I have to admit that I thought the Chiefs vs. Chargers game was over after only one Touchdown. The Chargers were moving the ball down the field surgically and, like last year, the Chiefs' offense sputtered right out the gate.
The Chiefs then spent the next few quarters proving why they aren't the 2009 Chiefs. They are a much better football team. Maybe you can credit their win against the Chargers to good fortune. The ball and ground were slippery, which took away some of the Chargers' biggest strengths. Still, there were some visible improvements that I expect to see from game to game. The players are playing with discipline, committing less penalties and making less boneheaded miscues that lead to big plays. Glenn Dorsey and Derrick Johnson played like complete animals. Tyson Jackson and Jovan Belcher played solid football. And, of course, it was great to see Arrowhead back in form.
I am excited by the progress the Chiefs seem to have made, but before I get too far ahead of myself, I need to see the Chiefs answer the next five things.1. The Pass Rush: The one thing the Chiefs were missing against San Diego was a consistent pass rush from the back 7. A lot of that was probably due to slippery ground conditions which made it tougher to turn and change direction. Some of that might have been due to Romeo keeping his LBs back, particularly to get an extra body on Antonio Gates. The good news is, we saw the front 3 do a much better job of driving their blockers into the backfield. You also have to credit the secondary for holding their coverages which bothered Rivers, even absent pressure from the D-line. Still, Rivers on too many occasions seemed to have a little too much time. I like the Chiefs' rush on nickel situations, where Gilberry and Demorrio Williams looked really impressive. I'm a little nervous about Hali applying consistent pressure and whether Mike Vrabel and Andy Studebaker can apply consistent pressure on the other side.The good news is that the Chiefs will have a favorable matchup against Right Tackles the next two weeks, facing off against John St. Clair of Cleveland and rookie Anthony Davis in San Francisco. The bad news is that losing Tyson Jackson might make it more difficult to open up the kind of lanes you want your pass rushers to zip through and if Hali's foot is bothering him, that's an injury the Chiefs simply can't afford to have.
2. The Quarterback: I know I've said this before, but I'll keep saying it until he proves otherwise. Matt Cassel didn't look as bad as the numbers would indicate, but he certainly didn't look good. And even if the conditions were unfavorable, you have to worry about Charlie Weis' complete lack of confidence in Cassel to throw the ball in important situations. Right now, the Chiefs are treating the passing game as a distant secondary piece to the running game and that should scare a few people.
3. The Stretching the Field Issue: Tied in to the Quarterback situation is a concern about the Chiefs' ability to stretch the field. Cassel still hasn't proven he can consistently throw the ball down field, the offensive line isn't always giving long enough protection, and more importantly, Cassel very often doesn't do his offensive line any favors by not having better recognition of his pocket. I saw the Chargers start to really load defenders into the box later in the game and it led to a pretty ineffective second half running game for the Chiefs. Charlie Weis isn't a guy who likes to throw downfield, but if the Chiefs don't start proving they at least have the gun in their arsenal, they may have a lot more trouble moving the ball as effectively in the run game as they would like.
4. The 12th Man: I'll tell you what. It has been a really long time since I saw Arrowhead that electric. That wasn't the loudest Arrowhead has ever been, but given how long it's been since the Chiefs gave the crowd anything to get excited about, it just felt that way. It's been a long time since I saw a Quarterback get so frustrated by the crowd. As I mentioned several weeks ago, adding McCluster and Arenas was brilliant because they can make plays that can spark a crowd,. That being said, the Chiefs will need to prove that their defensive brilliance on Monday night was legit or if it was the result of a frustrated Quarterback and horrible cadence with the Center that made the entire offense completely out of sync. We'll see how the Chiefs fare when the Quarterback has a normal snap count. The Chiefs will need to prove they can win on the road. It will also be interesting to see if Arrowhead will continue to be that loud. Monday Night Football has a tendency to get a little extra from the crowd. You also have to wonder if one or two losses will deflate the crowd a little bit, as it has the past few years. I hope not, but you never know.
5. The Cutback Run: I'm also interested to see how the Chiefs fare when they square off against a Running Back who can actually make sharp, decisive cuts. The Chiefs are miles better at tackling this season and their Inside Linebackers are doing a much better job with gap control. Still, you have to be concerned that teams are going to run the ball up the middle with some success due to inconsistent Nose Tackle play. Ron Edwards is not the answer in pure run situations. I will be curious to see if Anthony Toribio begins to see his role increase in the coming weeks. I sure hope so.