Looking back through recent articles, I realized today that it’s been over five months since I made a quirky music reference (Unsuccessfully Coping With The Natural Beauty of Infidelity). That’s not like me. My inspiration for research and rectification was watching San Francisco’s Brian Wilson pitch the bottom of the ninth inning in tonight’s World Series Game 4. I’m rooting for Texas for no particular reason beyond that Tim Lincecum looks like the older brother from the band Hanson. Still, I like watching Wilson pitch. I like him partly because he’s a solid pitcher, but I won’t deny that I derive a little pleasure from observing the behavior of guys who just aren’t wired right. Brian Wilson isn’t wired right. He reminds me, ironically enough, of another guy named Brian Wilson – the one who wrote the lion’s share of the Beach Boys’ catalog. He, too, isn’t wired right, and it makes him more interesting as well.
Thus, somewhere between Hanson and the Beach Boys, it occurred to me that it was time to go back to my bread and butter. Hey – I never said I was wired right either.
Sheer Heart Attack was the band Queen’s third album. It was an edgier album than their first two, and much more driven by Brian May’s guitar work. Studying the history of the recording of the album, it’s hard to believe it turned out that way. May was ill for much of the recording of the album, suffering first from a hepatitis infection brought about by a dirty needle used on him for a vaccination, then later by a stomach ulcer that necessitated an operation. Thus, the band did much of the recording without him there, leaving wide open spaces for his extended solos (if you’re familiar with the song, picture Brighton Rock sans guitar). May recorded his parts as he could between hospital stays.
Unfortunately, unlike a recording session, football games can’t wait for key participants to recover. That’s the means by which a 4-2 Kansas City Chiefs team averaging 25 points a game managed to muster only 13 points over five quarters against the 0-6 Buffalo Bills’ 30th ranked scoring defense. Anybody doubting Dexter McCluster’s ability to positively affect a game’s outcome needed only watch today’s match to see that they were wrong. McCluster has touched the ball 43 times this season – 26 on offense and 17 on special teams. 26 touches through six games for a part time starter is not an exceptional figure, and in terms of yards from scrimmage, his 34.5 per game doesn’t indicate on paper any significant contribution. Still, in his absence, the offense scored half. That, to me, demonstrates that he means more to this team than the story his numbers tell.
But he’s a gimmick player, right? Well, yes. Kind of.
Dexter McCluster is not a full time starter in the NFL. At his size, he can’t take the punishment an every down player needs to be able to take in order to thrive. His injuries in last week’s game amply demonstrated that. He’s probably not even a player that can be counted on to play 16 games a year, even if he isn’t starting. Some teams carry guys like that (Bob Sanders comes to mind) because their ability to contribute when healthy outweighs the roster spot sacrificed over the weeks that they’re not. McCluster is probably going to be one of those guys. Furthermore, if confined to any one position, he probably wouldn’t contribute enough at that one spot to justify keeping him around. His stats as a punt returner are exceptional, but they’re largely skewed by his very first – a 94 yard touchdown return against San Diego. His figures everywhere else are relatively pedestrian.
It’s the fact that he’s not confined to any one position, however, that makes him dangerous. He’s a loose cannon, and a fast one to boot. If you’re an opposing defensive coordinator and you don’t cover him on every down, you can fairly expect that he’s going to hurt you. Chris Chambers and Terrance Copper, on the other hand, probably aren’t. Chan Gailey is a smart guy. He invented the modern concept of the slash player in Pittsburgh with Kordell Stewart. He knows about players like McCluster. He also knows about players like Chambers and Copper (in Copper’s case, he knows about him firsthand from the 2009 preseason). I firmly believe that had McCluster been there in Chambers’ and Copper’s stead, the final score would have been quite different.
I know better than to look a gift horse in the mouth, however, and given that Kansas City was 1-4 against mostly bad Bills teams over the last decade, I’m happy to get the win, however ugly it was.
Besides, the ugly was only one-sided. Romeo Crennel’s defense was once again a dominant force. I could, as per usual, discuss the individual players’ contributions in superlatives, but today I want to go a step further. I want to discuss actual numbers.
1. Tamba Hali, Wallace Gilberry, and Andy Studebaker combined for three sacks.
2. Tamba Hali, Wallace Gilberry, Andy Studebaker, and Mike Vrabel combined for seven quarterback hits.
3. Tamba Hali, Jovan Belcher, and Glenn Dorsey combined for four tackles for loss.
(You may be noticing a trend here.)
4. Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson, Eric Berry, Brandon Carr, Javier Arenas, and Ron Edwards combined for seven passes defensed.
5. Wallace Gilberry, Brandon Flowers, and Kendrick Lewis combined for three forced fumbles.
6. Glenn Dorsey, Eric Berry, Brandon Flowers, and Shaun Smith combined for four runs stuffed at the line of scrimmage.
7. Eric Berry stopped Buffalo’s likely game-winning drive with a key interception.
It doesn’t take much football expertise to understand that a defense getting key contributions from 14 players is going to be tough to beat. Likewise, it doesn’t take much football expertise to understand that a team getting key contributions from six of its seven draft picks is also likely to be a difficult opponent. Prior to today, Berry, McCluster, Arenas, Lewis, and tight end Tony Moeaki had all proven their worth. In all cases, that worth was not that of a rookie with potential to develop into quality players. They play like veterans. Now Jon Asamoah can be added to that list. Filling in for Ryan Lilja, Asamoah showed shades of Will Shields. In particular, he demonstrated an outside pull move reminiscent of Casey Wiegmann in his prime. Lilja has earned his job as a starter on this team, but pending the retirement of either Wiegmann or Brian Waters, it stands to reckon that Lilja and Asamoah will spend a lot of time working side by side. They are the future of a presently impressive offensive line, and the future is bright.
Still, rookie contributions aside, today’s team was not the Kansas City Chiefs. They were the Cardiac Chiefs, capable of inducing sheer heart attack in even the healthiest of fans. I cannot locate a statistic showing how many football games have been won, not tied, as the clock expired in overtime. I’ve seen games as recently as last season (Cincinatti at Cleveland) wherein the game ended in the final minute, but I don’t believe I’ve ever witnessed one where the clock actually ran out as the winning play was in progress. Credit Ryan Succop for a skillful and somewhat ballsy adjustment on his second overtime fieldgoal attempt. Credit him even more for not allowing the wind-induced hook on the first attempt to shake his confidence. Credit Matt Cassel and Jamaal Charles for getting the clock stopped in time for that second attempt to take place. I do not fault Haley for going for it on fourth down early in the game. He’s setting a tone by demonstrating trust in an offensive squad that surely recognizes just how limited and one-dimensional they are. Players play harder for coaches that demonstrate trust. Compare that to Kansas City’s last coach:
“You can’t throw a pass when you only lead by one score. What if something bad happens when you decide to throw that pass?”
Give me the Cardiac Chiefs over that team any day.