During the game Sunday I felt almost overwhelmed and somewhat distracted. It was Week 1 of the NFL season (which always has me excited), the bar I frequent for the games had the Chiefs game off in the worst corner TV in the joint and I was semi-regularly checking in on my two fantasy teams. Of course it probably also didn't help that I was hanging out with one of my good buddies who was feeding me beer starting an hour before kickoff. Regardless, as I read through the posts today I realized I didn't get to watch the game quite as closely as I normally like to. So since NFL Rewind is running a free trial right now, I went back and re-watched the whole game. Be warned, this will probably be fairly long so if you have a short attention span or prefer to watch/read about the game at a high-level, I would advise you to skip this. My thoughts after the jump.
(Kudos to those of you who got the SNL reference in the title)
-Jamaal Charles looked really good. He had a few runs that got stopped at or behind the line of scrimmage, but all but one of those were because of a missed assignment on the offensive line. He had that great burst back and really just looked great. I wouldn't read anything into him getting caught from behind on that one long run, the DB got just enough of him to trip him up and throw him off balance.
-Hillis got killed by missed blocking assignments (more on the line below). He's not the kind of guy that's going to turn nothing into something (like Charles and McCluster can). They need to provide him cleaner lanes to run through. He definitely gets a mulligan here.
-Eachus and Draughn were on the field too much for my taste, and I'm not talking about after the game was blown open. I don't have the exact numbers, but I would guess each was on the field for at least a handful of plays in the 1st half. That might not seem like much, but with Draughn that's taking away carries from Charles/Hillis and with Eachus that's one guy on the the field that the defense can almost ignore. I understand that a portion of their playbook probably calls for a FB, but I'd rather see Moeaki or Hillis in that role if it's required.
-On a related note, I thought the position grouping choices were a bit odd. Moeaki and Boss were almost never on the field together and either were Charles and Hillis (two packages that I would think would cause defenses a lot of problems). I'd also love to see some sets where they go four wide with McCluster, Bowe, Baldwin and Breaston. It just doesn't make sense to me to force a lot of I formation when they don't have a FB (let alone a good one), especially when they have so many other weapons to use at WR, TE and RB.
-I noticed Jon Baldwin on exactly one play and it was because he made a pathetic attempt to block a corner which allowed a run play to get blown up in the backfield. They need to make a more concerted effort to get him involved in this offense (and conversely use him to take some shots down the field, which they really didn't do).
-I really liked how they used McCluster. In his rookie year, when they had him at receiver, I thought they had him run way too many short routes (slants, screens, quick outs etc) and not enough traditional downfield receiver routes. It was far too predictable and you could tell by the way defenses handled him. Daboll used him on a couple short routes, but he also got him downfield on some dig routes and posts. A huge improvement.
-I thought the line looked pretty darn good with a few exceptions. Obviously Albert got abused on the sack/fumble in the third quarter, but that was really the only bad breakdown in pass protection that I can remember (light years ahead of the Barry Richardson years). The other things I noticed were just small misses in the run game, mostly by the guy on the move (i.e. pulling). In the zone blocking scheme it's little misses like this that are the difference between positive (and possibly big) plays and plays getting blown up in the backfield. I'd look for the line to gel as the season moves on and be really good eventually.
-Matt Cassel. Great first half. Second half, you could tell he really pressed once they got down by multiple scores. However, the fumble really wasn't his fault and I don't think the first pick was either. I'm definitely giving him the benefit of the doubt for now. It's unreasonable to expect him to put points on the board EVERY possession (which is basically what he was being forced to do to keep them in this game). A better effort by the defense will do wonders for him.
-On second blush, I was even more impressed with the run defense than I was on first watch. There was really only one run where they got gashed and that was because Jerrell Powe made too much of an attempt to get up the field instead of just anchoring and holding the point of attack. Dontari Poe looked pretty darn good (with a few exceptions here and there). He held the point pretty well and obviously had the one nice play behind the LOS that we all saw.
-The pick plays, yeah those were pretty bad. I don't like to cry about reffing though, so I'll just move on and chalk it up to the replacement refs.
-Justin Houston had himself a pretty solid game. He had the sack deep in KC territory to force a FG and had a few other pressures that messed up Ryan's timing. Put Hali on the other side and I'm really excited about the potential here.
-As many have said, there wasn't much of a pass rush. Part of that was indeed a product of the Chiefs players and scheme. Romeo went with a lot of 3 and 4 man rushes and they simply didn't get much (if any) push. Obviously missing Hali really hurt here, but the absence of Bailey also hurt as Jackson, Dorsey and even Pitoitua were in more pass rushing situations than they should have been. When they brought additional pressure, it really didn't work. I'm not sure if that was the blitz design or the Falcons line just playing really well, but they picked up almost all of them.
-The other part was somewhat out of their control. On a lot of pass plays Matt Ryan simply got the ball out VERY quickly. There were very few balls that went deep down the field. They went with a lot of quick passes which really didn't allow the pass rush to get anywhere near Ryan. This is partly because they were playing off the receivers a lot to prevent getting burnt deep, but with Reeves and Elam in there, I can't really blame Romeo for being cautious and trying to keep everything underneath.
-Romeo seemed to play a lot of zone (definitely more than normal) and they didn't do a good job with it. I would guess that this was a product of having to play Reeves so much, but Ryan absolutely picked them apart. I'd look for them to come with a lot more man coverage once Flowers returns as this really seemed to be what worked best during their great defensive run last season.
-Jacque Reeves on the other hand got abused. However, I can't really fault him for two reasons. 1) No one should expect the fifth corner on a team (let alone one that's been out of football for two years) to come in and be able to hold down Roddy White or Julio Jones. 2) They really didn't give him much safety help, which I found pretty curious.
-On a related note, the fact that Reeves played every snap and Arenas didn't see the field a ton on defense makes me question what this staff thinks of Javier. I'd agree that he's probably too small to match up with some of the bigger receivers in this league, but he's a decent cover guy and Reeves was getting killed. I was a little worried that he was limited potential wise when they drafted him and if he can't get on the field in the base defense over a guy like Reeves, then my suspicions are likely confirmed. I'm not really sure what to make of this.
-Derrick Johnson looked great in the run game, but had a few bad miscues in the passing game. My guess would be that the ankle was probably bothering him a little, so I'm not overly concerned.
-I really have nothing against Jovan Belcher, but this is a spot they can upgrade on this defense. If they don't bring in some serious competition for him, either in the draft of FA, next offseason I'll be a little annoyed.
-Eric Berry looked solid. No wow plays, but didn't really get beat either. I'd expect him to improve as he gains more confidence in his knee.
-Ryan absolutely killed them when he scrambled. This needs to improve, especially against guys that aren't named Newton or Vick.
-Ryan Succop, I'm sorry man but you've gotta make that FG. No excuses. I'm not calling for the guy's head (yet), but he's gotta show more consistency.
-For a team that keeps a pretty fair amount of players on the roster for their supposed special teams expertise, they really aren't very good in this area. The big return was obviously very costly and they got their usual nothing in the return game. Something needs to change here in my opinion, either coaching or scheme or something. A team with guys like Arenas, McCluster and Wiley should not have this much trouble getting something going in the return game.
Overall, the tape really wasn't nearly as bad as the score would lead you to believe. It's easy to watch the defense and see that getting the injured players back (and even just Hali and Flowers) will do wonders. They played the run really well and the combination of the improved pass rush that Hali will bring and the improved coverage that Flowers will bring should help move the pass defense back towards the mean.
The offense was excellent in the first half and really shouldn't be expected to carry this team like they had to in this game. If the offense is this good going forward, this team is going to win a lot of games. I really don't think it's time to panic (unless of course the injuries persist), as it's easy to see what went wrong in this game: the Falcons are really good, the Chiefs were missing a ton of players on defense and there were a few miscues in the second half (some of which I would guess wouldn't have happened if the offense wasn't feeling to much pressure to score every time they got the ball). Let's all hope for some quick healing and a bounceback against the Bills this weekend.