If you would have told me three months ago that I would be writing a story about Todd Haley being a Marty Ball coach, I would have told you that you were crazy. But you know what? The more I watch the Chiefs progress under Pioli and Haley's watch, the more I believe that this is the direction the Chiefs are heading.
Okay, let me take a step back here. The phrase "Marty Ball" has a negative connotation in Kansas City. It has become associated with Marty Schottenheimer's ultra-conservative offensive approach in which a team plays not to lose the game instead of going after the opposing team's throat. The offensive approach depends upon a clock-extending running game, a terrific defense, and a very conservative passing attack. The Chiefs saw Marty Ball at its worst in 2007 when Herm Edwards convinced Mike Solari to run a very conservative variation of the Marty Ball offense (affectionately referred to as R2P2, which means Run, Run Pass, Punt). In so many instances, Chiefs' fans saw outstanding playoff teams derail because the team refused to take chances.
But Chiefs' fans quickly forget that there are variations of a Marty Ball offense that are much more aggressive. Bill Cowher had a similar philosophy in Pittsburgh. Like Marty, Cowher relied on a game management approach in which his team played swarming defense and smashmouth football. Where Cowher differed in philosophy is that when his teams decided to pass, they weren't afraid to throw downfield, they were a little more aggressive in key moments of the game, and they weren't afraid to use a little trickery.Many people expected Haley to open up the Chiefs' offense is because he came from an Arizona offense that loved to attack, attack, attack. That offense was built around its personnel. You have a so-so offensive line, two stud receivers, and a quarterback who loves to throw a million times per game. Of course you're going to attack teams through the air. However, that doesn't necessarily mean that this is the kind of team that Haley wants to build. It doesn't even necessarily mean that this is the kind of team Ken Whisenhunt wants to build once Warner leaves.
How quickly we forget that Whisenhunt is the strongest branch to come from the Cowher tree. Given that Whisenhunt probably influenced Haley the most in his career, it seems perfectly logical that Cowher's influence rubbed off on Haley through Whisenhunt, even if that influence wasn't readily apparent on a Warner-led Cardinals offense. In the beginning of the season, I assumed that Haley's conservative approach was largely aimed at protecting his quarterbacks from a really bad offensive line. The more I watch this team progress, the more I'm starting to wonder if this is actually the way Haley wants to build his team even after the offensive line is set.
After all, look at Haley's playcalling. He loves to run on first down, he tends to lay up on long yardage situations, and his offense seems to rely a lot moreso on avoiding mistakes than in aggressively going for the throat.
It really isn't that ridiculous to believe and it isn't nearly as bad as the Marty Ball stigma suggests. Because of that stigma, I'm going to start referring to it as Cowher Ball. A lot of the telltale signs of a Cowher ball type offense are there. Scott Pioli clearly wants to build around his defense. We saw that this offseason, when he took a defensive player with three of the first four picks in the draft.
Here's a much more subtle telltale sign. With all the Chiefs' roster moves they've made and how quick they've been to cut decent players like Herb Taylor and Turk McBride, isn't it interesting that the Chiefs still saved a spot for Weston Dacus and Terrence Copper? These players are garbage. Why are they wasting roster spots? The answer is simple. They both happen to be terrific special teams players. Haley seems committed to building a very good special teams unit, even if that means keeping a few specialists on the roster. Even against Washington, instead of kicking a few long field goals or going for it on fourth down when they were near field goal range, he opted to punt. On a lot of situations, Haley seems to be very protective of field position.
Oh yeah, the Chiefs also happen to have a kicker who seems to be pretty darn good. You need a clutch kicker if you're going to play anxiety-inducing games that will often require your kicker to kick a lot of late game go-ahead field goals.
This approach might be a good thing for Matt Cassel. The more I watch him play, the more I think he'll never be the tactician that Brady or Cassel or Warner are. In fact, I don't want Haley to mold him into the next Kurt Warner. If I wanted Cassel to model himself after any quarterback, it would be Ben Roethlisberger. Roethlisberger isn't a tactician of the game. He makes quite a few mistakes early in the game and to this day, he still has a tendency to hold onto the ball too long. The reason Big Ben is Big Ben is because he's a tough quarterback who knows when to make plays when they matter most. Even Cassel's biggest critics have to admire his late-game heroics this season. Cassel has had three drives in three games that were legitimate, late game, go-ahead drives. One of them was in Oakland and two of them were in Dallas (one of those drives, of course, was pushed back on a holding penalty that ultimately resulted in a blocked field goal).
What does this mean for a Chiefs' fan if true? Again, this whole analysis assumes that Haley sticks to a similar offensive approach even if he gets an offensive line that can support a lethal passing attack. It means that you shouldn't expect Haley to replicate the same kind of fireworks show on offense that he created in Arizona. It means that you can expect Pioli to continue loading up on defensive players, while treating the offense as a second-class citizen. It means that we can expect a few seasons of heart attacks---the Chiefs are probably going to win a lot more close games than they win blowouts.
It might not be quite the approach you were expecting from Haley, but it's not as bad as you might think.