Well, besides the fact that they have lost three key players and can't hold onto the football for more than a couple of seconds at a time. I have spent a fair amount of time thinking about this problem and answers are not easy to come by. The fact that this Kansas City Chiefs team has taken a nose dive of these proportions is perplexing and damn frustrating. Many here, have been quick to include our last two games from the 2010 season in the mix when trying to pinpoint where we have gone wrong. At first, I was disinclined to agree with that thinking because it was, after all, last season and many changes have been made on this team since then.
Many changes. Some few pundits out there in the nether world of the NFL pointed out that after Charlie Weis announced he was leaving, things took a wrong turn for Matt Cassel and the Chiefs. I was one who discounted the importance of that last year and chalked up those final two losses to the combination of having played a couple of stonger defenses and the fact that the Chiefs were just nearing the top of the hill in terms of returning to the playoffs. It would be easy, in my opinion, for this young team that was inexperienced in winning the big games, to underachieve vs. the Raiders with a playoff game already in hand and then again vs. Baltimore by simply being overwhelmed by the largeness of that meeting. Was it losing Charlie that started this back slide? I don't think the answer is as simple as that. Charlie was still calling plays after his announced departure last year, yet the team struggled in their last two games. This is why I don't like the idea of rolling all four of these contests into one mass and using it as a guide for what's wrong. That was then, this is now. Charlie leaving had an affect, but not in so obvious a way.
After looking at two of the worst regular season beat downs of a Chiefs team in recent memory (maybe ever), my logical detective was awakened and I must admit that I don't like the conclusions that I have come too. I really hope I am wrong, but everything that I am about to make permanent on virtual paper has been reached by logical conclusions using what circumstantial evidence is available. The reason that I hope I am wrong is that if these conclusions are correct, we may be further from a solution than I originally believed.
Let's go back to the problem for a minute. Why did we lose the first two games in the fashion that we have? Well, first off, we didn't score any points. Duh. But my question is why? It makes no sense. This offense has added talented WRs, improved their o-line (I know that Ups and some others think losing Waters hurt the line, but the evidence from Bewsaf does not bear that out), and seemingly much improved their play calling from week 1 to week 2, yet they performed worse in their second outing (or did they?). Buffalo and Detroit fielded decent defenses, but really, given what we had on the field, these guys should at least have been able to make a few plays and score a few more points. It's not like we were facing the Steel Curtain here.
You can argue if you wish about my assumptions, but I think that most fans were as bewildered as I was in looking at what was happening to our offense on the field. Why do I think it's been so bad? For starters, let's blame Matt Cassel. Now before you run out looking for Ups to tell him that HIV2ELWAY has killed Aiken and stolen his computer, let's get something clear. I still think that Matt Cassel is a good enough QB to play and win games in the NFL. I know that is not a popular theme around here right now, but it is what I believe. What's more, he has proven it on the field. Working from that premise (I know that this will be difficult for many of you given the rhetoric flying around in here at the moment but just humor Aiken the idiot for a minute, ok?) requires that you ask yourself why Matt is struggling. It's not enough to say that Matt sucks, he has always sucked and will forever suck. There is NFL evidence to the contrary. You don't do some of the things that Matt has done as a starting QB in the NFL without a certain amount of talent. We can argue about the degree of that talent at another time, but for now if you assume that Matt is an average NFL QB, what is your answer to that question? Why is he struggling more, with better protection, better receivers and a better running game (at least until Charles got hurt)? Why have we now watched two games and seen Bewsafs posts about how the o-line has improved from last year, yet we have been outscored in those games by 79 points? The answer is that Matt Cassel and the rest of the offensive play makers are on so many different pages, that right now I'm not sure that they are even reading the same book.
I must also say that my opinion on the defensive struggles so far this season (sans losing Eric Berry) have been more about field position and playing time than it has been about the ineffectiveness of our defense to play the game. Those guys have been literally busting their humps to try and make plays. They haven't been successful all the time, but I sure think that had they been playing a more 'normal' type game they would not have given up nearly the points that have been scored against us. The offense has put these guys backs against the wall time and again and they have continued to respond. Why do you think that Bflow got into a fight and we had all of those stupid ass penalties versus the Lions? FRUSTRATION. When in the hell have you ever seen Flowers involved in a fight, much less trying to pull a guy's helmet off with his head still in it? All this happens in the game directly after he signs a $50 million extension to his contract? If you think for a minute that he doesn't care about winning, you are pitifully mistaken. This defense is ready to throw down with any other team in an effort to win the game themselves. I don't think it is inspite of the offense either. I think it is because they see the struggles and not having the ability to solve that offensive problem, they are trying to take the game on their backs. Problem is that they simply cannot do it alone.
So, Mr. Aiken Smarty Pants Drum, why exactly does our offense appear to be going down for the third time? I'll bet my answer will not be what you expect. If you go back to the Weis departure from last year, you definitely see a drop off statistically in the offenses ability to produce points. This, I believe, is what those pundits were using to base their opinions on about how important Weis was to our team's ability to compete. Maybe they were right, but half of these last four games still included Charlie. Are we to believe that just saying he was leaving was enough to derail the whole offense? Weis is good, but his comments carry more weight than his presence? Sorry, I'm not buying that.
Maybe Charlie was forcing Matt into a box because he just didn't see the ability there to justify opening up the passing game. Then again, there are those like me who remember Matt making a lot of passes and doing at least average during his only season as starter in NE, that just chalked it up to tougher defenses in those final two appearances of 2010 and a lack of qualified wide receivers to take on those tougher defenses. Where is the truth? I believe that the truth lies in the perfect storm that was created by the combination of Weis leaving, Muir being promoted to OC and Zorn being hired as QB coach. These three things are the major factors that have changed since last year and they are the three things, in my humble opinion that have contributed to this team playing like a blind boxer makes punches. When you can't see what you are tying to hit, you swing wildly and miss 95% of the time.
So how do you fix what's wrong, O Great and Wondrous Oz (pay no attention to the man behind the curtain)? Well, I hate to say this, but I would start off by getting Jim Zorn out of the play calling loop, and relegate him to nothing more than being Matt Cassel's best friend. He wasn't part of what happened with our offense last year and I don't know if he has had time to completely switch gears from West Coast to Erhardt Perkins. Whether or not that is true, we don't need three people with access to Cassel's helmet mike on game days. That is just too confusing.
I wrote about Mr. Zorn a few month's back right here. I was sort of in the middle of the road about him being brought aboard and after watching the results of having him in Matt's ear for the off season (even though it was not a normal one) and the first two games of this season, I would have to say that Matt appears less confident in his ability to do his job than I have EVER seen him. This is what I would call a truly epic fail, and I think part of this resides at the feet of Mr. Jim Zorn. Matt has never been everybody's favorite QB here in KC (except of course the few Cassel homers including me), but last season he was able to at least quiet some of his detractors to the point of many of them beginning to believe that he just might be a serviceable QB in this league. Most of the change in that attitude has come at Matt's expense, when in reality Matty is exactly the same QB that he was when he started for Charlie Weis in the 2010 season when he won 10 games, and Belichick in 2008 when he won 11. What's changed is who is telling him what to do and what they are telling him to do. Matt seems more unsure of himself than Tyler Palko right now, and that was not meant as a joke. It's one thing to try and help someone improve how they do what they do. It is another thing entirely to put someone in a position to fail by asking them to do things in a game situation that they have not had the time to master, nor have shown the proclivity to get done. Win or lose, Charlie never asked Matt to do things that Charlie didn't feel Matt could do. That gave us at least the opportunity to win. I'm not so sure that Mr. Zorn can say the same thing. In the shortened preseason, Zorn would have had just enough time to get in Matt's head and really screw him up.
Zorn is known as a flukey type coach. He is unconventional in many aspects, focusing on peripheral aspects of what it takes to be successful as a QB. Things like throwing the ball off of one foot out of balance. I can see how things like this can be of some value, just in giving you the opportunity to practice the minute details. What I do not see, and what I now wonder about is just how valuable ANY of that stuff has been to Matt. Matt was registered in the Charlie Weis school of learning what it takes to run the EP offense. Jim Zorn is a West Coast offense guy. The two are as different as night and day. In Matt Cassel's case, it would appear that bringing in a guy like Zorn has not only not improved Matt's ability on the field, it seems to have downgraded it. I submit that Matt, in trying to follow his coaches advice, has simply not been able to come to grips with HOW he is supposed to do his job. Can he overcome this obstacle? That remains unknown at this point but the evidence of this reality, in my mind, is everywhere.
An example from the Detroit game would be the Hail Mary pass at the end of the first half. Matt has been around long enough to know that a pass like that is a gamble. You pays your nickel and you takes your chances. Why was Matt looking down field as though he was looking for an open receiver? Haley was even seen on the sidelines saying, 'throw it up'. My guess is that Zorn had something to do with that. Last year, Matt would have flung the ball. This year, either his ribs are a bigger problem than we know, or somebody is coaching him differently. Given the preseason games we saw and combining them with the two losses we have seen, I'll wager that somebody is in his head and it isn't going well. That is Zorn's job, and if you go back and read my previous article about Zorn's 'success' you will see that it hasn't been all sunshine and lollipops for Mr. Zorn.
Matt would not be the first quarter back to struggle under Mr. Zorn's tutelage. Some of the QB's on Zorn's resume, actually got statistically worse after he arrived. I think that Haley was excited about Zorn because he is an outside of the box thinker and risk taker, just like Haley is. The problem is that the risk hasn't paid off and it's time to change the bet. Please Scott Pioli and Todd Haley, please remove this program from Matt's noggin. I am afraid that until you do, Matt will continue to struggle to walk on his hands and throw with his feet to try and appease his ringmaster of a coach.
Want a related example? Look at Joe Flacco's progression this season. Some how he got the monkey off his back by beating the tar out of Pittsburg on opening day. That is a feat that Flacco had not been able to achieve, until the first time he takes the field after getting Jim Zorn out of his head. Coincidence? Possibly. Flacco was publicly upset that Zorn was fired in Baltimore. I wonder what the rest of the coaching staff thinks about that decision now? It sure doesn't seem to have hurt Mr. Flacco in the least.
The other part of this that I mentioned was Muir being promoted to OC. I will say that what I saw in week one was disappointing. That said, what I saw in the first quarter and even the first half in Detroit was encouraging. I think the play calling in Detroit was much better than that vs. Buffalo. The scheme was working early with some nice gains on the ground. What happens next? Charles goes down and throws the entire scheme in the toilet. Does this mean that Muir is catching on or that Haley has taken more control? I don't know, but if what we saw early at Detroit is an example of Muir doing ok in that regard, I would continue to let him grow in that job. If the QB had been more help, I think the entire offense would have looked like a different team. Kinda like the one we saw take the field all last year. Give Muir a couple more games and no more player injury losses and we might just surprise a few folks.
What does Coach Haley need to do now? It seems to me that Matt Cassel was much more effective and confident when he labored without a QB coach. Matt looked very confident last season when he took the field and I think it's tied to him knowing that Charlie wasn't going to put him in a position to fail. Is it possible that all the attention that has been given to him in this regard has caused him to question himself rather than improve himself? In retrospect, I'm not sure that adding another coach was indeed what he needed. Has it been helpful or is it micromanaging run riot? Matt has had a number of 'guys' in his ear since he took over in NE three years ago, and I would argue that he has been picked completely apart since then. When you are trying to learn how to get better, when does information overload kick in and cause you to shut down? Particularly when you get a different guy each and every season you play to tell you what your problems are. Constantly erasing the blackboard to start rewriting the equation becomes frustrating after a while. Maybe at this point he just needs a sounding board to ask questions too. Maybe he's smarter than anybody is giving him credit for and he needs the training wheels taken off. Whatever the case, what we've done so far this season isn't working and it's time to make a change.
The Chiefs have now done a complete 360 degree rotation. They have come up from the depths and lived in the sun for awhile and now they are sinking back into those depths very quickly. What I find most disconcerting about this apparent regression is the fan reaction. To a large degree, it seems that the fans have completely erased anything positive that has happened over the previous two seasons. In my opinion, last years performance (short of winning a Super Bowl and maybe not even then) would have made absolutely no difference to this reaction. Had the Chiefs gone 7-9 or 8-8 last year, the reaction would have been much the same. Think about it. Had they won that first playoff game, the reaction would have been much the same. Think about it. Why is that? I believe that it's because Chiefs fans are so underexposed to the process that it takes to actually build a winning team, that they are willing to continually throw away what they have in search of the next Holy Grail. Suck for Luck? To today's Chiefs fan, watching the last two games is just too similar to what has been all too frequent for this team over the last 40 years. From their perspective, it's always time to cut and run rather than stand and fight because anything has to be better than what we already have--right?
These two losses have had such an impact this year that now the talking heads would have us believe that Haley and Pioli are at odds. Some of them have even gone to the extreme of suggesting that Pioli has sabotaged Haley by not spending more money and bringing in better players. I am sorry, but that is about the lamest thing I have heard this side of a stand up comic who can't get a laugh. The offense in KC is broken. I think it has more to do with the coaches and the internal workings of the team than it does with the players (although not being able to hang onto the ball in the running game has added insult to injury). Somebody needs to figure it out soon and make changes to fix it. We have 14 games left to try and do just that.
The only real solution for this season now is to get back to what gives Cassel some confidence. That may be hard to do with Charles on IR. McClain should help with that and TJ is still there along with McCluster to take up the slack. If the O-line can continue to protect Matt well, that should give him more confidence as well. Getting a guy like Baldwin in the mix should also be a plus. That is assuming of course that McCluster can find the handle on the football. Turnovers and injuries have decimated this team so far this season. There is no way that you can convince me that these problems will continue at the pace we have so far seen. And on a side note, for those who want to blame these two blow outs on Haley's preseason plan, save the drama for your momma. There is no way that any preseason 'plan' can have this big an impact on how this team is playing their games. That plan is not the problem. Even the players seem surprised at how poorly the season is going. There is something that we cannot see that is causing this stink. Haley had best call a plumber for some advice. If he isn't on the phone to speak with contemporaries that he trusts for advice, I would be surprised.
Let's get Zorn out of the headset business. I don't like the way the plays are being called in to Cassel. I believe that the week one disaster exposed how poorly that system is working. I would rather have Muir call the plays directly to Cassel with Haley in the loop to agree or disagree as he sees fit. Zorn is in that loop for his benefit, not Cassel's. At least Muir and Haley have shared two seasons here in KC and should be on the same page. No more taking 30 seconds just to get the play called. When Cassel began running 'Red Ball' last week against the Bills(that's what the Chiefs call their hurry up offense), I thought it looked better than just about anything else I saw. I think it's time to give Matt the keys to the car instead of just letting him drive. He should be more involved in play calling once the game is underway. He's been around long enough to start making those kind of decisions. He's making very good money for what he is doing and I think he would relish the opportunity to do even more.
I don't think Matt will call too many plays that he has no confidence in making. It should be just the opposite. I think his success in the 'Red Ball' points to that. The way this season is headed, we really have very little to lose. Except a GM, a head coach, an offensive coordinator and a starting quarterback. Losing any or all of those pieces would set this team back for a while. Is this really what Chiefs fans want when in reality we are only two games removed from a 10 win season and an AFC championship? I know that many discount that season because of the schedule difficulty, but c'mon folks. It's written in the books and it won't change. Haley and these Chiefs delivered. Now you want to kick'em down the road because they are struggling to improve? I'm not ready to go that far backwards just yet. Suck for Luck? Throwing away a football season in hopes of finding the messiah in the draft is just about as dumb as suggesting that Pioli has tried to sabotage Haley with a lack of personnel. I feel confident that trying to lose games this year is not an option on anybody's list at one Arrowhead Drive, and that includes Hunt, Pioli and Haley. I thought Chiefs fans were better than that. I am still hoping I am right.