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Everything Hangs in the Balance: Week 1 Game Review
Posted By ChiefsWarpath.com On September 14, 2009 @ 9:53 pm In Commentary | Comments Disabled
31:41. 31:22. 29:32. 31:44. 31:22. Those are the regular season stats of the last five Super Bowl winners for time of possession. The aberration in the bunch is the 2006 Indianapolis Colts. The Colts, like the Jim Kelly led Buffalo Bills teams, had an uncharacteristically low time of possession for a winning team because the quarterback called the plays on the field. In interviews, Kelly directly attributed the Bills’ loss of four straight Super Bowls in the early ’90s to those low figures – as low as 26:15 in 1991. He was right to do so. A defense built around a Hall of Fame defensive end and four other repeat Pro Bowlers tired by the end of each season and ultimately faltered when it mattered most.
Even at their lowest, the Bills could not muster what the Kansas City Chiefs accomplished today. The Chiefs remained competitive for 58 minutes despite having only held possession for a shade under 19 minutes, and they did it against one of the league’s better defenses. That sounds commendable, but it isn’t. The 24-38 loss belies how poorly they played. If you want to get a better picture of the shape of this contest, take away Jon McGraw’s blocked punt/touchdown and the touchdown set up by Derrick Johnson’s interception. This was, for all intents and purposes, a team that was outscored by 28 points in a game against last year’s 18th ranked offense.
How does a team accomplish such a feat? There are many means via which this end can be reached. It can be done through a lack of effort (see: Kansas City Chiefs, 1998-2000), a lack of conditioning (see: Kansas City Chiefs, 2006-2008), a lack of talent on one side of the ball (see: Kansas City Chiefs, 2001-2005), or a lack of talent on both sides of the ball (see: Kansas City Chiefs, present). The process can be aided by never once having the starting offense or starting defense play together during the preseason. Further expedition can be achieved by starting lesser players (Demorrio Williams) in an attempt to send a message to their more talented counterparts (Derrick Johnson), as will employing the dregs of the league (Wade Smith, Jovan Belcher, and Terrance Copper) while releasing potential difference makers (Herb Taylor, Zach Thomas, and Ashley Lelie) or placing them on injured reserve with no injury (Colin Brown).
If all of that fails, you can always run a series of draw plays during a two-minute drill.
Last week I made the observation that I had seen nothing to convince me that this defense was any better than last season’s. I’ve seen the evidence I was looking for. They’re worse. Aside from Tamba Hali’s sack in the second quarter, Joe Flacco was untouched. He did a passable Downtown Funky Stuff Malone impression at the end of the first quarter, scrambling out of the reach of hapless defenders for a full eight seconds before dumping the ball off to a wide open Willis McGahee in the endzone. It’s no surprise that Tamba Hali is limited in his ability to drop into coverage, but, as the team’s sole pass rusher, he’s permitted to have that limitation. Corey Mays, by contrast, is not. An inside linebacker must have tools other than hitting at the line of scrimmage. Chief fans were enamored with his preseason play, but they may now be tuning in to exactly why he was never able to crack that prestigious Bengals starting lineup.
Still, give credit where credit is due. The team broke, but the players didn’t. A Herm Edwards-conditioned defense could not have escaped 40 minutes of field time without injury. If they’re called upon to repeat this task 15 more times this season, the trend will not continue. In the interim, however, take a moment to appreciate the fact that Todd Haley’s 22 men off the street all survived, even Brodie Croyle and Mike Brown. It’s one of the few things worthy of appreciation.
Among other things to be appreciated are Jon McGraw’s continued stellar special teams play, Dustin Colquitt’s Hall of Fame left leg, Ryan Succop’s equally impressive right leg, Brodie Croyle’s cool in the face of constant and unrelenting pressure, and the persistent hustle of Maurice Leggett. I won’t bother trying to hide it – I want Leggett to succeed. Mo is a humble, hardworking guy with an unstoppable motor and a lot of upside. He was targeted today. The Ravens elected to test him rather than Brandon Carr, and that was probably a mistake. Leggett was burned a few times, demonstrating clearly why he’s not yet ready to be an every down cornerback. Still, the big plays he made were plays that Carr or Ricardo Colclough would not have. They are not physically able of doing the things Mo and Brandon Flowers do. They’re this generation’s Julian Battle and Dexter McCleon, the kind of players that make you clamor for the converted strong safety who barely has the speed to stick with a tight end, let alone a receiver.
Everything hangs in the balance, and when the balance is 40 minutes to 20, the balance hangs you. The Chiefs didn’t stay in this game because they were competitive or because they had heart. They stayed in because of dumb, opportunistic luck. If they intend to win games against teams like New York and Dallas, they must learn to be tougher in the trenches. Players like Glenn Dorsey and Branden Albert cannot afford to post embarrassing performances as they did. They must be lynchpins, not turnstiles. They must be held accountable for picking up the slack for lesser players like Ikechuku Ndukwe and Corey Mays. Other players must step up too. If the only good players are the usual suspects, buckle your seatbelts. We may be in for one hellacious ride.
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