Yet again I’m dispensing with the cute titles and semi-obscure musical references. They’ll return with the regular season. For now, I’m just gonna talk football. The second preseason game is my favorite of the four. The starters play the full first half, which means it looks something a bit like a regular season game. In the second half, the scrubs get probably their best chance to audition for the coaches. Thus, there are really two separate games taking place. Accordingly, I’ll evaluate each half individually.
I have no choice but to admit this – Matt Cassel had an okay game. Whereas his passes generally range from questionable to bad, tonight they ranged from good to questionable. He kept the ball in the hands of his receivers and out of the hands of the Buccs’ defense. He amassed two successful scoring drives. Better yet, he improved dramatically on last week’s paltry average of four yards per completion. This is undoubtedly partly attributable to improved playcalling from the sideline. Charlie Weis might not be much of a college head coach, but it’s hard to deny that he has a bit of a Midas touch with an NFL offense.
Still, the major change between this week and last was not the plays, but rather the time allotted to execute them. With much maligned center Rudy Niswanger displaced from the starting lineup by his old boss, Casey Wiegmann, Cassel simply had longer on each down to get the job done. Cassel isn’t known for a speedy release, so that extra half second or longer afforded to him by having a stronger snapper might on any given play make the difference between success and failure. I’ve said this before, and I’ll stick by my analysis – Rudy is not a bad player. He’s just not built to play center. He has too long of an upper body, which keeps him from getting down low enough, which keeps him from getting proper leverage. Consequently, while he doesn’t allow a lot of sacks, he also doesn’t contribute much of anything past that first stop. Casey, by contrast, gets great leverage even against much larger players, and he consistently gets to the second level. And unlike a lot of other centers, Rudy included, he knows what to do once he gets there.
Et cetera, et cetera… My longtime readers already know my outspoken admiration of Casey’s play. For those of you who were happy to see him go in 2008, however, I implore you – tell me I’m wrong. After tonight, try to state your case for putting another player (short of maybe Dan Koppen or Jeff Saturday) in Casey’s place. After watching Mike Goff fall from grace so dramatically and so quickly last season, I’m leery of aging offensive linemen, but I’ve got a lot of confidence in Casey. He may not be the future of the franchise, but he’s more than enough for right now.
Sadly, the veteran running back also brought in this offseason isn’t having the same spectacular start as Casey. Thomas Jones continues to underwhelm me. Jamaal Charles and Jackie Battle were the only two Chiefs who have run worth a damn at all this preseason. Luckily for us, both of them are running at or above their anticipated potential. Charles was incorrectly identified as a speed guy earlier in his career (the error is glaring when evaluating him alongside Dexter McCluster). He has speed, but he also has vision, power, and great hands. He’s one of the best I’ve seen since Marshall Faulk, and, barring injury, there is no conceivable reason why this year won’t be the first of many Pro Bowl berths for him.
Dwayne Bowe, by contrast, won’t be going to a Pro Bowl anytime soon, if ever. Chris Chambers probably won’t be going back to another one. This is a pedestrian receiver corps, and, unlike some of Kansas City’s pedestrian receiver corps past, they don’t have a Pro Bowl tight end propping them up. Having said that, I’ll settle this year for consistency. If the Chiefs can keep the same top three (Chambers, Bowe, and probably McCluster) for all or most of the season, I’ll call that progress.
Progress, defensively speaking, is hard to analyze from this game. Tampa Bay isn’t known for their potent offense. The front seven looked better tonight than last week, but then again, what front seven wouldn’t? Johnson/Belcher seems to me to be a better duo than Williams/Mays, but give credit to Demorrio for playing with the fire and anger that any demoted starter should. The backfield looks solid. I like Kendrick Lewis. No team wants to start rookies at both safety positions, but, barring the unlikely return of Jarrad Page, there’s little question that he’s the second best safety on the team, and probably the third best defensive back overall. I errantly believed Flowers, Pollard, and Page to be 3/4ths of the next potentially great Kansas City backfield. Now I think it could be Flowers, Berry, and Lewis, and based on what I’ve seen so far, I think I might be glad I was wrong the first time around.
Beyond that, I don’t know what else to say about the defense. Get back to me next week after they’ve played another real offense.
The real star of the first half, however, was, just as was last week, Javier Arenas. By himself he’s capable of making serious plays, but he’s doing something far more significant – he’s inspiring his teammates. They’re better blockers this week than they were last, and better by far last week than they were last year. It’s the same players as last year too, minus Jon McGraw, their captain, so ostensibly this should be a less organized, less skilled group, but it’s not. Some of that is coaching, and some of it is cohesion too, but a lot of it is inspiration. There’s a reason it was Arenas, not Berry or McCluster, that got taped to a goalpost. It’s hazing, but it’s also a sign of respect.
Moving on now.
Tyler Palko sucked.
Thank you, and goodnight.