Color me concerned.
You can call me a wannabe prophet of some sort. You can point at me and yell, "Negative Nancy!" until you're blue in the face. You can question my fanhood or tell me I'm jumping the gun. You can even tar and feather me. I'm certain all of that and more may well occur in a little while (well, probably not the tarring and feathering. That seems a touch extreme, even for crazies like us). Because I do not have a lot of positive things to say right now. At least, not off the top of my head.
We got to see our starters for quite some time Thursday night. Long enough to see good things and bad. We now know that Rodney Hudson is not ready to play center in the NFL yet (OK, that's a little unfair. he wasn't terrible, but he was hardly what I'd call great or even good. So we can all breathe a collective sigh of relief that Wiegmann is here for one more year and move on with our lives). We know that B.J. Raji is a stud (big shocker there). And we know that a 3 ton lineman falling on Matt Cassel can knock the wind out of him (what a sissy, right?).
Of course, we know some other stuff too. But here's the thing I'm MOST certain of: the NFL preseason, in all its (lack of) glory, is finally over. It's game time.
In other words, this is a memo to the Kansas City Chiefs; time to quit messing around. Fortunately for them, they've got me here to tell them how (and you know they care what I think. My wife says so, so it must be true). I've also got a couple of other handy observations.
First and foremost...
A round of applause for Ryan Lilja. How does the song go?
"Don't it always seem to go, that you don't know what you got 'til it's gone"
I am a bigger fan of Ryan Lilja now (after a game he didn't play in) than I have ever been since we got him. I'm going to go ahead and call this the Dorsey Harrison Phenomenon, in honor of the game Glenn Dorsey missed against the Cleveland Browns a couple of years back. Remember that? Of course you do. Jerome Harrison just rushed for another 20 yards while you were reading that sentence.
For those who have only been Chiefs fans for five minutes (or my wife), Glenn Dorsey was hurt. We played the Browns. And Jerome Harrison proceeded to beat us like we owed him child support. Now obviously there were a variety of factors that played into that game. But just as clearly, our defense desperately missed Dorsey. That was the game that most serious debate about Dorsey's value to the team ended (or at the very least we were allowed to say things like, "The Browns game. Nuff said." and feel good about ourselves)
That is how I feel about Lilja. Until now I thought of him as a pretty good lineman who is better at pass blocking and struggles with power. But after watching our line look drastically worse without him (well, OK, Jon Asamoah was still a bad mo-fo), you can slap an "I Love Lilja" shirt on me and consider me a member of Liljiainity (or a Liljist, if you will).
This would be part of the "quit messing around" premise, in case you're sitting there wondering when I'm going to tie my introduction and title to the body of this post (if you were doing that, go do something fun immediately. And maybe join some sort of dating service).
Tell me all you want that preseason is meaningless. Fine. As a whole, I guess I can agree. But you wanna know where it's NOT meaningless? Watching players go one-on-one against other teams' players. Because no matter how long you talk and no matter how many big, confusing words (you know, "strategery" and whatnot) you use, you'll NEVER convince me that players aren't trying to beat the "other guy" once the ball is snapped, regardless of the overall play being run. Whether it's an OLB rushing the passer or in coverage, or an OT blocking a rushing DE, these guys are doing their best to not get shown up.
How do I know that? Because I play pickup basketball on Monday nights (I swear to God I'm going somewhere with this. Honest). Even in a meaningless setting, I do my best to be better than the guy matched up with me. Do I go all out? No, not most nights, especially on defense (is it just me or does defense require way too much effort to be worth it once you're past about 21? Anyone else with me here? Anyone at all?). However, do I just sit back and let the other guy dominate me? Do I allow myself to look bad out there? No, not if I can help it.
These players are no different. Which is why (despite it being preseason) the play of B-Rich and Studebaker is terrifying. I've been over this more than once, so I'll be brief (someone just spit out their drink laughing at that; I'm never brief): Justin Houston is a better football player than Andy Studebaker, and Jared Gaither is a better football player than Barry Richardson.
Studebaker is such a liability against the run it's frightening. Green Bay knew it, and ran right at his side to start the game. How'd that go? Say what you will about Mike Vrabel (and I said plenty last year), but teams didn't do very well running at him, T-Jax, and Smith last year. Well, we've still got T-Jax in there, yet teams are able to run right at that side. Weird, huh? Then Houston comes into the game, and our run defense just magically tightens up! Again, how weird is that? And don't even get me started about how much better Houston is at rushing the passer. If you don't know by now, you have either not watched a single preseason game, you're dense, or you're Stude's mom.
As far as Gaither goes, I'm going to defer to the Master of O-line play himself. Most of us are familiar with Bewsaf's work (he is THE authority on O-line play. He's who God calls up when he's got a question about the line), and you can see his latest here. Want a brief summary? Jared Gaither played better in the running game (B-Rich's strength) and was light-year's better at pass protection (what a shocker!). B-Rich has been so bad that he's limited our entire team. Cassel can't roll right or trust his line because his RT is getting beat constantly. I'd put decent money on part of ol' MC's legendary skittishness being due to the fact that he can see the rush coming at him every single play. I'd be skittish too.
Quit messing around and play our best players. The games count from now on, and those two will cost us wins.
To all Chiefs players and coaches: enough with the ridiculous mental struggles
Are you looking for someone burning 2 timeouts in the first quarter to avoid delay-of-game penalties? Holding calls? Miscommunication between the quarterback and wide receiver? O-linemen messing up assignments on blitzes? Well look no further, because the Chiefs offense has all that and more! Come one, come all, and gaze upon the horror that is a team looking woefully out of sync!
This is another area that we know is a problem despite preseason being meaningless. It's easy to tell; just watch Todd Haley have a borderline aneurysm on the sidelines after a series of mental mistakes by our offense. It was like watching a flashback to him in 2009. He was ready to kill someone out there. So don't tell me these mental mistakes are no big deal. If the head coach thinks they are, so do I.
I don't know what they need to do. Does Muir need to turn up his hearing aid? Does someone need to get fired? Does Cassel need to take a reading comprehension class? Do our receivers need headpieces? Do Zorn, Muir, and Haley need to read a marriage book on communication (personally, I recommend "Love Languages". It really helped me understand my wife better)?
Whatever it takes, it needs to be fixed. Like now.
I prefer to end on a positive note, so I'll be done telling the team to quit screwing around and make a few positive points...
-Cassel looked way better than he has (I'm going to forgive that horrible pass to Dex for a TD. Dex had to make a great play, but it was still 6. So we're going to ignore it. Except here). When he was given a little time (a rare occurrence) he was doing all right. The pass to Bowe on the TD drive was an absolute strike of a throw. If that's how he can throw given a little protection, it becomes even clearer how much we need Gaither in there. And no matter how much you want to complain about checking down, completing 15 of 17 throws is excellent. So that's good news.
-Dexter McCluster was again a big part of our offense and looked good doing it. I'm pretty certain part of the reason Haley's been using him so much is to force other teams to account for him, which increases his value as a decoy. All I want for an early Christmas present is to see 2-RB shotgun sets with Dex and Jamaal Charles on the field.
-I really like Kelly Gregg. He's a solid NT. He even gets a bit of a pass rush up the middle sometimes (whoa! That can happen?).
-Jerrell Powe continues his "I'm going to make every 3-4 team in the NFL sorry they didn't take me sometime before the 6th round" campaign. It's going well. He and Houston are having a competition to be our best defensive rookie (and frankly, they're both playing better than about 98% of the defensive rookies in the league).
So there's your cheerful ending. But all those happy thoughts won't mean a whole lot if we don't play our best players. Nor will they mean much if we continue to mistake-laden football as though it's the first quarter of our first preseason game.
I cannot overstate the danger of that first issue enough (well, maybe I can. I think this is the third straight week I've mentioned Houston vs Studebaker). I'll make a bold prediction here...
I can honestly see us swinging 4 wins higher or lower based on JUST Studebaker/Houston and B-Rich/Gaither. Maybe more. That's how big the difference is between those players. I honestly see B-Rich as limiting our offense so much that it costs us at least 2 games. I see Studebaker in the same light on defense. Please, please, please, please, PLEASE get Houston (a DROY candidate if he gets enough snaps) and Gaither (who looks like a Pro Bowl RT) in there.
Because preseason's over, and the losses actually count from here.