KANSAS CITY MO - JANUARY 09: Head coach Todd Haley of the Kansas City Chiefs and head coach John Harbaugh of the Baltimore Ravens meet each other on the field after the Ravens defeated the Chiefs 30-7 in the 2011 AFC wild card playoff game at Arrowhead Stadium on January 9 2011 in Kansas City Missouri. (Photo by Doug Pensinger/Getty Images)
The Kansas City Chiefs 2010 season is over and I can honestly say it was better than I thought. I say that because I looked through a Chiefs 2010 season preview I wrote for SBNation.com and even the most optimistic side of me couldn't have predicted a 10-win season.
Check out what at least some of us were thinking entering the 2010 season compared to where the Chiefs sit right now.
The 2010 Kansas City Chiefs are expected to be a team on the rise in 2010. With just ten wins over the last three seasons there's nowhere else to go but up, right? That may be the case but the Chiefs have made some moves at player personnel and the coaching staff that many expect to make a world of a difference. They are now a year into the Scott Pioli and Todd Haley regime, the 3-4 defense and the new attitude that management is hoping to instill.
You wouldn't expect a four-win team to be so optimistic but it's becoming contagious in Kansas City.
That sounds about right entering the season. We were optimistic and after winning the division in Week 16 it's fair to say we had good reason to be optimistic. I was stuck on the 7-9 bandwagon entering the season so 10 wins was obviously a nice surprise.
In are some of the guys that are expected to be part of the solution: safety Eric Berry, receiverDexter McCluster, running back Thomas Jones, guard Ryan Lilja, defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and offensive coordinator Charlie Weis.
This was another offseason of change for the Kansas City Chiefs.
They also added significant pieces on the coaching staff with Crennel and Weis.
Pendergast simply couldn't get it done with the Chiefs defense in 2009. Haley was hired later in the process so his choice of coordinators was slim and he went with a guy that he knew. Crennel, who is experienced in the way Haley and Pioli want things done, should help right the ship.
Haley ran the show on offense in 2009 and, frankly, was in over his head. The addition of Weis, who is familiar with Haley's offensive style, will make a seamless transition into the Chiefs offense.
All those guys I mentioned had an impact this year. Some were bigger than others but they were all on the good side of things with the 2010 Chiefs.
The year of Matt Cassel is what we'll call this one.
The Chiefs understand your quarterback determines how successful you are and that's why they brought in Weis to work with Cassel and added offensive weapons like Dexter McCluster. One of the biggest criticisms is that Cassel holds onto the ball too long. McCluster's "jitterbug" like speed will help solve that problem. They also kept key ingredients like Chris Chambers and helped Dwayne Bowe find a newfound motivation with offseason workouts that included the likes of Larry Fitzgerald and Cris Carter.
The Chiefs also made moves in the running game to complement Cassel by adding Jones. He's expected to work with Jamaal Charles, who had a terrific end to the 2009 season, and create a running game that will complement the passing game. I tend to think the Chiefs will be an offense focused on the run game but that will only serve Cassel to make the throws necessary to deliver a knockout punch.
To put it bluntly, there are no excuses for Cassel anymore.
"The year of Matt Cassel" is right. The Chiefs QB had his best season as a pro but with the way the season ended we're still entering the offseason with questions about Cassel. I was wrong on Dexter McCluster and Chris Chambers having much of an impact. Neither player was a significant part of the Chiefs offense this year. I remember feeling very optimistic watching Dwayne Bowe in training camp and obviously we were right about that as he had a huge year. But, like Cassel, we still have questions about him with the way the season ended.
The Chiefs "will be an offense focused on the run game" was an understated prediction. The Chiefs called a higher percentage of run plays than any other team in the NFL.
Arguably the Chiefs two biggest problems on defense in 2009 were the safety position and the front seven (OK, so that's basically the entire defense).
They believe they've solved the safety problem by adding Berry with the fifth overall pick. He'll be a starter for the Chiefs defense from day one. Ideally, he's a guy you put in there and don't worry about ever again. They also added Kendrick Lewis via the draft. He's a fifth round pick but has shown an ability in training camp to pick things up quickly. He'll be pushing Jon McGraw for the starting safety job opposite Berry. Jarrad Page has yet to sign his restricted free agent tender and he's not expected to suit up for the Chiefs in 2010.
The front seven is a different story. The Chiefs have four first round picks there and with the exception of fifth round pick Cameron Sheffield, did nothing to upgrade in the offseason. The Chiefs have some young players there including two top five picks in Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson at each defensive end. Crennel, a former defensive line coach, has been paying extra attention to the defensive line in the offseason so better results are expected there.
The Chiefs front seven is possibly the biggest gamble they're taking on this team. They're banking on the guys in-house to develop -- the importance of which Haley recognizes.
The safety position got significantly better with the addition of Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis (when healthy). And, as we figured last year, Page wasn't part of the Chiefs plans. Glenn Dorsey made another jump and is turning into a nice piece for the Chiefs while it was Shaun Smith -- someone we didn't even mention in this preseason preview -- who was one of the better defensive linemen.
The Chiefs pass rush was saved by Tamba Hali. He had a hell of a season -- better than we thought -- and made the Chiefs pass rush dangerous.
The Chiefs special teams is shaping up to be pretty solid moving forward.
The Chiefs feel so confident in their kicker and punter that they haven't brought any competition into training camp. Ryan Succop, Mr. Irrelevant in 2009, had a solid rookie year and has shown no signs of resembling The Kicker Who Shall Not Be Named (January 1996 Chiefs fans understand that reference...). They've also got punter Dustin Colquitt. He's left-footed and creates some problems for return men. He's among the best in the league.
The return game was a problem in 2009. The Chiefs rotated guys in and out what seemed like on a weekly basis. To solve the problem, they drafted McCluster and Arenas. Early results in training camp say it's going to be one of those two guys -- or both -- that handle the return duties in 2010.
With the addition of those two, retaining Succop and Colquitt as well as hiring ace special teams coach Steve Hoffman, the Chiefs are starting to look like one of the better special teams units in the league.
The Chiefs kicker and punter were solid throughout the year. The return game looked good early in the year but kind of disappeared from there.
On defense, out is Pendergast, who coached the Chiefs to one of the worst defenses in the league in 2009. In is Crennel, who has won Super Bowls with the same Patriot-like influence the Chiefs are trying to instill. Crennel is a former defensive line coach and the Chiefs have lots of money invested in that position group so it seems like a match made in heaven. Don't expect the Chiefs to be a top ten defense in 2010 but also don't expect them to make dumb mistakes like they did in 2009.
On offense, out is Haley wearing two hats as head coach and offensive coordinator and in is Weis. The addition of Weis can't be stressed enough. As we said, this is the year Cassel needs to prove his worth and Weis has had some success on both the professional and college ranks with quarterbacks. He helped develop Tom Brady with the Patriots (heard of him?) and Brady Quinnand Jimmy Clausen at Notre Dame.
Meanwhile with Weis now focusing on the offense Haley can get back to being a head coach, something he wasn't able to do wearing two hats last year. He's got the Parcells-like demeanor and expects perfection from 1-53 on the Chiefs roster.
Both sides of the ball were improved in 2010. The defense was significantly better and the offense improved with the addition of Weis. Both additions quickly made the team better.
Overall, the Chiefs looked at their weaknesses in 2009 and focused on fixing them. With the exception of the front seven, they've done that.
They focused on character in the draft snagging five college team captains and want to build a team that pushes each other on and off the field. The Chiefs philosophy is that the competition never ends meaning each player will continue to work harder and harder to keep their position. It's how the Parcells and Bill Belichick have built their teams and the Chiefs are employing a similar philosophy in Kansas City.
While the optimism is riding high, it's important to remember that this is a team that won four games last year and only ten in the last three years. There are still holes to fill. That said, a promising schedule in 2010 and injuries and holdouts in other parts of the AFC West could see this team go 7-9 in 2010.
I'm glad to be wrong on that prediction.