It's a new season, and for all of the prognosticating we do in the offseason we never know for sure how much a team has improved or gotten worse until they play the games. Unfortunately, one game does not a season make. In the next few days I imagine Joel, MNChiefsFan, and Matt will be breaking down the game's individual match ups better than I could, so I want to take a look at the big picture for these two franchises: where have they come from, where are they now, and where are they going in the future?
Where have they come from?
The Chiefs last half-decade or so probably doesn't need to brought up, but it is important to review the highs and lows (mostly just lows, really) to understand where this franchise is and where it is headed. Carl Peterson was the GM of the Chefs for 20 years when he resigned in 2008 after several rough seasons. The Chiefs needed a new start, and hired Scott Pioli. This was widely seen as a good move, as Pioli was a prominent part of the New England Patriots' front office that had sustained success for the whole decade, and had won three Super Bowls in four years. Obviously, we all know how that turned out. Pioli's rocky tenure ended with the Chiefs worst season in franchise history. Obviously I'm not just talking about the Chiefs' record last year, though they were the worst team in the NFL in 2012.
The Cowboys have had an...interesting...few years. If you're a Dallas fan they've been frustrating, and if you're not a Dallas fan it has been entertaining. They haven't been to the playoffs since 2009 (longer than the Chiefs, as it turns out), mostly because of the coaching and defense. Wade Phillips was a bad head coach, and the Cowboys suffered (sound familiar?) Under Rob Ryan the past few years they ran a 3-4 scheme that saw a lot of improvement. They fired him in the offseason, though, because Jerry Jones had to have a scapegoat for not making the playoffs again. He also went all-in with Tony Romo, giving the 33-year-old a 6-year, $108 million contract ($55 mil guaranteed). It's a curious deal given Romo's age, but not given his production. The past two years Romo has thrown for over 9,000 yards, with 59 TD's and a 66 comp%. He's been much maligned for his inability to win big games, but that is often a result of factors beyond the QB's control.
Where exactly are they now?
The Chiefs' problem the past four years wasn't the talent level on the team the past four years. When Andy Reid announced his first 53 man roster several weeks ago, go_hoke wrote a great FanPost looking at the players on the roster from each of the former regimes (Carl Peterson's, Scott Pioli's, and now the Any Reid/John Dorsey era).
The core of the team is mostly left over from the Carl Peterson and Scott Pioli eras: Dustin Colquitt, Jamaal Charles, Dwayne Bowe, Tambla Hali, Brandon Flowers, Derrick Johnson, Branden Albert, Thomas Gafford (Peterson); Eric Berry, Justin Houston, Dontari Poe, Dexter McCluster, Junior Hemmingway, Jeff Allen, Rodney Hudson, John Asamoah, Donald Stephenson, Kendrick Lewis, Tyson Jackson, and Ryan Succop (Pioli). Reid has added his own players, with a complete overhaul of the QB's and TE's, and adding players here and there throughout the roster (Eric Fischer, Akeem Jordan, Nico Johnson, Mike DeVito, Donnie Avery, and Kniles Davis among others).
This has been repeated ad nauseum around AP this week, but even though the Chiefs' defense looked great like the '85 Bears in Week 1, and the offense was able to turn red zone opportunities into touchdowns, it was against the Jaguars. All we know, for sure, is that the Chiefs are better than they were last year. How much better, we're not sure. Expectations are that the Chiefs should compete for a Wild Card berth this year, but obviously there is a lot of season left.
Expectations are similar for the Cowboys this year. Sort of. The expectation in Jerry World is always playoffs. They beat the Giants at home to open the season, but didn't look good doing it. The Giants turned the ball over six times, and the Cowboys still only won by five. They hired the ageless Monte Kiffin as their defensive coordinator, who installed his base 4-3 Tampa Cover 2 defense. That shifted DeMarcus Ware from his more natural 3-4 OLB to a 4-3 DE. His first game didn't go well, he recorded only a pass defensed, a QB hit, and an interception, but no tackles. Zero. The got the turnovers Kiffin wants out of his defenses, but they still allowed 31 points to the Giants.
The Cowboys feel like the Chiefs the past several years: they have a lot of good pieces, but do they have the right coach to put them all together? The defense forced six turnovers, but they still gave up 31 points. They put up 36 points, but Romo and Dez Bryant are banged up. The offensive line is shaky other than LT Tyron Smith. They'll win score a lot of points and force some turnovers, and in the weak NFC East that might just be enough to win the division.
Where are they going?
Both teams seem to be going in opposite directions. The Chiefs last year hit rock bottom. In the short term, there's nowhere to go but up. Obviously they could still only win one game this year, but that seems unlikely at this point. Long term, this team feels like it is headed in the right direction. (Disclaimer: I felt the same way when Scott Pioli was hired. Though his biggest fault was probably not being able to hired a good coach.) The most important factor in sustained NFL success (as the Patriots have proved over the past dozen years) is for the ownership, front office, and head coach to all be on the same page.
Andy Reid has a long track record of success as a head coach (see: 4 straight NFC Championship trips, and one NFC Championship), John Dorsey comes from a very successful franchise in the Packers, and Clark Hunt is firmly behind his front office/head coach duo. Reid and Dorsey have Clark's full support to turn the Chiefs into perennial contenders, even if it means a few up-and-down seasons until then. That continuity is vital to the success of a franchise.
The Cowboys, on the other hand, don't have that. Jerry Jones is in charge of the Cowboys, he always has been and he always will be. He's the George Steinbrenner of the NFL. Anyone who doesn't deliver on his expectations (i.e., Super Bowl) every year has to go. This is Year 3 in the Jason Garrett Era, and he's coaching for his job. What's more, he, and everyone else in the country, knows it. That's no way to coach. It's also counterproductive to team development; just ask Alex Smith what changing coaching staffs every year does to your growth as a player.
The Cowboys, while not necessarily getting worse, seem to have plateaued. After going 11-5 in 2009, they have gone 6-10, 8-8, and 8-8 the past three years. Jason Garrett hasn't made the team any worse during his tenure, but he certainly hasn't made them a playoff caliber team. It doesn't seem like the Cowboys are headed in the right direction, and they might get worse before they get better, especially if Romo can't stay healthy. The Chiefs, on the other hand, are only headed one way: up.