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Getting in Tune: Week 9 Game Review
Posted By ChiefsWarpath.com On November 8, 2009 @ 8:59 pm In Commentary | Comments Disabled
My longtime readers know that I like to title my articles after songs. Sometimes I pick good ones. Sometimes I elect to be ironic and pick bad ones. Once upon a time I even picked a Jimmy Buffet song. I’ll do my best not to commit any more offenses of that heinous a nature.
This time around my taste is immaculate. Getting in Tune is track one, side two of The Who’s 1971 album, Who’s Next, a collection of songs mostly intended for a rock opera that never materialized. The Chiefs no doubt understand a thing or two about plans that fail to materialize. Plans, for instance, like scoring on the ground. Just as last year’s team set a league record for fewest sacks in a season (10), this year’s team stands a very real chance of setting another record: fewest rushing touchdowns. The modern era record of two is shared by three units: the 1972 Eagles, 1995 Jets, and 2005 Cardinals. Combined, those squads posted a record of 10-36.
When Kent Babb titled his Tuesday article “Chiefs use bye week to fine tune offense”, I had hoped it was a signal that the team would abandon its 2009 modus operandi of running stunningly ineffective, unproductive plays. Perhaps a week off would give head coach/offensive coordinator/quarterbacks coach/executive chef Todd Haley a chance to catch up on designing plays to take advantage of his more talented skill players. It was not to be. If today’s contest is an accurate measure of said supposed fine tuning, pitch backs and short dumps still rule the roost. This is, in essence, a throwback to the Elvis Grbac/Tony Gonzalez dink and dunk from the Gunther Cunningham era, but with less talented players at many positions.
What it isn’t, regrettably, is a throwback to Haley’s highly successful Cardinals offense from last season, wherein the quarterback had the freedom to throw the ball deep downfield. Then again, last season Haley had a quarterback who had the ability to throw the ball deep downfield. I’m more suspicious than ever that Matt Cassel doesn’t have that ability. In two games, Cassel has targeted newcomer Lance Long 17 times. By comparison, he’s looked in the direction of Dwayne Bowe a total of 53 times in half a season – a 1 to 3 ratio in five fewer contests. Tom Brady has targeted Randy Moss 67 times this year, and Kurt Warner has targeted Larry Fitzgerald 73. Both of them have quality second options. Cassel does not, ergo, he should be honing in on his only star far more often.
If only he could. Moss had a down year in 2008 because Cassel frequently forced the ball to Wes Welker, even into double or triple coverage. The knock – or, rather, one of the knocks – on Cassel was that he didn’t have the arm to get it to Moss on those deep routes. Bowe’s substantially lesser speed should have alleviated some of that, but I don’t think it did. Bowe is catching only about half of the passes thrown his way because Cassel frequently underthrows or overthrows him – the beleaguered signal caller is struggling to complete even 45% of passes between 21 and 30 yards.
He fares appreciably better – though still below average – on shorter routes, but he lacks a legitimate threat in the flat. Long may or may not be the solution, but Bobby Engram and Sean Ryan, the two guys who were supposed to fill that role this season, are clearly not. The former played his way off the roster, and the latter continues to disappoint on a weekly basis. He’s trying to fill big shoes with increasingly smaller feet, and with every step he stumbles. As a blocker he’s average at best, and as a receiver he displays a level of talent one would hope was reserved for a blocker. After over a decade of Tony Gonzalez and a half decade of Jason Dunn at Tony’s side, it’s hard to imagine anyone meeting Chiefs fans’ expectations for the position, but it’s equally hard to imagine that Ryan would meet anybody’s.
There’s reason not to give up hope, however. The common thread between the ’72 Eagles, ’95 Jets, and ’05 Cardinals is that none of them could surpass 3.5 yards per carry. With Larry Johnson in the backfield, neither can the ’09 Chiefs. It appears there’s life after Larry, however. While Kolby Smith looked mostly ineffective in his first game back, Jamaal Charles looked anything but. Not only do his numbers look impressive on paper (6 carries for 36 yards; 3 receptions for 19 more), he also shows the impetus to play ’til the whistle. His two point conversion was a display of sheer will triumphing over seemingly insurmountable physical adversity, as was his fumble recovery. Neither of those maneuvers should have succeeded. After two and a half years of watching LJ doing his very best Julian Washington impression, it’s a breath of fresh air to see a running back wearing red who actually tries. Hopefully the powers that be are taking notes.
While they’re taking notes, perhaps they can jot down a line or two about Mike Brown. Brown was the injury prone veteran who was gift wrapped Bernard Pollard’s starting job at strong safety after a verbal altercation with the coaching staff (according to a recent interview, Pollard prefers not to be incessantly sworn at by his bosses, while Haley and defensive coordinator Clancy Pendergast find nothing more motivating than epithets and four letter adjectives and verbs). Pollard has helped the Houston Texans cut their rushing yards allowed from over 200 per game to a hair under 60. Meanwhile, the Chiefs’ defense have made a regular habit of handing out career days, be it to breakout performers (Mike Sims-Walker), scrubs (Miles Austin), or even proven busts (Jamarcus Russell). By no stretch can the entirety of that disparity be attributed to Brown, but, suffice to say, he’s not part of the solution.
Nor is Demorrio Williams. Williams, however, like Brown, plays ball with the coaching staff, and in turn the coaches turn a blind eye to the simple fact that neither of them can play ball. But while Brown’s ideal replacement now wears the enemy’s colors, Williams’ is sitting on the bench, ready to take the field at a moment’s notice. Derrick Johnson’s tenure in Kansas City is coming to a close, but neither Johnson nor the Chiefs benefits from him riding pine. Haley and Pendergast proclaim a moral victory, but they’ve done so at the expense of actual victory – it was Williams who paved the way for Maurice Jones-Drew’s touchdown. DJ may or may not have prevented the score, but I’m positive of this: he’s better equipped to make that stop.
Still, there are others on this defense that play well, but their contributions are for naught. A defense that stays on the field for over 19 minutes in the first half cannot succeed, particularly one with as little depth as Kansas City’s. As falls the offense, so falls the team. As long as their chances of success are predicated on blind luck and the punter’s left foot, they’ll continue to falter. It is incumbent on the coaches to provide the players with the tools they need to win, but as of yet they have failed to deliver on that very basic requirement. Is that failure merely part of the growing pains associated with such a major administrative and philosophical sea change, or is it that the coaches don’t have the tools themselves?
In the meantime, the Chiefs dropped yet another game to a third tier opponent. It’s become a near weekly ritual. I hope it dies. It’s definitely old.
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