Yesterday, I commented on the Chiefs' defense. They're on the right track and I think they'll be surprisingly decent. Great? Probably not. Decent? Maybe. Be forewarned that I don't have the same glowing reviews about the offense.
Todd Haley. Can we end there? Haley will make this offense better. He's a bright young mind, he knows how to make a system fit his players' talents, and he knows how to get the most out of his players. That's one of the reasons I believe Pioli made the right decision when he fired Chan Gailey, although many would argue that it should have been done sooner. Gailey will get hired again and will do well wherever he lands, but he wasn't really a great fit for Haley's offense.
I also like the decision to go after Matt Cassel, even if that meant sacrificing a 2nd round pick and a long-term contract. I've heard many critics complain that Cassel is just as unproven as a Matt Stafford or a Mark Sanchez, and that's simply not true. I'm not going to pretend that his first season of success with an ultra-talented team is a predictor of future success. The place where Cassel is proven where Stafford and Sanchez are not is in the mental aspect of the game. That's not just talking about smart quarterbacks making good decisions. That's talking about a quarterback playing with his head screwed on straight.
We know Cassel can handle the pressure of playing in the NFL (let alone in a tough football market like New England). We know that he is committed to the game and has a "Brady-like" work ethic. We know that he has the confidence to shake off a bad performance. Those sound like fluffy comments, but think about how many ultra-talented quarterbacks have failed because they couldn't do some of those things. How many young quarterbacks have failed because they couldn't handle the boo-birds and critical media stories, and instead started pressing on every play? How many young quarterbacks have failed because they were just plain unlikeable? How many young quarterbacks have failed because they put a social life above a football life, a restaurant over an offseason workout program, an XBox over a film room? When you think about your quarterback, to use a popular movie reference, is he a guy who puts the bare minimum amount of flair on his jersey? These are questions you don't have to ask about Cassel. Not to say that either Sanchez or Stafford are bad kids. These are questions that are asked of any young quarterback.
Here's news that Chiefs fans already know, will deny to the death, but probably understand beneath the surface: the 2009 Chiefs offense is not going to be very good. The offensive line is patchwork, Dwayne Bowe is the only receiver worth throwing to, and who knows what to expect out of the running game.
I mentioned yesterday that Pioli treated the offense like a second-class citizen in comparison to the defense and I stand by that statement. I agree with his decision to build the defense first. That's what he's good at and I would rather have a dominant defense than a dominant offense, but here's something to consider. If a Defensive Lineman blows his assignment, the offense can break through for a big play. It sucks, but you live, learn, and move on. If an Offensive Lineman blows his assignment, Cassel could end up on a stretcher. The Chiefs did a great job of bringing in and securing Matt Cassel. You would think they would place a higher priority on keeping him safe.
And yet, the Chiefs used the first three draft picks on defense and showed pretty much no urgency in free agency to at least bring in some bodies to compete for a starting position. I credit Pioli for showing some urgency late in the preseason, though. The good news is that the offensive line was at least upgraded to serviceable due to some last minute moves (trading for Ndukwe/Alleman) and some good fortune (snagging O'Callaghan off the waiver wire). Maybe the Chiefs also bring in John Runyan, which could vastly improve the line. So in Pioli's defense, he got it right eventually, but it should have been a bigger priority sooner and we can't pretend that the right side of the line is anything better than adequate at its very best. I trust and hope that Pioli's learned that lesson, so it's not something to dwell on.
I also don't understand Pioli's logic for keeping a lot of insurance at quarterback, but not keeping any insurance for the guys that protect the quarterback. The Chiefs don't have a true backup left tackle on the roster. Their solution is to switch over Ndukwe in case Albert falls to injury. Really? So the guy protecting Cassel's backside could potentially be a guy who is playing out of position? Sure, they have Barry Richardson on the practice squad, but they risked him not clearing the waiver wire and, much more importantly, if Albert gets injured during any games, the Chiefs can't activate him until after the game. Why not keep a roster spot open for Herb Taylor or Barry Richardson in case of an in-game emergency? It doesn't make much sense to me.
I also worry that Haley is becoming too possessive of the offense. I like Haley taking over offensive coordinator responsibilities, but why don't the Chiefs have a Quarterbacks Coach? The Chiefs have four young quarterbacks with limited NFL experience who could benefit from a good QBs Coach who can devote all of his time into making them better. I want a QBs coach who can spot a flaw in the quarterback the instance it happens. I want a QBs coach who can train the QBs to develop good habits, both fundamentally and mentally. And if you're going to keep Tyler Thigpen on the roster, which I like, you need a QBs coach who can commit to teaching him better mechanics, better footwork, and a better grasp of a pro-style offense.
When is Haley going to have time to do any of that? And for every moment he spends coaching quarterbacks, is that a moment that he should have instead spent on gameplanning or handling some other head coach responsibility? I think Haley underestimated how much work goes into being a head coach, not just on the football field, but off of it too. I'm surprised he didn't follow Whisenhunt's lead and hire a young offensive coordinator who would help prepare the gameplans, but not call any actual plays. Remember, that's how Haley got his job in Arizona. I'm doubly surprised that the Chiefs to this day do not have a Quarterbacks Coach.
I'm not terribly upset with the state of the Chiefs' offense now that they're making some moves to upgrade the offensive line. I do hope that they'll respond by adding some additional pieces to the offensive coaching staff. On the bright side, the Chiefs have a good, young quarterback with a good head on his shoulders, and given Haley's offensive mind, the offense will be a force in due time. I can handle the fact that the Chiefs' offense might limp through the 2009 season; I just hope that none of it comes at the expense of developing a guy Pioli seems to think is the quarterback of the future.