Chiefs Could Contend in AFC West
by Robert Ferringo - 09/08/2008
I broke down the tape of the Chiefs-Pats game and here are my game notes. I focus a more on the Chiefs because, well, we all know the Patriots. We know who they are, what they're about, and how they go about their business. Even after they lost Brady, Sunday was a clinic on why the Patriots are the model team in the NFL. They made key plays, they dictated tempo, they got contributions from just about everyone on offense, defense and special teams, and they stood tall in the clutch in the final minute. They won, but did not cover (get used to hearing that), and they stayed 'under'' the total (that too). But I was more intrigued by K.C. because they are allegedly in a rebuilding year.
Anyway, here's some random thoughts on what I saw:
1) Kansas City is going to compete in the AFC West this year. I don't think they can win the division because of their quarterback play - Croyle actually looked better than Huard on Sunday, as Huard made an inexcusable throw on his interception - but they will be in the thick of things. They play defense, run the ball, and they compete. This team will be a live dog and they will be an 'under' machine.
2) I absolutely love the dedication to the running game that the Chiefs showed. The smashmouth play calling really set the tone of this team. But I also think that Herman Edwards needs to go back to the 2005 tapes and check out how and where Larry Johnson did most of his damage: on the perimeter and beating ends and backers around the corner. Herm seemed content to let L.J. bang between the tackles. And to his credit, Johnson played the role of battering ram without complaint. But I don't think K.C. wants to give all of the toss sweeps, draw plays, and screens to Jamal Charles. One of their offensive keys should be, "How can we get L.J. the ball, in space, one-on-one with a corner or safety?" They have to try to get L.J. to the second level and he seems more confident and skilled playing angles toward the sidelines than he does breaking through the middle and then making cuts in the middle of the field.
And if they are simply trying to set up 3rd-and-2 with a run on 2nd-and-6 then spell Johnson with a backup or he's going to be in the barn by Week 6.
3) That said, they need to take at least a couple shots downfield in the passing game. Max protect, move the pocket, do what you have to do, but the Chiefs have to take more shots. They didn't do it during the preseason and they didn't do it much yesterday. They need more play-action, a la the Montana and Deberg Years. K.C. really doesn't have many game breakers and right now so much has to go right - no penalties, third down conversions, no sacks or drops - in order for them to sustain drives. Chan Gailey drove Georgia Tech fans batty with his overly conservative play. It didn't work at Tech and I don't see it working, especially with inferior talent, in the NFL.
And the irony of the situation is that they got the ball down to the 5-yard line and suddenly running the ball was not an option. (In five plays that they had - they had two first downs due to a stoppage, but the Chiefs threw a fade pass - they tried one rushing attempt.) They slammed into the line all game, but five yards from paydirt they went soft. Odd.
3) I think that Dwayne Bowe is an absolute beast and has the potential to dominate in the passing game. But he desperately needs to work on his focus when it comes to catching the ball. He had four drops on the Sunday, including a crippling drop on what should have been a game-tying touchdown in the final minute. Yes, he had a ridiculous TD grab earlier in the contest. But he will not be elite until he becomes a more dependable target.
4) The Chiefs did a very good job of realizing that they have a dearth of offensive skill players and force-feeding the ballers that they do have. On 34 of the 48 plays that were either runs or completed passes, Johnson, Bowe, or Tony Gonzalez touched the ball.
5) I've been saying it for two years: Brodie Croyle will never be a solid starting QB in the National Football League and the Chiefs have set themselves back about three years wasting time with him. Yes, I did say that he looked better than Huard for most of that game. But he separated his shoulder on a hit that was not all that vicious.
5) Kansas City's offensive and defensive lines did a fantastic job. Don't be fooled by a modest 3.7 yards rushing on offense or a 4.5 yards rushing allowed - New England is a solid "A" on each side of the ball. The Chiefs actually won the time of possession battle and while I would never say they "controlled" the line of scrimmage they definitely held their own against two of the best units in the league.
6) I'm looking for New England to become a power running team in the absence of Tom Brady. But I am curious if they can pull it off. Their offensive line is certainly skilled enough. And they have a healthy stable of running backs besides Lawrence Maroney. But they seemed content with tossing wideout screens on 1st-and-10. Can they change that mindset? Are their wideouts good enough blockers to help the ground game out?
7) Randy Moss, the newly minted captain of the New England Patriots, is now one of the most interesting subplots in the NFL. Moss is now in a position that he simply could not handle as a petulant punk in Minnesota and as a mediocre malcontent in Oakland: he is now the guy that his teammates look up to.
And let me be the first to say that I do not think that he can handle it. I don't think he can be a calming influence. I don't think he can raise his game to overcompensate for a raw quarterback and an aging defense. I don't think that he will be able to contain himself if he suffers many more halves like he had on Sunday. After the eight-minute mark of the second quarter, Moss got as many looks from Matt Cassel as Jabar Gaffney did: one. Teams can now confidently double-down on Moss knowing that Cassel won't pick them apart with Welker and the other wideouts the way Brady did. And after a couple two-catch, 32-yard games I think Moss will pop. What's more, I don't think he can maintain his focus enough during a game so that if he hasn't gotten a ball thrown his way for three quarters he can make the 3rd-and-12 grab late in quarter No. 4. He's a fantastic talent, but he still has a lot to prove. Last year Planet Brady made it easy for Moss to blend in. But after tough losses or underachieving outings the fanatical Boston media is going to be all over Moss. Can't wait to see what ensues.
8) Where Brady's loss is going to be felt most is on defense. They will be on the field longer and they will be exposed.