Luck is a funny thing. It tends to run in trends, either bad or good. A big problem with luck is that until we have the benefit of hindsight it can be difficult to decide whether a "break" was truly lucky or unlucky.
For example, the college I was going to decided to make it nearly impossible for me to get an English degree doing online classes. This seemed like a bad break at the time, since I thought I wanted to be an English teacher. But then I started looking into the online classes that were offered, and found an emphasis on law. One thing led to another, and a few years later I'm attending a top 20 law school getting most of my tuition paid.
(Yeah, I know, it sounds pretentious to say it the way I did. There's no way around it coming off like that. But the point is I got a break that looked bad and it actually ended up working out REALLY well for me. So I added in the "top 20" and "scholarship" stuff to add to the point. That's just the way it shook out. So ignore the what-looks-like-bragging-but-is-actually-proof-of-my-point, believe me when I tell you I know I haven't accomplished anything impressive as of yet and just got lucky, and let's move on.)
Anyways, now that JComp's already skipped over the remainder of this intro due to length, I suppose I can do you a favor and get to the point (or at least, a point. Any point. It doesn't even have to be a good point. That's the beauty of dragging things out. It gets people so desperate for a point they'll take anything. Write that down).
We've had some ROUGH breaks this year. Absolutely God awful bad luck. More specifically, I think to our schedule and (more importantly) our injuries. Looking back, though, I'm starting to wonder if in the big picture, those rough breaks turn out to be the best thing for our team.
(Look, this is a long post. 2700+ words. So I've broken it down into sections. So if you're someone who just can't stand the idea of reading too much read the intro, then skip ahead to whatever section interests you. Spoiler alert, there's one section that explains why Matt Cassel was our best offensive player Monday night. But I'm not going to tell you which one! Haha, try skipping around NOW!)When Tony Moeaki went down, I thought it was bad. Then when Jonathan Baldwin broke his thumb, I was disappointed and a little concerned. Then Eric Berry went down. Uh oh. Then Jamaal Charles. OK, time to hit the panic button.
While this was happening, we were getting absolutely creamed by the Bills and the Lions, two of the "easier" teams on our very tough schedule. Crap. Then Matty Nice threw one of the most inexcusable and mystifying interceptions I've ever seen to end our third game (and loss). Crap again.
Just that quickly, our season looked like it was over before it even started. I mean, what can you say when you lose two of your best players and the guys your offense and defense are built around? And nearly as badly, losing a valuable tight end who is vastly superior to his very, very average backup (no offense, Pope. I'm glad you're not Sean Ryan, but you are what you are. Which is average)? And to add insult to injury, your freak-of-nature first round pick?
Most of us were ready to jump off a really high building at this point, and I was right there with you. It was just so easy to make the excuse of injuries that there was a certain peace to it. The Suck for Luck campaign was in full force, and I looked at our schedule and wondered if we had a win in us anywhere.
Well, now that I've put myself through the emotional hell of reliving that stretch, let me tell you something; it seems as though something good has come out of almost every bad break we had.
The Berry injury
It's tough to see any silver lining when you lose your stud of a SS who can do anything. But I believe Monday night we may have started to see what could prove to be a long lasting benefit for our team... the switch to man-to-man coverage rather than a "soft zone."
Now, that may very well have been a one time thing to deal with Phumble Rivers, but given how successful it was (yes, I know Rivers threw for tons of yards. But he's Rivers. That's gonna happen. We stopped them multiple times when it counted), I can't imagine they're going to go completely back to the soft zone that's been the source of so much frustration for us Chiefs fans.
We've got talented CBs who are capable of manning up against anyone (did everyone see Flowers owning those "too big for him" WRs last night? Did you get a good look? Good), yet we've insisted on this soft zone that seems to give up yardage anytime a QB decides to try.
My theory? With Berry, we were able to get away with it. When you've got a SS who is capable of covering so much ground, it masks deficiencies in the scheme. Without Berry, those deficiencies were suddenly exposed as pass after pass was completed to seemingly wide-open receivers (remember Curtis Painter passing for a thousand yards and seven TDs in something like three minutes? Yeah...).
So we had to adapt. We had send more blitzes, and rely more on our corners' talent than in the scheme itself. I hope the trend continues, because it's the ONE good thing that's come of Berry being hurt (It still sucks though, especially with our D starting to look very legit even without him. Throw in a stud SS and you've eliminated our D's weak spot. Sigh...)
The injuries to Moeaki, Charles, and Baldwin, along with our tough first two games
Let me start with a simple, uncontroversial statement.
Matt Cassel was our best offensive player Monday night.
(Wait! Hear me out! I swear to God I haven't taken him back sooner than I said I would! I'm not that weak! I know he'll never respect me if I let him be my QB again so soon!)
He was. Seriously! I'll get back to this later and prove it to you, but he was. And it may well be due to the injuries that have devastated us on offense to this point.
We'll start with Moeaki. The guy's a great blocker, and a great pass-catcher. His soft hands and reliable route running made him a wonderful "safety valve" for Cassel. He was a guy who made the QB feel comfortable with only going through one read, because he had that "bailout" receiver to go to. In addition, with Cassel's struggles to look beyond more than one receiver, having a guy like Moeaki kept Cassel from looking elsewhere (pretty logical, right? You go with who you're comfortable with).
Next, let's look at Jamaal Charles. The ultimate "I'll make up for any deficiency we have on offense" guy. He's so talented, that blocking didn't matter. QB play didn't matter. Thomas Jones looking washed up didn't matter. Because JC would, a remarkable percentage of the time, bail our offense out with an incredible play. So deficiencies on offense went unaddressed (like poor playcalling, for example. Those handoffs on 3rd and long don't look so hot without an All-Universe RB getting them, do they?).
Then there's Baldwin. A huge, fast receiver with (from the looks of things) great body control and an eye for the ball. Having him out there immediately would have obviously been a boon for our offense, especially with the other two injuries.
All of those guys getting hurt was devastating for Matt Cassel, who'd been living his life with bailout guys around him. He looked worse than lost in those first couple of games. Throwing in the high caliber (yeah, I'm talking about the Bills and Lions. Isn't the NFL weird? This is why I prefer it to the NBA, where there are almost never serious, overnight turnarounds) competition made the effect even worse. He looked AWFUL, bad enough that many (including me) were calling for his removal. After all, we were going to be horrible anyways, so why not see what Stanzi or even Palko can do?
Fast forward to the Minnesota game and the Cassl/Haley blowup. Now, I don't think it was a matter of those two hating each other, or the team getting away from Haley. I think that Haley finally got ticked off enough at Cassel to start treating him the way he's treated every other player since he got here (with tremendous success for the most part). He told him he was playing awful football. Cassel, being a gamer (no one has ever questioned his heart. Just everything else), responded the way a gamer does by getting fired up.
I think without those injuries and those first two blowouts, along with that God-awful pick against the Chargers, that sideline incident never happens. Haley keeps taking it a little easier on Cassel, Cassel never gets ticked off and starts playing with purpose, and we continue to see a "scared to lose" Matt Cassel out there. So in hindsight, those blowouts and that bad beat to San Diego may have helped our quarterback become the player we need him to be.
Needing to Adapt
(Yeah, I added another "title" just for the sake of breaking this up a little. Because I'm getting longwinded even for me, and we've got a little ways to go).
Back to the injuries. Cassel now finds himself without his safety net TE, his stud RB, or his freak first round WR. Haley's lit a fire under him. But what to do? Team's are keying on Bowe, and regardless of how awesome he is, he can't do it alone.
Cue Bowe leaving a game with some kind of stinger for just a few minutes. Now Cassel is really screwed. Except... a funny thing happened. This guy that we signed by the name of Steve Breaston suddenly became a factor. Cassel HAD to look his way. There was no one else. And Stevie delivered big time. That guy can ball.
Suddenly Cassel had two receivers he's comfortable with. The offense starts to open up a little. But while all this was transpiring, there was still the matter of running the football. We knew TJ wasn't up to it. Dex is too small. McClain wasn't being given the option (for whatever reason, I still don't get that one). So again, we're screwed, right?
Wrong. Because we forgot about Jackie Battle. A very forgivable sin, really. After all, he'd spent his entire career tantalizing us in the preseason only to contribute nothing once games started to matter. Then he got a shot against the Vikings as we attempted to ice the game, and answered the call with POWERFUL running. I know for me, I was just happy that he'd done something. I didn't figure it would become a trend. (I know, I'm such a hater...)
Now we're four weeks later, and I feel stupid. Because Jackie Battle looks legit. He's got enough speed to get upfield quickly (something TJ lacks), and has the power to make almost any run a positive one. He's been a major contributor in every win. We've found a back who seems above average to complement Jamaal Charles when he returns, a legitimate "thunder" back that we as a fanbase have been begging for. I see us having one of the best running games of all time next year if JC comes back healthy. And it never would've happened had JC not gone down.
Back to Monday Night... (I swear to God this is the last one)
Back to my statement about Cassel on Monday night. I was originally going to just do a side note on his game, but I'm going to go a little more in depth (and by a little, I mean a lot), and there's a decent chance that my parentheses keys are going to fall off if I hit them one more time. (Let's see... Nope, still working)
When I watch a QB play, I don't pay much attention to the stats. Sure, after the game they become a way of looking at the big picture, but DURING the game, there's only one method to figuring out QB play (that's right, I'm about to divulge the secret to deciding on a QB!): you weigh the "nice!" versus the "crap."
By that, I mean you take the number of times something your QB does makes you say, "nice" against the number of times something he does makes you say, "crap." Awesome catches don't count (that's on the receiver). Neither do routine incomplete passes (unless, of course it's happening over and over. At which point they start becoming "crap"-worthy) or drops that are pretty clearly on the receiver. I'm talking about the QB alone. What did he make you say as the game went along?
And you know what, ol' Matt had WAY more plays that made me say, "nice!" than those that made me say "crap" (I've been thinking of calling these "groans" as well. You guys decide. I like "groans" better, I think. It's more descriptive and accurate).
Even when you go to the 2nd and 3rd quarter, when our offense stalled, I didn't see many "groan" (yep, I like that better) moments from Cassel. Seriously, before you call me an apologist or Kool-Aid drinker, watch the tape again. For a little preview of that research I have no doubt you'll do, just look at the "drive logs" in the 2nd quarter.
1st Drive- A run, 2 penalties, and 2 more runs. The first penalty was an offensive pass interference on Bowe that got a borderline "nice" checkdown to McClain called back (MC checked down? What the crap is happening here?)
2nd Drive- A 2 yard run then 2 incomplete passes. Yuck. Except... Cassel's first incomplete pass was a perfectly good throw to Baldwin that the rook just dropped (would've been about a 5 yard gain). And even worse, the 3rd and 8 down play was a very "nice" play by Cassel in which he bought time in the pocket, stepped up, delivered a strike to Bowe... which Bowe dropped (now in his defense he was being climbed by a Charger at the time).
3rd Drive- Two runs by TJ for a total of 6 yards. Then the infamous Non-Fumble. Barry Richardson was beaten in embarrassing fashion, so this wasn't a case of Cassel causing the sack. And that was no fumble. Seriously. The ball traveled forward! How would this happen without him being in a throwing motion? (fortunately, the refs were horrible towards both sides)
4th (and final) Drive- I'm not even going to go into the play-by-play here, other than to say that Haley needs to get his poop in a group with these end-of-half drives. Seriously, that was embarrassing. It was made even worse by the fact that when we finally threw the ball with hardly any time left we STILL got close enough for a FG. I'm convinced we left a TD on the field here.
-Moral of the story with all this? Cassel was still playing well in the 2nd half, and had a series of crap happen to him that genuinely was not his fault (penalties, drops, horrible blocking and call, and horrible playcalling). Watch the tape, this is no "OMG don't question Cassel!" rant. Watch the tape. Not just of the 2nd quarter, but the whole game. Very few "groan" plays from Cassel, and quite a few "nice" plays.
(Including those picks. One dropped pass, another in which he had to alter his throw at the last second as Lilja got manhandled into him. One not even a little his fault, the other is... well, I can't decide. What do you do as a QB when you've started to step into your throw and a guy is blocked into you? I can't make up my mind on that one).
Disagree with me if you want. But do yourself a favor and watch the game again. Count your number of "nice" vs your number of "groans" that come based just on Cassel. I think you'll be surprised.
In Summation (Yeah, I lied. But this is for those that are going to skip through most of this novel)
Matt Cassel was our best offensive player Monday night. That's now 3 straight games (and a half, I guess, if you count the Vikings game) in which he's had quite a few more "nice" than "crap" individual moments. Will it keep up? I have no idea. But I do know that it probably doesn't happen without Moeaki, JC, and Baldwin going down.
Additionally, Flowers is playing like the lockdown guy he is, and our defense is finally bringing some heat while playing something other than soft zone (at least part of the time). And I don't think this happens without Berry going down.
Additionally, our team is playing with grit and heart (H2E just gagged), and I think it's a result of playing two surprisingly good teams under horrible circumstances and then blowing what should have been a win. Again, something bad turning good (well, kind of good. Those losses are, after all, still a part of our record).
I'm still hesitant to say we're a playoff team. No Moeaki, Berry, and Charles leaves me doubting. But long term, big picture? Cassel emerging and our defense adapting to life without Berry could (if it continues) pay more long term dividends than anyone not named Aiken could possibly imagine.
Bad luck turned good. Who'd have thought?