John Welbourn had one great game in 2007. In Week 15, the failing lineman briefly reverted to his former self, offering Chiefs fans one final reminder of what their front five had been only two years before. He paved lanes for Kolby Smith, who gained 82 yards on 18 carries, and he helped keep Brodie Croyle upright all day against a potent Tennessee defensive line. That game, however, proved to be the exception, not the rule. Welbourn, who never fully recovered from a knee injury suffered in the first game of his rookie year, spent most of the season showing his age.
Mike Goff had several good games in 2007. He had several more in 2008. Goff has never been as good at Welbourn at his best, but he’s also never been as bad as Welbourn at his worst. That, at least, has been my evaluation of him thus far in his eleven year career. I may reevaluate my position after Friday’s debacle. Goff played nearly as poorly as I’ve ever seen a right guard play (excepting Wade Smith, of course), and he was simply abused by Minnesota’s second string defensive linemen.
He wasn’t the only one, unfortunately. Needless to say, it’s a sad night when Damion McIntosh and two third string guards (Darryl Harris and converted tackle Colin Brown) outplay the starters. Every last one of the nine linemen who will likely make the 53-man roster was responsible for at least one error. Last week they demonstrated what appeared to be improvement. This week they looked hellbent on reminding fans of the other 15 games from 2007, when a line anchored by a platoon of Chris Terry and a half-dead Kyle Turley allowed a league high 53 sacks.
Matt Cassel may have withstood that kind of punishment last season, but it’s unfair to ask him to do it again. For one thing, he lacks the receiving talent he had in New England. That alone dictates that he needs a little more time in the pocket than he did last year. Given his penchant for clinching the ball too long, it’s not unreasonable to state that he still has the potential to be turned into a headcase like David Carr. The last thing this team needs is a $60 million concussed benchwarmer.
Still, Cassel and his fellow quarterbacks, Brodie Croyle and Matt Gutierrez, played admirably well even with little protection. In a game where no semblance of a running game was ever properly established, all three were able to move the chains against one of the league’s best defenses. Croyle proved that he still has the best arm on the roster, but it was Cassel this time that led his unit to a touchdown. That’s encouraging to see, and it gives me hope that he might indeed pan out.
On the other side of the ball, Corey Mays continues to impress. Glenn Dorsey does the same – Dorsey is the setup man and Mays is the closer. They provide the push up the middle that the Chiefs have missed since John Browning and Mike Maslowski were getting the job done together in 2003. Jarrad Page, Brandon Flowers, and Maurice Leggett played reasonably well. Mo, in particular, showed a great deal of maturity and football knowledge by coming back from a whiffed play and correcting his mistake on the next down.
A very trim and nimble Tamba Hali shone brightly at his new position for the second week in a row, which leads me to believe that this was the right move for him all along. Hali, who mostly played defensive tackle in college, is better in a two-point stance and with a little bit of extra operating space. The same can be said of Turk McBride, who was also a tackle converted to an end, and now converted to a linebacker.
Brandon Carr and DaJuan Morgan, on the other hand, continue to disappoint. Carr allowed a touchdown by playing a few yards off his receiver, as was customary for him last season, and Morgan gave up a play by attempting to come in underneath the target instead of over the top. Apparently he momentarily forgot that he’s a safety now, not a rover. Morgan will mercifully lose his roster spot to veteran Mike Brown, but Carr’s job is safe for the moment. Leggett looks better at nickel, and Donald Washington and the remainder of the pack haven’t stepped up to dethrone Herm Edwards’ failed pet project.
Still, the story is on the offensive line. I wrote last week that the team had been struggling for identity on the right side and that Mike Goff looked like he might be the answer. Tonight the identity he provided was one that most players would do their best to keep a secret. Barry Richardson reprised his role from last season as the gentle giant, capable of using his size at leverage, but almost never his strength. McIntosh played sloppily, as per usual, but the offense didn’t click until he came in the game. Between the two, Mac is the better player. It pains me to say that, because he’s number four on my first cuts wish list (Wade Smith, Eric Ghiaciuc, and Thomas Gafford beat him out).
The coaches are responsible for putting the best five men on the field, however, and he’s still the team’s third best tackle. As long as Herb Taylor is being held out as a reserve left tackle, Mac needs to be the starter until Richardson can prove on the field that he’s up for the task. In the meantime, as the backups (particularly Harris) continue to outplay the starters, the starting line continues to look average at best and unusable at worst.
I hope to see this stop soon, but I won’t hold my breath.