So Chiefs fans, how are you handling the hangover? After an off season complete with a lockout, no OTAs and nearly no practice for half of the team prior to the first preseason game, I found what I saw on the field last night just a tad underwhelming. Matt Cassel never threw a pass, JC never ran the ball, etc. etc. I'm sure it's all been covered ad nauseum here in the game threads and posts since the game concluded. Describing it as a hang over is the only way that I can do justice to the feeling today that all my pent up excitement and fervor for the beginning of the NFL season was released and then stomped on last night.
Before anybody starts with the 'It's only a meaningless preseason game' comments, let me explain that I know this to be true. I am not making a judgement here on where the Chiefs season is heading based on this game, but you have to admit that the product that was put on the field yesterday pales in comparison to much of what I have watched in the other preseason games I have seen in these first two days of action in the 2011 NFL season.
The question is why? Why did the Chiefs attempt at a preseason contest stick out like a sore thumb when compared to all the other first preseason game action out there? The Chiefs were not the only team that was scheduled to play a game in the last two days, and frankly the Chiefs under-performance of last night is unparalleled in any other contest I have been able to find on the NFL network reruns. Haley has been crystal clear to the media on what he has chosen to do (that in and of itself makes me suspicious--since when has Haley ever been upfront with the media?). He called it a practice. In reality, I think this was another of Haley's gambits that we won't know whether or not paid off until the games that count begin. Stick with me and see if you think my theory has any legs.
In the last couple of days I have seen first string QBs galore take to the field and get limbered up throwing the ball to their first string WRs and RBs. Phyllis Rivers looked amazing in his contest as did a third string QB named McGee for the Dallas Cowboys. That man ran a third string offense against a Broncos group of a lot of second teamers and impressed me with his ability to throw on the run and see the field. If he keeps it up, John Kitna will be looking for a job next season (sorry, I digress). Romo looked pretty solid in his debut as did Rothlesberger, who took a shot from somebody on the Redskins defense coming up the middle on a jailbreak blitz that would've put a smaller man on the bench with a view out of his helmet's ear hole.
I have seen starting RBs all across the fruited plain, getting the nod to take the rock and run right into those first string defenses that were fielded by their competition, putting said starters at risk (at least for a few plays) to the litany of injuries that are available to snatch their season right out from under them if they turn an ankle the wrong way or worse, tear ligaments in their knees or feet. Russel Okung for the Seahags missed a lot of playing time last season with a high ankle sprain that he has already repeated this season in his first preseason action. Who'd have thought that he was that kind of fragile? I know CBO likes to point out that sprains etc, can happen to anyone, but when it starts happening repeatedly, it makes you start to wonder (Croyle literally leaps to mind here). Besides Okung, their have already been a number of achilles injuries that have been attributed to lack of proper conditioning time because of the lockout.
There have been, as some predicted, first string defenses taking full advantage of the lack of time available for the offenses to get on the same play page, by blitzing the crap out of the opposing QBs. Sure looked like the Buccaneers did a bit more of that than was necessary last night in a game with absolutely no importance other than the opportunity gained of evaluating the 2nd and third team players. Frankly, why any team felt it necessary to blitz on defense in the first game of the year when nobody on that field has had more than a couple of weeks of practice is beyond me, but hey, it's football and it's a violent game.
This is exactly why I think we saw NOTHING from our starters last night. I think Haley's gamble here is very conservative--just like his offensive mentality as it relates to building a strong running game before putting your QB at risk with a high risk/high reward passing game. I think Haley had to make a decision one way or another. The benefit of the mess that we experienced last night is that no major injuries were inflicted. He didn't even let Cassel throw the ball one time. It looks to me like once Haley decided to prevent injuries, he went all the way. What he did last night was take that dirty six letter word off the table for the Chiefs most valuable players.
The question that remains to be answered is, was it the right thing to do? Obviously, based on the playing time and play calling that I have witnessed in other teams games, Haley is clearly in the minority on this decision in the NFL. Those other teams are taking advantage of the playing time to get their acts together and get their game plans underway. If Haley continues to protect the players with as much aplomb as he did last night, the team will be woefully behind the rest of the league when it comes time to play games that matter. That is the trade off for safety. The Chiefs (just like the other 31 NFL teams) only have so much time to get it together before 9/11. Based on what I have seen so far, most of those other teams think their players need EVERY snap available to ready them for what is ahead. It would seem that Haley has chosen discretion over valor in this regard. I hope that decision doesn't backfire.
You would think that if you make sure that you field your absolute best players come opening day, you have the best chance to win. I hope that this assumption does not have as a requisite that all those players have had the same amount of practice and game snaps as their competition in order for it to equate to winning football. Our starters just missed out on the opportunity to even get on the field in some instances in the first preseason game. Let's hope that the lack of a few plays in preseason doesn't hamstring (pun intended) the beginning of our season. Only time will tell now.
I like Haley and I defer to his superior knowledge on all things Chiefs. I want to believe, as has been said here on AP relentlessly today, that this was just a preseason game and it is meaningless. The outcome of the game was indeed, meaningless. I just hope that the lack of attendance of the top third of our roster is just as meaningless. If the Chiefs take the field against Buffalo in the home opener and look like a monkey humping a football, I have a feeling the attitude in Chiefs nation about the relevance of preseason games might just take a u-turn.