One of my all time favorite internet memes is the “You’re Doing It Wrong” pictures. Most of my favorites involve soccer players. Soccer is a sport I try desperately to like, but in the end, there’s a reason why the only parts of even the most important games that make it to the ESPN highlight reel are the scoring plays: the rest of it is boring. Baseball has hit-saving fielding plays and clutch strikeouts. Hockey has angry Canadians punching each other. Soccer is a low scoring game with guys kicking a ball barely visible from the stands around an oversize field (full disclosure: I don’t mind indoor soccer for exactly this reason – a shorter field improves the watchability dramatically). Want to make soccer interesting? Get rid of the goalie.
So yeah, seeing soccer players get hit in the face amuses me. My favorite of the YDIW pics, however, is the one featuring a male figure skater inadvertently piledriving his partner into the ice.
Unfortunately, the Chiefs have been a wellspring of potential YDIW captions for a few years now. Dwayne Bowe’s drops, Damon Huard’s fetal fumbles, Chris Terry’s turnstile’s spins, and pretty much anything ever done by William Bartee (remember the off-the-foot punt return? yeah – top my personal list of all time hard to stomach moments, but, regrettably, the list is not nearly that limited. Remember Johnnie Morton? Eddie Drummond? Julian Battle? Mike Priefer? Obviously the low points were easier to accept when Al Saunders and the Pro Bowl offense (counting Casey Wiegmann and Dante Hall, nine of them have made the big trip to Hawaii). The past four years have been absolute torture. Those rosters, including Dick Vermeil’s, were not designed to go deep in the playoffs.
So in a 6-4 season thus far, here’s a hell of a statement to make: they’re closer now than they were at any point in the past decade. Out of 10 games they’ve been competitive in seven, and, surprisingly, half the starters on both sides of the ball look like they deserve to be Honolulu bound. Better yet, the team looks like a team that will continue to grow for at least a few seasons. They’re not relying on elderly battered bodies as they did in the Vermeil era. Take a look at the core group of players: Jamaal Charles, Dexter McCluster, Dwayne Bowe, Tony Moeaki, Branden Albert, and Ryan Lilja on offense, and Glenn Dorsey, Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson, Brandon Flowers, Javier Arenas, and Brandon Flowers. These are all players that, barring catastrophic illness, have at least five seasons in the tank.
What’s great is that they’re all producing now. What’s better is that a handful of other players look as if they’ll rise to the occasion and join them. Case in point: Verran Tucker. He couldn’t land a gig in Dallas, then showed up here and started making significant plays. He has three catches for 62 yards in the last three weeks, and all three of them mattered. Check your history books and you’ll find another guy – one still on the roster – that also couldn’t land a gig in Dallas. That guy worked out pretty well.
On to the game itself: Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones posted 159 yards, but then again, when do they not? 150 yards suddenly seems cursory, if not a little under average, as does the 5.9 yards per carry average they sported Sunday. This, in any other recent season, would seem noteworthy. This year, it’s old hat. After a pair of dismal showings in the past two weeks’ division losses, they’re back to form. Nothing noteworthy here, right? Well, maybe not. Fans and analysts are quick to credit the tandem for their achievements, but there are two other key players in the run game that are getting overlooked: Ryan Lilja and Barry Richardson. Richardson is channeling Kareem McKenzie, and Lilja need only channel Ryan Lilja. I don’t mean to overlook the fact that Casey Wiegmann and Brian Waters have had pretty decent seasons too, but Lilja and Richardson are the foundation on which this running game is built.
Branden Albert had a bad season in 2009. Blame part of that on Matt Cassel. His style of play (or maybe lack of style) leaves him vulnerable to the pass rush. Part of that, however, falls back squarely on Albert’s shoulders. I came into this season with limited expectations of Albert. I pinpointed this game as one where he was likely to falter. With six Pro Bowls between them, Joey Porter and Darnell Dockett aren’t exactly slouches. Albert and Waters neutralized them. Dockett had a single quarterback hit. Porter had none. Neither had a tackle for loss. If Lilja and Richardson are the foundation of the running game, Albert and Waters are laying the rock in the opposite phase.
So basically I’m saying the offensive line had a good game.
Sorta. What happens at the goal line on running downs is ugly, and it seems to be getting uglier. Todd Haley now sees it necessary to bring in Mike Vrabel at tight end and Shaun Smith at fullback to get any semblance of push inside the five yard line. Even with a pair of bigger bodies coming in to block, it’s not working. December is rapidly approaching. In colder months, the more successful teams are the ones that can run in the red zone (remember the Lions’ collapse in the second half of the 2007 season?). I can’t name a specific methodology by which this can be quickly improved upon, so I’ll offer to the offensive line my only suggestion in the simplest of layman’s terms: block better. It’s the only answer that comes to mind.
Likewise, my suggestion to the defensive front seven is this: make the other team block worse. Aside from Tamba Hali, the pass rush is laughable. Arizona’s offensive line is putrid in the passing game. They’ve allowed 35 sacks thus far, eclipsed in the league only by Chicago’s 37. Two sacks, neither by a starter and only one by a linebacker, is not enough. A solid pass rush could easily post four or five. The Cardinals gave Jeremy Bridges, an eight year backup (he’s the Alfonso Boone of offense), his first start of the season on Sunday. Part of this was a strategic failure. Hali should have lined up outside him on every down. It doesn’t excuse the fact that Mike Vrabel got his hands on Derek Anderson only once, and then only after the ball had been released. Vrabel has always been only an average pass rusher, but even average players should be able to take down scrubs.
But hell, there’s no sense in complaining about a win. Kansas City is back to doing it right. For the Cardinals, the game was never even within reach. Beanie Wells and Tim Hightower were near nonentities. Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston did moderately well, but they play well every week. Neither of them outplayed Dwayne Bowe, who with another special game has now interjected himself into legitimate Pro Bowl discussion. Lilja was great. Charles was great. Leonard Pope didn’t shit the bed. What more can you ask for?
I, for one, am asking for a 20 pound turkey in my oven. Happy Thanksgiving folks, and thanks for reading.