During Todd Haley’s reign, the Chiefs have employed seven quarterbacks. Of them, Chiefs fans really only had the opportunity to fully observe and evaluate two of them. In five years of wearing red and gold, three of them as a part time starter, Damon Huard failed to wow anybody beyond Herm Edwards and Mike Solari. One of Haley’s first acts was dismissing Huard, and rightfully so. Tyler Thigpen proved himself to be of some value, but only in an offense tailored very specifically to his strengths. He lasted a little longer, but was never under consideration for the top job.
Of the remaining five, two cannot be fairly evaluated by Chiefs fans at all. Ingle Martin never attempted a pass in the NFL outside of limited late game preseason play for Green Bay and Denver. If his 2009 UFL season stats (39/81, 1 TD, 5 INT) are any indication, however, Kansas City is probably better off without him. Matt Gutierrez has two regular season attempts, one for the Chiefs and one for the Patriots. Both were completions, but 2/2 is hardly a stunning resume.
That leaves Quinn Gray, Brodie Croyle, and Matt Cassel. Gray stunned in his one brief shot in Kansas City, piloting one of the best drives Chiefs fans have seen post-Trent Green. That alone is not enough to form a substantive opinion, but most fans aren’t oblivious to his career in Jacksonville, wherein he had reasonable success as a spot starter for David Garrard. Brodie Croyle is an enigma. He possesses every physical tool a quarterback needs except one: durability. He has little to none. Of course, neither did Joe Montana, but Brodie Croyle ain’t Joe Montana. In fairness, he never had the advantage of having a good team around him, even in college, but at some point it’s incumbent on the QB to guide his team to a win, talent be damned. Croyle hasn’t done it yet, and between his failure to win and his incessant injuries, he long since fell out of favor with most Chiefs fans.
Matt Cassel will join him soon. As was done for Croyle early in his career, the fan base has spent the better part of the season making excuses for him. He lacks the requisite supporting cast to be successful. He may be a five year veteran, but only last year counts. He doesn’t have a dedicated quarterbacks coach to show him the ropes. All of these points have merit. None of them excuse a 10/29 performance at home against a division rival.
It wasn’t a lack of protection. Even with Wade Smith starting, the offensive line held their ground. They are blameless in the first of the two sacks on Cassel, who scrambled well outside the pocket, but still failed to get rid of the ball despite ample time to do so. It wasn’t a lack of a complimentary running game. Jamaal Charles posted a pedestrian 56 yards on 18 carries, largely due to the fact that he played much of the game hurt. Tim Castille added 26 yards on three carries, proving himself to be a welcome addition to a depleted backfield.
It was to some extent a lack of quality targets. Dwayne Bowe’s absence was felt in spades. The Broncos sport two future Hall of Fame defensive backs in Champ Bailey and Brian Dawkins. The two of them needed only to shut down Chris Chambers. Bobby Wade took himself out of the game, blending the considerable receiving skills of Johnnie Morton with the sideline vitriol of Terrell Owens, and Lance Long was never in the game to begin with. The Chiefs frequently played in max protection mode, which proved to be a double-edged sword. Max protection sacrifices open receivers in favor of offering the quarterback additional time to pick his target. If the quarterback, however, is prone to making poor decisions, additional time doesn’t help. Sometimes it outright hurts.
I will not waiver from this position anytime soon. Matt Cassel is not fit to be an NFL quarterback. Wes Welker and Randy Moss propped him up last year, just as Larry Johnson and Tony Gonzalez propped up Damon Huard in 2006. It’s a pleasant thought to think that a career backup can take the field and turn into a winner, but more often than not it’s just a pipe dream, supported by short term success followed by eventual failure (see also: Derek Anderson, Tommy Maddox). Bowe and Chambers are quality wideouts. Leonard Pope is a passable (albeit unspectacular) tight end. Jamaal Charles is effective both as a runner and a receiver. Trent Green would win games with this cast. Todd Collins might do alright too. A college backup, however, cannot. He was a college backup for a reason. Kansas City’s investment in him was far too great, but that alone cannot be the justification for keeping him around. At a minimum, he must be demoted by the beginning of next season if the Chiefs plan to have any measure of success.
While cuts are being made, it’s likely best that the powers that be look into the prospect of replacing Clancy Pendergast. Kansas City’s defense had not allowed two back-to-back 40+ point scores by opponents since 1983. They had never allowed two back-to-back 40+ point scores by division opponents. Reaching the Super Bowl requires a very precise player/coach chemistry which is usually exceptionally difficult to recreate. Thus, when a team does reach that pinnacle, they generally don’t attempt to shed their coordinators. That Arizona did just that should have weighed more heavily on Scott Pioli’s mind. Pendergast’s seeming inability to coach up his squad to even a passable performance on a day when his top pass rusher posts his career best is an indication that he, like Cassel, is not cut out for the job he has been assigned.
I have no desire to discuss the trick play in any great detail. The play was ingenious in design, mediocre in execution, and deplorable in timing. There are many signs that Haley is in over his head, but I don’t believe this was one of them. This was a momentary lapse in good judgment, unlikely to be duplicated.
Much criticism was levied at Herm Edwards last season for his inability to keep his team competitive in the second half. Haley suffers from the same affliction, but to a greater degree. His 22 players off the street mentality hasn’t worked yet. Like it or not, it’s Herm Edwards’s draft picks – Jamaal Charles, Brandon Flowers, and Tamba Hali in particular – that are providing the only flickers in a fire that desperately needs to be stoked. Matt Cassel is not the answer. Mike Goff is not the answer. Bobby Wade is not the answer. The dregs of New England’s roster are not the answer. This team lacks exceptional playmakers, and it lacks exceptional guidance at the coaching level too. Midterm evaluations are in, and it’s not a pretty picture. Nothing short of a sea change in personnel, and perhaps philosophy too, can right this ship, and until it is, my evaluation is as follows: Points are awarded for effort and creativity, but an overall inability to produce right answers means a failing grade. Try harder next semester.