2011 is in the books, along with another season of Chiefs football. Having failed to make the playoffs, the Chiefs are forced to nurse their wounds and try to get healthy for next year. A couple of guys are getting an all expense paid vacation to Hawaii for their efforts this season, and that's the highlight of the Chiefs season.
On the positive side: Defense, defense, defense. The longer the season went, the more the Chiefs defense improved. Even without the very good, and equally over-hyped (potential aside, what has he really accomplished so far in his career?) Eric Berry on the field the Chiefs managed to field what I would consider an elite level secondary. If anyone on the Chiefs staff has earned some props it has to be Emmitt Thomas. Thomas is a Hall of Fame thirteen year veteran Chiefs player returned home to coach the secondary; and he's done a fantastic job. With second, third, and at times fourth string safeties playing in games the Chiefs still managed to put a talented squad on the field that had the ability to cover anyone they faced. Thomas earns my Chiefs coach of the year award hands down. (Mr. Thomas please feel free to drive down to Texas for your honorary pack of gum and autographed picture of Cliff Claven from Cheers)
Romeo Crennel should get the nod for his scheme and play calling for sure. His use of press-man principals outside, with zone in the middle and the occasional 4-3 alignment were great calls that allowed the team to hide their flaws in the back-field while still covering for long enough that the front seven could get some pressure. Crennel has more than earned his contract as the defensive coordinator. He put together outstanding game plans over and over again all season long that perfectly anticipated the offenses tendencies. The team didn't always execute, but the game plans were solid. I'll be disappointed to see him taken out of the role of coordinator, even if he takes over as the head coach. Crennel's system kept the Chiefs in games that the Chiefs offense had no business still being in.
Gary Gibbs and Andy Zimmer also deserve a shout out for the development of rookie linebacker Justin Houston. As was expected, Houston entered the season looking completely lost on the field. To be fair, he had no real off-season to learn the scheme or mesh with his teammates. He didn't look like he even belonged on the field at the start of the year. Not knowing exactly who influenced him most, I have to assume his linebacker coaches carried the majority of the load when it comes discussing Houston's improvement. I never saw any kind of drop off from Justin in 2011. He got a little bit better each week. By the end of the season he starting showing some of those flashes in his game play that got him attention headed into the draft. If this kid can keep his nose clean and proves up to the task of self motivation that the NFL requires; I think he can be a very good player opposite Hali.
Speaking of Hali...... Oh what a difference the 3-4 makes. Since changing schemes away from the 4-3 Tamba Hali looks like a different player. Again, I will pass a little bit of that credit on to Gibbs and Zimmer. Tamba is well known for being a hard worker and striving for perfection so I'm sure much of the credit starts and stops with him, but coaching will always play a role in moving a guy to a different position. Tamba Hali (as much as people don't want to admit it) was barely better than average as a pass rusher in the 4-3. His best years hovered around 8 sacks, even with Jared Allen chasing quarterbacks in his direction. Hali is a much better player in the 3-4, and Houston could be coached into the kind of complimentary piece that the Chiefs would be lucky to have. I'd decry the coaches for the debacle that is Belcher, but it's hard to make chicken salad from chicken............poop. (can you tell I'm not a Belcher fan?)
On the not so positive side: The Chiefs need a solution to stop the run up the middle. Kelly Gregg was a better player at NT than the team has had in previous seasons but he's teetering on the edge of retirement, and at times it shows. We're not going to win a lot of games with the front seven giving up over 130 yards a game rushing. Stopping that run is going to have to start with an inside linebacker that can make a devastating tackle and a nose tackle that can play two gaps on a consistent basis. Powe didn't see enough time on the field for the fans to find out what we got for our sixth round pick. The nose tackle position is still a mystery the Chiefs must solve headed into 2012, and Belcher needs to be replaced. Siler may or may not be the answer, but it would be hard for him to turn into a worse linebacker vs. the run than Belcher. If we aren't going all in for a quarterback in 2012 I'll be right back on my 'draft an impact run stuffer in the first round' train. I'm sure the ride has gotten old after 3 years for some of you, but we haven't actually ended it yet. We appear to be circling the track back to the same problem every off-season. (And now come the 30 comments from people telling me that a run stuffing linebacker 'isn't worth' a first round pick, even though we've had the same hole in our defense year after year)
Steve Breaston is a damn good slot receiver. Why is that 'not so positive', you ask? Because, Dexter McCluster was supposed to be our change up player that could catch balls out of the slot and the backfield, while also spelling Jamaal Charles at RB. McCluster's role in the slot has been made completely moot by Breaston's clutch catches when the first down is on the line. Breaston didn't see as many balls as I'd have liked to have seen thrown his way, but when he got the chance he delivered. So now what do the Chiefs do with Peanut McCluster? He's not nearly a good enough blocker to keep in the back field on passing downs. He doesn't seem to have Charles' vision of the field, nor cutback ability. And he's not ever going to be a lead blocker for Charles. That leaves his role as a sometime fill in player when Charles needs a breather, and a gimmick-play surprise player. In short, the Chiefs paid a hefty price to get the second best return man on the team that can carry the ball on occasion if he has to.
Offense, offense, offense. Simply put, the Chiefs don't seem to have any. At best, the Chiefs have an offense that can execute between their twenty-five and the opponents twenty-five yard lines but fails everywhere else on the field. Sure, we were missing our best pass catching TE and starting RB, but the team has enough other weapons that we should have been able to turn at least half of those field goals into touchdowns.
The line needs some help. I don't believe they need as much help as some others would have you believe. I hate the idea of moving Brandon Albert. He's at least a top fifteen left tackle in the NFL, and the best part of his game is pass blocking. The biggest hole is at guard. (that's right, I said guard, not right tackle). Putting on my 'Carnac' hat, I'm confident in saying that Hudson will be the Chiefs center in 2012. Asamoah continued to improve throughout the year, and looks to be up to speed and gelling with the rest of the line. I like Asamoah to stay for years to come as a Chiefs guard. I don't have the same faith in Lilja. Lilja has done exactly what the Chiefs asked of him. He's filled a gap for a couple of years so that the team could draft players along the line and work them into the line up. That's all I ever really expected of him from the moment we signed him. He's a 2 or 3 year stop gap. We've now replaced a guard and a center, and I look for the Chiefs to draft Lilja's replacement in the upcoming draft. We could certainly use an upgrade at right tackle. Richardson is not the long term solution, but securing the middle of the line to create a solid pocket for the QB and to move the defensive front for the run game is more important. Mims is a player in development, and I believe they kept him over Gaither for a reason. Also, a right tackle is much easier to find in free agency than a left tackle, so that's a viable option. No matter what we choose to do, the team has got to have a line that can protect our quarterback.
Here we go again, yet another new offensive coordinator. Yet another new offensive scheme. Yet another new 'vision' for what the Chiefs offense should become, and along with that comes another series of players that don't fit to replace. This is perhaps the worst thing of all about the 2011 season. If you want to know why the defense has improved and developed at a much faster rate than the offense, look no further than the consistency in coaching and vision. Pioli's biggest decision is not who to hire as a head coach, but rather, who to hire at offensive coordinator. We need to pick ONE person that the team will hitch their wagon to for at least three full seasons. The rotating door at offensive coordinator has been killing us, and will continue to hold the team back until it stops.
On the disaster of all disaster's side: Kyle Orton is slightly better than Matt Cassel. Kyle Orton had one of the best games of his career against the Packers, and the Chiefs still struggled mightily to score touchdowns. Kyle Orton has a career track record of being a mediocre quarterback with trouble protecting the ball and winning when it counts. Matt Cassel has a career track record of being a mediocre quarterback with trouble making reads and going through progressions. Because Kyle Orton is slightly better than Matt Cassel, there are a contingent of Chiefs fans that are willing to settle. It's the same old trap we have fallen into for over twenty years. Cassel is not ever going to be a top ten quarterback, and neither is Orton. The Chiefs need to stop hitching their wagon to other teams cast offs, and quarterbacks that have proven they aren't the answer, or guys over the hill on the down side of their careers.
The fans and the front office need to stop settling for something slightly better than they have, at the cost of never pushing all their chips in the middle and taking a chance on greatness. I would never root for my team to lose, and I can't justify trying to do so for a better draft selection. But, it's been twenty-nine years since the Chiefs took a chance on a first round quarterback. With Indy replacing their entire front office, you can bet the new GM will want to get 'his' quarterback, so Andrew Luck is off the table. Peyton Manning may stay with the Colts or not; but going after Peyton after his three surgeries and all the questions surrounding his ability to come back would be a huge mistake. It would be just another in a long line of quarterback the Chiefs wait to pursue until their prime has passed. Griffin will be sitting there at the Rams' pick. The Rams will not be replacing Bradford in 2012. The Rams need help all over the field, and the Chiefs have players they could tag and trade at receiver, safety, and defensive tackle. The Rams will be selling their draft slot to the highest bidder, and the Chiefs need to make a serious attempt to buy that pick. Twenty-nine years is far too long; Please don't make it thirty.
In the modern era of football a teams offense goes as their quarterback goes. The Chiefs do not have a competitive offense with Kyle Orton or Matt Cassel at the helm. Orton may very well be better than Cassel at reading and running the offense, but he's not good enough to take the offense to another level. He's merely good enough to make us slightly better than we are now. It's not enough. Either Cassel or Orton needs to go (the other can be the back up) and the Chiefs need to bring in a young player with tons of potential, and an accurate strong arm. The Chiefs need to put a player on the field that hasn't had the chance to start anywhere else before, and build an offensive plan around them. We need to pair our new incoming head coach and offensive coordinator with their potential quarterback of the future, and develop the offense around them. And then we need to leave them all alone for at least 3 seasons without changing the scheme or the coordinator. The Chiefs need to develop their own quarterback.
My first choice would be Luck or Robert Griffin, but I'd settle for Matt Flynn getting his first chance to start in Kansas City. The biggest disaster on the Chiefs team is the quarterback position. It's well past time for us to take a big risk chasing a big reward. We've been playing it safe for almost thirty years and it's gotten us nowhere. If it takes two first rounders and a player or two in trade to move up and take Griffin, fine. Get it done. Let's get in the game instead of sitting on the sidelines.