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Chiefs Success Proves They are a Basic Team

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Following the blowout against Denver a few weeks ago, Todd Haley commented on how he wanted to fix the team by focusing on the basics.

Duh. Obvi, right? I mean, a team that knows how to tackle and catch and executes the fundamentals is going to be better than one that doesn't, right? Pure coachspeak, and yet something interesting happened after Haley's comments. The Chiefs followed a blowout loss with two impressive wins. I've heard many comment that this turnaround was due to the light suddenly turning on for players like Matt Cassel and Dwayne Bowe. No doubt there's truth to that.

But to me, the real turning point for the Chiefs was Haley's devotion to the basics. The basics extend further than just blocking and tackling. Sometimes, teams have problems because they have talent gaps. Other times, teams have problems because they don't make the plays they're supposed to. The first problem is a front office problem and one that can be difficult to address midseason. The latter is a problem that is affected by coaching. 

Because maybe I'm alone in this, but while the Chiefs are 7-4, there were some wins that felt more comfortable than others, and the past two wins in particular felt especially comfortable. I could just use pure opinion to say that "the Buffalo win, while great, just didn't feel right." But I'd rather try to figure out if the numbers tell us anything. The numbers tell me that the Chiefs are winning more comfortably of late because they are more consistently executing the basics.  More details after the jump.

Statistics are facts, but they don't tell a full story. What's more important is the interpretation of those statistics. For example, Matt Cassel didn't throw for a ton of yards against Arizona, but I thought it was one of the best games of his Chiefs' career. Others might argue that Cassel played one of his best games against Denver in a losing effort--a point I disagree with. It doesn't make either opinion right or wrong necessarily. So in full disclosure, my interpretation of what statistics matter when measuring the Chiefs' success or failure is neither right nor wrong. To some of you, it may even be stupid. But the one thing I have tried to do all season long is to be consistent, even if it makes me sound like a broken record.

In the below analysis, I separated wins that didn't feel comfortable to me: Buffalo, San Diego, and Cleveland. I called those "good enough" wins. You'll see why in a second.

3rd Down efficiency


Time of Possession

Quality Wins


2 turnovers vs. 7


"Good Enough" wins


4 turnovers vs. 3


Overall Wins


6 turnovers vs. 10




2 turnovers vs. 4


In those "good enough" wins, I felt uncomfortable about them for a reason. Those three games combined for a horrible third down efficiency of 20%, an average turnover ratio of 4:3, and a Time of Possession differential of -10:54. Even though we won all three of those games, the Chiefs played their worst football on offense in those games.

The defense carried the team to wins in those games, but that's not a formula the Chiefs can or should rely on. The Chiefs have some talent gaps on defense. To improve, they probably need a few more new faces. On offense, the talent is there, but the underperformance in most cases has to do with execution. That's something we can actually change today. Relative to our specific scheme, the "basics" means that the Chiefs need to extend the clock by converting simpler third and short situations at a higher rate, commiting less turnovers/mistakes, and as a result, keeping the defense off the field.

3rd Down efficiency:

Matt Cassel has no doubt elevated his play the past few weeks. Early in the season, he struck me as a guy who was comfortable being an accessory to the offense instead of leading the charge. Cassel is starting to play like a guy who wants to lead the team to victory. But if I may be annoyingly consistent, I was most pleased with Cassel's ability against Seattle to convert on third down. He wasn't throwing simple screen passes where he asked the receiver to work for necessary yardage. He was firing good passes to the right receiver at the right spot. Contrast that to earlier in the year when he was sailing passes over open receivers' heads.

Quarterbacking 101:

Early in the year, I thought Matt Cassel had an accuracy issue, which is tough to correct. I'm starting to think a lot of his issues stemmed from inconsistent footwork and shaky confidence. Those are two things that can be coached and we're starting to see the dividends. Basic fundamentals to Quarterbacking. But let's move to an even more basic level: while many were celebrating Cassel's yardage and touchdowns, I was gushing over Cassel making a smart decision several times last week to throw the ball away. His inability to do that in Denver costed us potential scores on two consecutive drives.

Special Teams:

I want to again talk about the distinction between a talent gap and an executional gap. If we didn't have talent at Kicker, Punter, or Returner, you can justify mistakes. The issue is that we're screwing up the basics of special teams. Blocking and tackling, quite literally. Against Seattle, we had a kick and a punt blocked, which led to 7 points (and arguably cost the Chiefs 3 points). Against Oakland, we turned a 42 yard field goal into a tough 52 yarder because of holding penalty. In the second half of that game, the Chiefs lazily allowed Oakland to completely shift the momentum with a big-time kickoff return at just the right moment. The Chiefs have to get better at the Special Teams basics.

Third and Short Running Attack:

Maybe this doesn't fall into the category of basics, but I think it's worth mentioning anyway. The Chiefs' short running game isn't very good. Thomas Jones has been an effective runner this year, but not in short yardage situations. Charles has been pretty good in these situations, but I'd rather he not consistently put his body on the line for these plays. It's time for the Chiefs to get creative. I'd like to see Jackie Battle get more snaps in these situations and I'm hoping and expecting for McCluster to see more time in these situations, since he forces defenses to play the pass as well as the run.

All of this is great news for Chiefs' fans. If they consistently execute the basics well, the Chiefs are going to be a tough football team. In future years, if they execute the basics AND raise their talent level, they're going to be downright dangerous. Yet another reason to get excited about this Chiefs' team and especially about their coaching staff.

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