Last week, I focused heavily on how the Chiefs have gotten visibly better in 2010. Now that I've given you a week to celebrate and rejoice, allow me to give a little bit of a gut check. The Chiefs have improved in many ways, but there are still a number of big pieces that will likely keep them from becoming a .500 team.
More after the jump.
This is not going to be an unpopular opinion, but the more I watch Matt Cassel, the more I worry that he just isn't the answer. The excuses just aren't there anymore. His receivers are playing better, he has better talent at the slot, he's getting adequate pass protection, he has a good running game to protect him, and he has an offensive coordinator who knows how to call plays and coach up Quarterbacks. The fact that Cassel still hasn't shown visible improvement is concerning.
Maybe Cassel's lackluster play in the preseason is the result of Weis not fully showing his hand. There's a few reasons why I don't believe this is necessarily true. You see, even though Cassel operated in a vanilla offense this preseason, you'd still want to see improvements in a number of areas. For me, I wanted to see him better understand his pocket, throw downfield with better accuracy, and get rid of the ball faster. He didn't do many of those things.
First, he holds on to the ball way too long and he's become visibly antsy when he's not satisfied with what he has. He's become Captain Pump-fake. He seems antsy and nervous out there, and that's not something you want to see out of your field leader. To top things off, he stares down his receivers. He still does not do a good job of seeing the field. On numerous plays this preseason, you'd see an open receiver who didn't get a sniff because he wasn't Cassel's primary read. The result is that the pass protection is asked to do superhuman things. They're asked to pass protect for eternity for a Quarterback who doesn't really know how to escape pressure. When I watch Tom Brady, the guy glides in the pocket. He smells pressure and he'll find a soft spot in the pocket where he can buy a little more time. Cassel's reaction to the pass rush is to either bootleg to the outside or else tuck the ball in and run up the middle. He needs to learn just a few more ways to avoid the pressure than that.
Finally, his downfield accuracy. While Charlie Weis didn't give him a lot of chances to prove his worth, when he was given opportunities he's been off the mark. Cassel's completions have been largely low-risk short screen passes, which is fine given that Weis' offense is dink-and-dunk. But Weis' offense also requires lightning quick recognition when you're not throwing screens and the ability to use the deep pass not as a weapon but as a way of keeping defenses honest. Time is running out for Cassel and if preseason is any indication, sad to say, but he's going to hold an improving team back.
The biggest surprise this preseason was how well our defense played. Granted, we have to take it with a grain of salt. We didn't exactly play premiere offenses and we didn't always get much face time against #1 starters. Against Tampa and Green Bay, it's hard to get over-excited about improvements when they were squaring up mostly against backup QBs. Still, we saw some really encouraging things. The Defensive Line isn't getting much push but they're playing with consistency, our Safety play is already limiting a lot of big plays from developing simply by sniffing out plays before they bust too far loose, and our LBs are playing with a lot more discipline.
The big play annihilated the Chiefs last season and it was largely because of stupid mistakes and missed assignments. Under Romeo's watch, I've been very impressed with the Chiefs' defensive discipline so far. But there's only so many ways that you can dress up average talent. Ron Edwards continues to be ineffective at... well, almost everything. He's not getting a push, he's not drawing a lot of extra blockers, he's just sort of there. While Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey have improved, they're not driving their blockers; instead, they're absorbing them. That's okay, but you'd hope they can do both at some point. And maybe we should be encouraged by our ILB play, with Demorrio Williams and DJ both having an outstanding preseason, but they still do worry me. I also worry that our ILBs are undersized for a 3-4.
In other words, I see this run defense getting nickeled and dimed quite a bit. 5-yard gain upon 5-yard gain upon 5-yard gain. At least we're eliminating the big 20+ yard sprint to the end zone, but we're probably not near the kind of run defense you'd want and expect from a .500 team. Not just yet.
They're getting better, but for the most part, when starters go down, we're going to be starting backups who probably wouldn't be good enough to make most rosters. Their offensive line depth is extremely concerning, their backup QB is a guy who can't stay healthy, the Secondary takes an enormous hit if any of our starters go down, and while our Defensive Line has a lot of specialty depth (Wallace Gilberry is very effective in passing situations), they don't have anybody really that can play 2-gap really well.