Throughout the NFL the third game of the season is known as "Truth Week". This is because typically by the third game of the season, teams have for the most part worked the kinks out of their schemes and have become the team they are going to be the rest of the season. It is also when teams begin to have enough game film on their opponenents to really begin breaking down their weaknesses and tendancies.
This week we will also move beyond tracking problem areas from last year as some of these have been addressed satisfactorally at this point (such as Ryan Succop appearing to be the answer to our kicking woes) and be looking at lingering problems from the 2009 season.
Before I get to the problem areas, I would like to address something that has been discussed throughout the Chiefs Kingdom:
Did Todd Haley give up trying to win this game at halftime?
The answer is yes. But in my opinion, this was not necessarily a bad thing.
During the postgame press conference, Jason Whitlock asked:
"You ran the ball alot in the second half (when the Chiefs were down 24-7)... was that a concern about pass protection? It seemed very conservative."
Haleys response was:
"I think if we are going to be the team that we want to be, we're going to have to be able to run the ball. Even when they have too many (defenders) up there. We're trying to win the game, but at the same time we're trying to establish an identity here.
"Three yards of rushing offense at halftime to me is unacceptable. It was not something I felt at the time I could let go by the wayside with our offense. Again we're trying to establish an identity around here.
"You can call it conservative if you want, but I think it had a purpose as far as myself and this team goes. And I'll leave it at that."
I believe that Todd Haley is beginning to discover that winning in the NFL is more difficult than he thought when he made his infamous "Twenty two guys off the street
When you're down by three scores and trying to get back in the game, you don't run the ball very much. You pass the majority of the time trying to push the ball down the field and save time on the clock. Yet in the 2nd half Haley called 13 rushing plays to only 4 passes.
Unlike Whitlock who slanderously accussed Haley of trying to get the game over with to avoid further embarrassment, I believe that Haley is beginning to understand a truth about coaching in the NFL: Winning is hard.
I think he is growing to regret his infamous "Twenty two guys off the street could win two games" comment to Brian Waters. Haley is coming to understand that you cannot will players to perform better just by yelling and screaming at them.
Haley DID give up on trying to beat the Eagles in the 2nd half. But he did it with a noble purpose. We find ourselves in week 3, Truth Week, and the Chiefs still have not established an identity on Offense. They still don't know who they are. Rather than doing what Herm Edwards did last year with Tyler Thigpen and the Arrowspread, abandoning all of his principles and what is best for th team long term for the sake of trying hopelessly to scratch out a win by any means possible, Haley decided to use it as an opportunity to forsake the small chance of winning that they would have had by becoming pass happy and work on the things that will make the team succesful in the future.
You may disagree with that decision. It's difficult to think that it was good for the moral of the players to know they were not "playing to win the game". Its questionable if this decision actually bore fruitage: Chiefs running backs only had 45 yards in the 2nd half and there were plenty of no gain rushes. But it was the decision Haley made and personally I believe that it is a sign of growth and humility on Haleys part as a rookie head coach to realize something had to be done for the long term good of the team.
Now on to the problem areas:
- Poor offensive line play
- Unsettled QB situation
- Inability to run the ball effectively
- Poor pass coverage by linebackers
- Questionable Play Calling
Penalties - The penalty situation is really getting out of hand. Last week they had 9 penalties for 70 yards. This week they had 10 penalties for 90 yards. Worse than the actual yardage lost for the penalty were several good plays that were wiped out because of them. As Haley said during his postgame comments, a team having this many penalties points directly at coaching. Whatever Haley is preaching at practice isn't getting through. Time to try a different tactic.
Poor Offensive Line Play - The offensive line has been the primary culprit in the penalty area. Whether the holding penalties are out of desperation from being overmatched or simply being sloppy is difficult to tell. But it must stop. The Chiefs still have trouble protecting the QB in passing situations which eliminates the downfield passing game. At the same time against good defenses like the Ravens and Eagles, they are largely unable to open running lanes. Pioli seems to be focusing primarily on the Right Tackle position, trying several players out in preseason before trading for Ndukwe and claiming O'Callaghan off waivers. But Center and Right Guard need to be looked at as well.
Unsettled QB situation - Cassel is the starter. End of story. No controversies stirred up by the media is going to change that. But as long as Cassel struggles, that isn't going away. He has a tendency to hold on to the ball too long, which it is becoming evident is the real reason the Patriots led the NFL in sacks allowed last year. It appeared to me that along with the pourous offensive line letting blitzers through all day long, Haley was trying to give Cassel much shorter, quicker pass plays that he has been.
Inability to Run the Ball Effectively - I am very happy that Haley has recognized that this offense is going nowhere until they find a way to run the football. It is the basic building block of an NFL offense and with an offensive line as horrible as ours is, you simply cannot sit back and fling the ball all over the place. We'll go through all four QBs this year if they did that. I predict that we will be seeing less LJ in the coming weeks and much more of Charles and Savage, who are shiftier RBs that are able to make guys miss. I don't think that is an idictment of LJ, he simply isn't the kind of RB that can make 3 defenders miss before he even leaves the backfield and right now, thats what we need.
Poor pass coverage by the linebackers - This is going to be a problem all year I believe. Corey Mayes may have wowed us in preseason with big plays hitting the QB and stuffing runners, but his pass coverage skills are a liability. When the oppossing teams Tight Ends have a big day receiving, thats primarily on the linebackers. Todd Heap for the Ravens and Celek for the Eagles both had their way with the Chiefs intermediate pass coverage.
Questionable Play Calling - Are Haleys Head Coaching duties interfering with his Offensive Coordinator duties? We seem to be seeing quite a few Delay of Game penalties or timeouts called because of plays not getting to the QB in time. We also are seeing questionable play calls. Of course the big one last week was the play before the half where a pass was thrown to the flat and allowed time to run out before kicking a FG. This week there were numerous times the Chiefs were in 3rd and 1 situations and had empty back fields. Shouldn't they at least have the threat of being able to run for one yard by having a RB in the backfield?
I'm OK with running a draw or a screen on 3rd and long, its conservative but less likely to result in a turnover. But calling consecutive draws on 2nd and 3rd and 20? Thats going a little too far.
I have been impressed with the inventivness and design of some of Haleys plays, but to me it seems that he is distracted and not as in the flow as an Offensive Coordinator that had no other duties but to call plays would be.
Hopefully its just a matter of Haley still figuring out how to do everything at once. Even more hopefully, it will lead Haley to realizing that he can't do everything himself and allow his assistants to help him out more.