in an Offensive Coordinator, even if to serve as a consultant. And Haley needs to stop being so predictable on long-yardage situations. Everybody knows the Chiefs are going to run short passes, draws and delayed runs in those situations. He needs to stop being so afraid to just attack in those situations.
4. Tamba Hali actually isn't that bad in his role as an OLB/DE. Jackson/Dorsey showed some flashes of solid play, though they need to be more consistent. One thing KILLING the Chiefs late in games is quality depth. Our defensive line looks worse and worse as the game goes on, and it's because they are getting absolutely gassed
FIX: It looks like Scott Pioli is bringing in some Defensive Linemen for evaluation and he should absolutely bring a few of them in. They don't have to play awesome. They just have to take a few snaps to keep our defense fresher later in the game. For next season, an OLB opposite Hali is a priority, though it falls well behind Offensive Line and Safety.
5. Less mistakes. Mistakes killed the Chiefs late in the game on Sunday. The two that killed the Chiefs were Bowe's offensive pass interference call late in the 4th quarter, that forced a long Chiefs' field goal attempt and Wade Smith's holding call in overtime. In fairness, Wade Smith was playing horribly out of position and Bowe's pass interference call was fairly borderline.
FIX: There is no easy fix for this. Haley needs to just get the Chiefs to play the mistake-free football we saw against Baltimore. A big part of that will involve getting some continuity in the starting lineup. But unless this changes, the Chiefs are going to continue to whizz away opportunities.