So Kirk Cousins started a game for the Redskins yesterday. As you probably are all aware, the rookie QB led Washington to a 38-21 drubbing of the Cleveland Browns. Cousins was 26 of 37 for 329 yards and two touchdowns. I also think it's fair to point out that this is a much improved Cleveland team that Cousins beat yesterday, not world beaters but certainly not the roll over and plat dead Browns of years past. Last night, Colin Kaepernick (another second round draft pick) led the 49ers to a win in New England, the first time the Pats have lost at home in December in a decade. Kaepernick had 4 touchdown throws in the game. Two young quarterbacks playing very well in meaningful games late in the season.
This got me to thinking about the Pioli era and the Chiefs failure to develop a franchise quarterback. How much of this success is the player himself and how much of it is the system around him and the coaching he's getting?
As a former coach myself, I feel bad for Matt Cassel. Sure Matt has millions of dollars to dry his tears with, but I do believe Matt cares deeply about his performance and is a competitive guy. The question that I think is very relevant is how could anybody have come to the Chiefs in the past four years and succeeded as a quarterback? From a coaching perspective, the Pioli era Chiefs have been a complete and utter disaster. They've been a chaotic circus. Five different DCs in four seasons? The HC recently "firing" himself as the DC? The behind the scenes nonsense between Haley and Pioli? Think about it in terms of your own career: would you be able to do your best work in a disorganized, chaotic environment like that? Would you look forward to going into the office each day? Remember that the one year in this mess where the Chiefs had a solid OC, Cassel played well. The last time the Chiefs got consistently good play from a quarterback (Trent Green) the OC was also highly competent (Al Saunders). Brain Daboll appears to have been hired more out of cronyism than actual skill. He's been a disaster as OC and our players are reflecting that. Frequently when you see low energy play from a team it can be attributed to the players having zero confidence in the game planning.
I don't know how many AP readers have played or coached sports, but I can tell you for a fact that athletes crave structure, discipline and consistency. They may not want to admit that, but they want to know what's expected of them and they want to be treated fairly and consistently. They also crave competent coaches who they trust and can rely on to implement a solid game plan. Athletes want to be led. I don't think it should really be much of a surprise to anybody when a QB-centric coach like Mike Shanahan can take his rookie backup QB and coach him to a really good game. Or when a former NFL QB like Jim Harbaugh can get the kind of play he's gotten out of a second year former backup. It just seems that there are some coaches that can more or less put just about anybody under center and get good performances out of them.
And then there's the Chiefs.
Remember four years ago, when Shanahan was allegedly shopping for homes in the KC area? Ask yourself this: had Pioli hired Shanahan instead of Haley, how might Cassel's development progressed differently? Who knows? Maybe it wouldn't have been any different than the disastrous way it's turned out. I'm just a big believer that bad players don't often have flourishes of good play. Matt Cassel has had two quality seasons as an NFL starting quarterback and three that were fairly awful. Would consistent leadership and basic competence from his coaches changed that outcome?
How often does good quarterback play come in the absence of good coaching? Look at Drew Brees this season without Sean Payton.
The debate's been raging on AP for weeks now about the Chiefs drafting a QB with what appears to likely be the overall #1 pick in the draft next spring, despite the 2013 draft being light at the position. If the Chiefs don't make serious changes to their coaching staff and their culture of chaos and take a QB #1, I fear that kid is doomed to failure.