During football season I’m a Kansas City fan, but when baseball season rolls around I have no regional loyalty. I’m a Chicago Cubs fan. The top team in the Cubs’ farm system is the Peoria Chiefs. Tonight the Peoria Chiefs and the Kansas City Chiefs had something in common: both were playing AAA ball.
Replete with talent from the likes of Terrance Copper and Devard Darling, the Chiefs’ first string offense floundered. Matt Cassel completed two of five passes, which leads one to wonder whether or not he truly represents a long term solution at quarterback. Then again, his available targets were Copper and Darling, so for the time being I’ll reserve judgment. Larry Johnson ran for 12 yards on four carries, invoking memories of himself circa 2007. The blocking was not to blame either – 4/5ths of Kansas City’s starting offensive line played admirably. In particular, Mike Goff displayed excellent field presence. He’s a breath of fresh air at a position where the Chiefs have struggled for any identity whatsoever since the departure of Will Shields. One can see why San Diego’s running game has been so good for so long.
But I digress. The first stringers sucked. They sucked. There is no way to euphemize what happened on that field. They sucked.
The first string defense fared a little better. Tamba Hali is growing into his new role as a pass rushing outside linebacker. Derrick Johnson demonstrated a little consistency, which, if it continues, will be a pleasant development. Brandon Flowers played most of the 1st quarter in a manner more befitting Brandon Carr, but in the 2nd quarter he rediscovered his inner shutdown. Jarrad Page continued to make a case for himself as a potential upper echelon free safety. Ron Edwards and Alfonso Boone played well without ever impressing, but when do they ever?
Still, for all that improvement, they still didn’t do all that much to demonstrate that they’re any better than last year’s squad. Matt Schaub was a perfect 7/7. Chris Brown and Ryan Moats platooned for an average of five yards per carry. Houston only stopped scoring because they took their first stringers out. It’s easy to picture what better players – say, Ben Roethlisberger or Brandon Jacobs – could accomplish against a similar defensive effort.
Now here’s the ironic twist: most of the game’s big plays came from the second string. Maurice Leggett recorded the team’s first preseason sack. Tyson Jackson and Andy Studebaker combined for the second. Corey Mays, filling in for an injured Zach Thomas, outplayed every other linebacker on the field. Faux-second stringer Dwayne Bowe made athletic catch after athletic catch, as if to say to Todd Haley that he’s ready to stop dropping balls and finally live up to his enormous potential. Real second stringer Rodney Wright reined in two passes for 34 yards. Jackie Battle simply stunned, which led me to wonder why he’s competing with Jamaal Charles for the number two spot when he should be challenging Larry Johnson for the starting job.
All of this, of course, is leading to the real story of the game. Brodie Croyle outplayed Matt Cassel. Cassel, as I previously mentioned, was handicapped by two receivers who aren’t fit to hold Dwayne Bowe’s and Amani Toomer’s jockstraps, but that doesn’t alter the simple reality that Brodie out-generalled the general. He and his scrub offensive linemen (had anybody even heard of Darryl Harris before tonight?) demonstrated something the first team did not: cohesion. That’s not attributable to running backs and wide receivers. That’s the product of good quarterbacking.
Does that mean Croyle has a legitimate shot at taking Cassel’s job? Not on your life. His salary and injury history relegate him to a backup role, and if he were any lesser of an athlete the latter would probably cost him his roster spot altogether. Prepare yourself, however, for the onslaught of armchair quarterbacks and amateur pundits when you return to work on Monday. When six quarterbacks take the field in a preseason game and one of the starters is the fifth best (Rex Grossman is like Rick Ankiel minus the comeback), there’s bound to be talk.
On the plus side, Chiefs fans got to see both Scott Pioli and Clark Hunt interviewed tonight. Pioli looks a little like Tom Cruise’s character in Tropic Thunder. Chiefs fans should appreciate the tacit knowledge that, behind closed doors, he acts like Tom Cruise’s character in Tropic Thunder too. Hunt, on the other hand, looks and sounds like Cary Elwes’s character inTwister. Clark, if Bill Paxton ever radios you to tell you to turn your truck around and drive away from the tornado, listen to him.
The resemblance to Elwes got me to thinking about Elwes’s movie The Pentagon Wars, where he starred opposite Kelsey Grammer in a biopic of the development of the Bradley Fighting Vehicle, an armed troop transporter. The Bradley was redesigned over a dozen times during its unprecedented seventeen year development, and, due to poor design and improper testing, repeatedly proved to be too weak to serve its intended function.
That, in turn, got me to thinking about Mark Bradley, who also repeatedly proves to be too weak to serve his intended function. In terms of raw talent, he is the Chiefs’ best receiver. His 36 yards on two receptions today was not a fluke. Neither was his touchdown pass to Tyler Thigpen last year. Then again, his 963 cumulative yards in five seasons is also not a fluke. Sometimes a player’s greatest attribute is availability, and, despite all of his natural ability, he doesn’t have that.
Matt Cassel isn’t Trent Green. He cannot win with subpar receivers. Amani Toomer and Bobby Engram will likely be limited in their contributions simply due to their age, and none of the candidates for the fifth receiver spot look promising at present. Cassel needs Bradley. If Bradley remains healthy (unlikely, as he has yet to play a full 16 games in a season), Cassel stands a better chance of repeating his success of last year.
On the other end of the spectrum, there’s one guy who is of better service to Cassel if injured: Damion McIntosh. I spotted Mac sitting down twice tonight. Neither time was he on the bench. No, Mac was sitting on the field. He fell down. Twice. Here’s the important part: he wasn’t hit either time. He just fell. I understand that the coaches would like to preserve Herb Taylor as a reserve left tackle in case of an injury to Branden Albert. I understand that Barry Richardson comes with his own set of issues, primarily a lack of interest in the game of football. It doesn’t matter. Cassel needs for one of those two to take Mac’s place. It doesn’t behoove the Chiefs to have yet another season of triage in the backfield. This problem needs to be nipped in the bud immediately.
Ladies and gentlemen, here are your 2009 Kansas City Chiefs. Undistinguished gentlemen. A team that isn’t young, but nevertheless a team that lacks experience. A team that probably needs more than four preseason games to adequately prepare for the regular season. A team that balances seconds of brilliance with minutes of ineptitude. A team that does not yet function as a team. God save Ryan Succop.