This was not destined to be a perfect season. Four weeks in, as the only undefeated team in the league, it was easy for us Chiefs fans to start dreaming a little. There’s no reason not to. On account of the radical transformation Romeo Crennel has brought to a nearly identically staffed defense, the team is already much further along than most of us (myself included) dared to imagine even as late as the end of preseason. But this was not destined to be a perfect season.
Losses to Indianapolis are tough for me to stomach. In the past decade, they’ve proven themselves to be the one team that’s consistently got Kansas City’s goat. Their quarterback may be the best to play the game. He takes snaps from a probable Hall of Fame center, chucks the rock to potential Hall of Fame wide receivers, and hands off to a steady string of first round tailbacks, the original of whom will himself also be enshrined. In recent years the Colts have also drafted a credible defense to supplement the groundbreaking offense. There’s no shame in losing to them. Since the 2003/2004 season playoff loss, however, I think I may be more disheartened by losses to Indy than I am away game losses to Denver.
Having said that, this one was easier to digest than the prior three. The prior three were painful to watch for radically different reasons, but all three contained a common thread: an incompetent defense. That featurette of recent Chiefs teams has been put to pasture, and there is no greater evidence of that than this past Sunday’s contest. The image of a bloodied Tamba Hali skating past will stick in the minds of Charlie Johnson and Ryan Diem for weeks to come, and I doubt any of the Colts’ offense will feel good about allowing the lesser of Kansas City’s starting cornerbacks to run roughshod over them for four quarters.
It is, in fact, those two that are the story for Kansas City this week. At the conclusion of the 2008 season, Hali was written off by a sizable portion of the fanbase. He was too slow and weak to play on the right side. He wasn’t a dynamic enough player to get it done without Jared Allen force feeding him sacks. Carr was viewed in a similar light – after a dismal game against the elder Steve Smith, he simply didn’t look like he had the goods to play NFL caliber football. Now, in a little less than two years, they look like game changers. I’m still reserving judgment on Carr, but Hali is undoubtedly the real deal.
By comparison, Matt Cassel is also a game changer, but in a slightly different vein. So is Dwayne Bowe. So is Chris Chambers. For as much as Hali, Carr, and a few of their running mates did to keep the Chiefs in the game, Cassel, Bowe, and Chambers did as much to put a win completely out of reach. Bowe and Chambers are a pair of should-be Pro Bowlers with a Peter Gibbons-esque work ethic, and Cassel is the little engine that couldn’t. Just how bad is Cassel? Tyler Palko might not be able to hold his place on my hot seat much longer.
Solid protection is purported to raise the level of play of any quarterback. One wonders, then, exactly how Cassel would look behind the offensive line the Chiefs sported in 2007, given that he looks so tepid behind its antithesis. No line has given up fewer sacks this season than Kansas City, and only two teams are averaging more ground yards per game. Part of the problem is that his receivers are making him look bad (Bowe deserves most of the blame for this week’s breakdown), but the root problem is the same point I harp at every week: he’s not an NFL quarterback. He’s not an NFL quarterback. He’s not an NFL quarterback.
On the subject of protection, I’d like to pay special attention to the efforts of Brian Waters, who, in his first ever snaps at left tackle, played a very special game of pattycake with a very special pass rusher. Waters, in a few brief minutes, demonstrated exactly why he’s still a player to be respected – physically outmatched as he may have been, he was smart enough to know how to overcome the situation. Jon Asamoah, by the way, looked rough and tough at left guard. He, like at least five of his six draft mates, is the future of the franchise at his position. Really, Cassel – why aren’t you producing behind these guys?
Well, you’re not because you probably can’t. Cassel is in a tough spot, and it’s not his fault. He had no business being drafted. He had no business being franchised. He had no business being traded for a second round pick, and he definitely has no business leading an NFL offense. Fans fear the fragility of Brodie Croyle, and understandably so. His history shouldn’t come into play. Against all odds, Kansas City has a real shot at making a playoff run. They need to have at the helm the quarterback most likely to engineer a winning drive. It sure as hell isn’t Tyler Palko, and it’s probably not Matt Cassel either.
The remaining argument against Croyle is that if (or rather when) his season ends prematurely, Cassel’s confidence will have been shaken enough by the benching that he will be rendered ineffective. Folks – he’s already there, and to boot, I don’t think he has any confidence left to shake. Fire Tyler Palko, hire Jeff Garcia, give Croyle the rock, and in an absolute worst case scenario, bring back in Matt the Mistake to run damage control. Games need to be won. The defense can’t be expected to win them all. Thankfully, they can be expected to win some. For the rest, let’s see the guy with the best arm and the best brain, and hope to heaven he doesn’t get broken in half like the twig he is.