Every year, it never fails. I always end up watching at least one preseason game on tape delay. My two poor, beleaguered VCRs are challenged with the task of making sure I don’t miss the action. I trust neither of them, however, so I always end up with two copies of any game I miss.
Yes, that’s correct. I am the proud possessor of not one, but two copies of the Green Bay Squeakby. What will become of them? They’ll probably be recycled to catch bits and pieces of regular season games. Even though it was a victory, and victories have been few and far between over the past few seasons, I don’t see any pressing reason to relive this one after I’m finished re-watching it tonight.
The nice thing about watching the final preseason game post-roster cuts is that I get to see some of the team’s lesser players playing their last few downs in the red and gold – players like Nuke Ndukwe, for instance. The less than nice thing is that I also get to see some of the team’s lesser players struggling, with the knowledge that ultimately they haven’t played their final downs in the red and gold – players like Ryan O’Callaghan, for instance. No team has 53 superstars, but it’s tough to deny that the guys holding up the bottom of the heap in Kansas City are worse than most team’s worst – players like Terrance Copper, for instance.
(In fairness to Nuke, I should state that I had every intention of not liking him when he showed up, strictly on account of the fact that he replaced Herb Taylor. I should extend him a special thanks, however, for making it easy to follow through).
On to the game.
First things first: it’s nice to see the Chiefs begin to establish an identity on both sides of the ball (for the purpose of this discussion, epic failure doesn’t qualify as an identity.) My tenure as a Chiefs fan began at the beginning of the Marty era, during which the team established a strong identity on defense. During the Vermeil era, the team lost what little remained of its defensive identity, but gained a respectable identity on offense. In each case, the identities were rooted less around a style of play and more around a single player – Derrick Thomas first, then Will Shields. My invocation of the latter will likely raise a few eyebrows, as the more obvious answer would be Priest Holmes. Remember, however, that Derrick Blaylock had four touchdowns in a single game (three behind Brian Waters because the Atlanta defense skewed so heavily toward Shields’s side).
Identity is harder to create without players of Thomas’s and Shields’s caliber. In my 20+ years of watching the Chiefs, only Chan Gailey, working with a very green Tyler Thigpen, was able to create some semblance of it. I watched Mike Solari, Todd Haley, Greg Robinson, Gunther Cunningham, and Clancy Pendergast all fail to do it as coordinators (Haley the head coach may still prove the ability to do so, but as a playcaller, he stunk). That’s why I like what I see when I look at what the team is beginning to accomplish right now. Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel don’t have Derrick Thomases and Will Shieldses to work with, but, just as they did in New England, they’re creating identity with the players they have.
In the case of Crennel, the identity is not much different from that which he created in Foxboro. The front seven thrives on physicality and versatility, and they gamble like crazy. Frequently during the Green Bay game, with the safeties playing deep, the linebackers left large sections of field completely unprotected. On some plays it works better than others, but Crennel and his players accept the fact that they’ll periodically get burned. In exchange, however, they’ll strike a little fear in the hearts of opposing quarterbacks by constantly playing on the offense’s side of the line of scrimmage. This requires a sturdy pass rush. The Chiefs have sorely lacked one for two seasons now. Crennel has thus far created this pressure primarily with four players: Tamba Hali, Andy Studebaker, Wallace Gilberry, and, most surprisingly, Demorrio Williams, all of whom were available to both of Crennel’s predecessors. To some extent the players may be playing harder for him out of respect for who he is and what he has accomplished, but the reality is just that Crennel understands better how to utilize the talent he has. Case in point: Williams in a three-point stance. This was, in essence, Crennel teaching an old dog a new trick.
That’s what a coordinator is supposed to do. Why it’s taken Kansas City so long to find a new one is beyond me, but I sure am glad they finally did. Not feeling compelled to wince on every down will, to the average fan, be considered a major improvement over what they’ve witnessed for the past decade.
In Weis’s case, the option of simply recapping his M.O. from his Foxboro days isn’t an option. He doesn’t have a Tom Brady or Drew Bledsoe to work with. Likewise, he didn’t have a Jamaal Charles or a Thomas Jones to work with in New England. I’m not entirely convinced he even had a Jackie Battle. No, this script is a complete rewrite, and aside from having Pro Bowl centers and left guards on both teams, there are virtually no similarities. The closest thing on Weis’s resume to what he’s working with now was his first season as a coordinator with the Jets, with Neil O’Donnell as his signal caller and former return specialist Adrian Murrell as his feature back. Murrell had hit the wall by 1997, however, so even there a valid comparison can’t really be made.
Weis, who has never had a losing season as an NFL coordinator, is probably working with the least talented squad of his career. Still, his starters posted 14 points against a defense generally regarded as one of the best in the league. That, to me, indicates that he’s making progress. The fact that guys like Jackie Battle, Dexter McCluster, and even Tim Castille are coming to life and having some of the best games of their young careers also indicates to me that he’s making progress. Given that he’s working for the first time with a quarterback that will not ever see a Pro Bowl roster (I’d love to eat my words on this point, but I know what I see… dude just isn’t very good), progress over last season is really all I could fairly expect.
I think we’re getting a little more than that, though. I’ve been a temporary Giants fan for the past few seasons (I always pick an NFC team to follow and support, but I seldom stick to them for more than two or three years). One of my favorite aspects of watching the Giants, particularly during their Super Bowl season, was seeing the three-headed running attack of Brandon Jacobs, Derrick Ward, and Ahmad Bradshaw. Jacobs and Ward split the majority of carries through the first three quarters, then in the fourth Bradshaw provided a fresh set of legs. Given that two of Kansas City’s three running backs have yet to play a full game, it’s tough to say exactly how Weis will implement the three-headed running attack this season, but my guess is that it won’t be far off from New York’s. Factor in Charles’s soft hands as well as the multifaceted contributions McCluster is likely to bring to the table, and suddenly this is something very different from what one would expect from a run-first offense.
Okay, so you didn’t get much of a game review there, but hey… it was preseason. Week four preseason. It’s as close to meaningless as football can be (which is, to say, not very meaningless at all).
Lastly, on the subject of Todd Haley’s Right 53, I gotta say… I’m almost impressed. I saw only two glaring errors: the omission of Derek Lokey and the trade of Jarrad Page. When I saw Lokey in a goal line package at fullback, I assumed it was a test of his versatility to determine whether or not he could be used as a change of pace during the regular season. I think I was wrong. I think it was a last-ditch effort to impress an otherwise unimpressed coaching staff. Regardless of their impression of him as a lineman, I see a critical failure on the part of the coaching staff in cutting him. He should have been giftwrapped Thomas Gafford’s job, which, if nothing else, would have left him available as an injury substitute at both nose tackle and fullback. I know I’m outspoken on the whole dedicated long snapper issue, but I’m right. Gafford can’t contribute elsewhere. Lokey, just like Jay Alford during his tenure in New York, had something more to offer.
With Page, ultimately I don’t think it’s a wrong move to keep him off the field in Kansas City. The wrong move, rather, was in allowing yet another Chief to dictate his place on the team by simply stating that he didn’t want to play for the organization anymore. Eddie Kennison aside, I don’t believe in allowing players to strongarm the front office. The team struggles enough in free agency to attract players strictly on the grounds of geography. It sends the wrong message to the rest of the locker room when players are essentially allowed to leave on request (see also: Larry Johnson, though I had a much harder time convincing myself to be legitimately upset about that one).
End rant. End preseason. Clever titles return next week. Fire Tyler Palko.