A few days ago, I talked about some of the ways the Kansas City Chiefs improved in the 2010 offseason (Click here to read that article first). The focus of that discussion was on rookies, but let’s face it, that discussion is only slightly interesting and compelling.
After all, there were many teams that drafted well and should, therefore, be better, so a good draft by the Chiefs doesn’t necessarily make them that much better vs. the competition.
Granted, it’s worth mentioning that when the Chiefs upgrade from a lousy player to a good rookie, that’s a bigger improvement than a team that upgrades from an average player to a good rookie.
Either way, today I want to focus on why the Kansas City Chiefs will be better in 2010, regardless of how well the rookies perform.
When you have good young players, you need good coaching to develop them to their potential. The Chiefs have that in spades on both sides of the ball. Like or hate Charlie Weis, he knows how to coach players. Regardless of Romeo Crennel’s ability to win games as a head coach, he has more than an extensive background in coaching up players, particularly defensive linemen.I believe that their contributions are going to contribute to an increasing discipline among players, something they lacked last year. Todd Haley did a great job motivating his players and keeping them in check, but that didn’t stop them from playing sloppy from time to time. The coordinators will also put their players in a better position to make plays through smart playcalling and the ability to make necessary adjustments. I know a lot of people were leses than floored by Charlie Weis’ playcalling so far, but if you had read my overview on Weis several months ago, you wouldn’t have been caught by surprise. Weis’ playcalling isn’t nearly as flashy as people think it is, but sometimes the most innovative solutions are those that are innovatively simple. And that’s what I think Weis brings to the table.
Weis' offense, instead, is a horizontal one. He loves to dink-and-dunk and he loves the screen pass. So while the Chiefs took some heat for throwing so many screen passes and checkdowns and while I'm certainly worried about Cassel's downfield throwing ability, it's also worth noting that this is the way Charlie Weis operates and it's actually brilliant in its simplicity. On the defensive side, it's worth noting that our players are playing position, our Defensive Line is hitting the right gaps, and have you noticed how much better they're tackling?
Defensive Line Play:
Defensive Line play has been quite the hot-button issue, largely because some fans were so incensed that the Chiefs would dare to neglect the front 7 in the 2010 offseason. One thing that really stood out to me in the preseason was how well the Chiefs’ Defensive Line played. Actually, it completely surprised me.You have to take these successes with a grain of salt. The unfortunate reality is that Tyson Jackson will probably never be Richard Seymour, and so he’s very unlikely to ever live up to his pick. He’s just not fast or strong enough to be a multi-threat monster at the 5-technique. However, we’re seeing signs this preseason of him playing consistently smarter. He’s reacting much quicker off the snap, he’s moving a lot more aggressively, and while he’s not making a whole ton of plays now, he seems to be in the right place most of the time. I’d like to see him start winning a lot more trench battles and to not get beat one-on-one so much, particularly in an isolated pass rush, but progress is progress. The result is that as a collective whole, nobody on the Defensive Line seems to be getting a lot of push, but they do seem to be opening up some nice holes for the LBs to dart through, which is of vital importance in this scheme. Don’t get me wrong, there are limits to how good they’ll be and they need to get a lot better, especially at the Nose Tackle position, but the doom and gloom of how bad our Defensive Line will be was a little bit overstated. Overall Team Character:
Okay, this is one I want to tackle in further depth, so keep your eyes peeled in the coming weeks. But character is important and the Chiefs most definitely have it.Playmakers:
Last year, the Chiefs were very light on playmakers and that was a huge problem. I love that the Chiefs made it their top priority to make sure that wasn’t the case in 2010. I apologize that I'm about to go back to the topic of rookies, but stick with me on this....The Chiefs didn’t need Dexter McCluster. Then again, they really did. What? Look, I know the Chiefs have players similar to McCluster. I know that a slot WR/gadget offensive weapon was low on the needs totem pole. But the way I see it, the Chiefs have a million opportunities over the next few seasons to bring in need players. They only have a handful of chances to bring in an explosive player like McCluster who can change the tone of the game with a few big plays. That forces a defense to make adjustments for the unexpected. It’s no longer about X’s and O’s and neutralizing strengths and dominating weaknesses; now, you have to account for the unexpected. I think of teams spending extra time in practices figuring out how to punt the ball to Dante Hall. Imagine that! This was the same argument I made several months ago when I talked about the Chiefs not needing a Left Tackle like Russell Okung. The Chiefs opted for Eric Berry instead. He plays a position of significantly less positional value, but he’s a guy who can absolutely electrify and we’re seeing a lot of that already. You can’t always measure players’ impact by performance. Sometimes their contributions are measured in things beyond statistics. Let’s put it this way. If you don’t draft Eric Berry, let’s assume we have a 4th quarter situation. The Chiefs are down two touchdowns with five minutes to go. Last season, this seemed like a completely impossible situation and it showed. The seats emptied out. The fans gave up on the Chiefs well before the game was over. The situation is different today. Today, one play could change the game and everybody knows it. This is a situation where a guy like Eric Berry or Dexter McCluster can come up big. This is a situation where we once saw Dante Hall turn a disappointing loss against the Broncos into an improbable win based on one kickoff return at just the right moment. Sad to say, but the fans aren’t going to scream up and down because Branden Albert made a monster block on a play. What’s going to bring the fans to their feet is electricity. A few years ago, I remember being at the Chiefs-Browns game when Dante Hall very nearly took a kickoff return to the house. I have never heard Arrowhead so loud. Not when the Chiefs surgically moved their way down the field. Not when pristine blocking led to a 20-yard gain. It will get Arrowhead loud again. It will get the team jumping up and down on the sidelines. What I'm surprised nobody has mentioned is how important it was to regain our turf. Arrowhead Stadium isn't what it used to be. The fans aren't as loud as they used to be. Players like McCluster and Berry are capable of bringing that energy back.
So when people criticize picking a player like Dexter McCluster and arguably Javier Arenas because they're not full-time starters, l have a simple counterpoint. The Chiefs' greatest advantage is Arrowhead Stadium, but only when it's loud and full of energy. A 50-yard kickoff return ignites that energy; a Nose Tackle occupying 3 blockers does not. Sometimes you have to measure football impact in ways that go beyond stats and positional value.