I’m as guilty as anyone of being critical of the Chiefs during preseason. I don’t feel wrong for having done so. The team that showed up in Tampa isn’t the team that showed up Sunday at Arrowhead. That’s not to say I won’t criticize aspects of the current squad, but I’ll also gladly state that the sea change in production isn’t merely the result of parting ways with the bottom third of the preseason roster. It’s the result of another sea change: good coaching.
Suppose for a moment that I had a Doc Brown encounter sometime late last year, and by virtue of it had the full scoop on the team as it stands right now. Here is a non-comprehensive list of the things I might tell you had come to pass that you absolutely would not have believed:
1) Kansas City will have a top 10 run defense with the same front seven, and they will shut down Jerome Harrison and Frank Gore. Frank Gore? Yes, Frank Gore. Jerome Harrison isn’t the athlete he’s made out to be. Were it not for a tepid performance by the Chiefs’ defense last season, he’d be a near nonentity. He’d still probably be good enough to start for the Cleveland Browns, but then again, so is Chansi Stuckey. Frank Gore, on the other hand, is one of the better backs in football today, and at his present pace (fewer than 300 carries a year), will likely continue to be for the next four or five years. To have stated six months ago that Ron Edwards and Jovan Belcher would contain him for a full four quarters would have been viewed as nothing more than blind homerism. In fairness, Gore was wildly successful in the passing game, which is to be expected, so it cannot be said that the Chiefs held him down altogether. Still, last year’s #30 run defense held a top tailback to 2.9 yards per carry on Sunday, and that’s something to be commended. Give credit to the guy that taught them how.
2) The answer to the team’s return game woes will be Gilbert Arenas’ little cousin and a guy who didn’t return kicks in college. When a team’s quarterbacking is questionable at best and 1st downs are at a premium, nothing helps quite as much as field position. Unsure whether or not it really works that way? Go reexamine the 2000 Baltimore Ravens. Jermaine Lewis put the offense in prime position to contend for a fieldgoal every time he touched the ball. Matt Cassel doesn’t quite have the same magic touch on the ball as Trent Dilfer. Starting on the 40 is paramount to the minimal success he’s had thus far. Commend rookies Javier Arenas and Dexter McCluster for giving him that opportunity, but also commend the outstanding blocking making those returns possible, and give credit to the guy that taught them how.
3) The offensive line will return to mid-’90s form. I know I’m a bit of a broken record on this subject, but Chiefs fans were spoiled during the Vermeil era. I have no realistic expectation that I’ll ever again see a blocking unit play quite like Tait, Shields, Wiegmann, Waters, Roaf, and Dunn. Divesting myself of that expectation makes watching football far more enjoyable. Thus, all I’ve really hoped for over the past few years was a return to the level of play I saw during the Grunhard/Szott era. Given some of the downright piss poor performances I’ve seen the past few years (Chris Terry, if you’re reading this, I’m talking about you), I’m hesitant to speak kindly of the current unit for fear that I’ll be proved woefully wrong in doing so, but if what I saw Sunday is an indication of what I’m going to see for the next decade, I’m cool with that. I saw running lanes big enough to fit a Mini Cooper. I saw consistent pass protection to a four or five count. In short, I saw everything I hoped for, and since Ryan O’Callaghan exited the picture, I’ve seen it consistently. Part of the transformation here is simply a personnel upgrade at three of the five spots, but once again, give credit to the guy that taught them how.
4) The runners will actually find the seams the O-line is giving them. Credit the guy that taught them how.
5) The defense will run to the ball, and they’ll get there by knowing how to read the offense. One of my favorite moments of the Comedy Central Roast of Bob Saget is when comedian Jeff Garlin, playing the part of fictional television producer Saul Schwartz, states that one of his conditions for giving the green light to Saget’s ’80s sitcom Full House was that the show would be based around three hack comedians so that he could “prove that time slot is everything.” When I watch the transformation that has occurred not only in the running game, but in the overall attitude and aggressiveness with which the defense – nearly the same unit employed by erstwhile coordinators Clancy Pendergast and Gunther Cunningham – is playing with now, I can’t help but wonder if Romeo Crennel likes the idea of using players perceived to be hacks and busts for the sake of proving that vision is everything. Gunther, for all his flaws, could teach players how to hit hard (excepting Pat Thomas, whom I suspect couldn’t be taught much of anything). What he failed at was getting his hitters to understand when and why to break off their assignments. This, in essence, was not a whole lot different from the Greg Robinson read and react approach, insofar as players didn’t adjust until after the play had developed. The current defense gambles, but they guess right more often than not. That’s not a function of luck. It’s a function of vision and conditioning. Give credit to the guy that taught them how.
My hat is off to the guys that taught them how: Charlie Weis, Romeo Crennel, and Steve Hoffman. This was a far from perfect game, but I’m giving credit where credit is due. This team is 3-0 not by chance, but rather by design, and while there’s still criticism to be applied, celebrating a thus far perfect season takes precedence. Go Chiefs.