Many of you are seeking a crucifixion of Brodie Croyle. I’m sure a few of you believe I’ll exonerate him instead. I’ll be doing neither.
I’m a realist. I never relish picking against the Chiefs, but sometimes I do. I picked against them today. I did so long before Matt Cassel had his appendectomy. Truth be told, I never looked at this as a winnable game. The Chargers have made the playoffs five of the last six years because they have an abundance of playmakers on both sides of the ball. They have so many, in fact, that they’re able to overcome the persistent efforts of their coaches to coach them down to the level of their opposition.
It’s easier to coach down a team with fewer playmakers. For instance, if an offensive coordinator were to revive the old Jimmy Raye/Mike Solari run-run-pass-punt offense, a quarterback of the caliber of Philip Rivers would complete enough of those 3rd down passes to stave off the seemingly inevitable punt, and in the process he’d probably position his team to occasionally score. Rivers has at his disposal a grip of first rate receivers to simplify this task, but he also has an offensive coordinator that doesn’t put him in that position.
Would Clarence Shelmon extend the same courtesy to Billy Volek were the need to arise? It’s hard to say. In almost five years as a starter, Rivers has yet to miss a game. What I can say, however, is that Charlie Weis won’t extend that courtesy to his backup. Hell, he barely extends it to his starter. This is a conservative offense to begin with, and most coaches would likely lean that way even further with a second stringer at the helm. There’s nothing inherently wrong with that principle at its core.
Allowing only 17 pass attempts while playing over half the game with a 20 point deficit, however, seems almost criminal. Croyle’s critics will never like the guy, but to say that somehow he lost this game is plain erroneous. He was never given the chance to lose, which begs the question: did Charlie Weis even try to win?
Measuring motivation is difficult with a coach. Ineptitude masks itself easily as lack of effort. With players, however, cloaking poor work ethic isn’t so easy. With that in mind, I’d like to call out a few names: Derrick Johnson, Travis Daniels, Andy Studebaker, Ron Edwards, and pretty much anybody else on defense with the exception of Tamba Hali, Kendrick Lewis, and Eric Berry. I might be willing to extend a pass to Tyson Jackson too on the grounds that – well – he’s just not very good. There’s a significant correlation between him being on the field and bigger tailbacks gaining significant yardage. Mind you, Mike Tolbert probably would have had a field day regardless of who was occupying the position, but when Jackson was in, Tolbert’s job got significantly easier.
In truth, what I saw today reminded me a lot of a Greg Robinson defense: weird, senseless coverages easily broken, necessitating big plays by overworked safeties, resulting in large chunks of yardage gained, frequently on consecutive downs. It was everything I don’t expect to see from a Romeo Crennel defense. Crennel is handicapped by the age of some of his players (Ron Edwards, Mike Vrabel) and the relative inexperience of others (Javier Arenas, Jovan Belcher), but there’s no excuse for a defense that looked so sharp earlier in the season to suddenly look so dull.
Then again, a lot of what happened today was inexcusable. Last week’s game, as it turns out, wasn’t a garbage win in an otherwise good season. It was a harbinger, and while today’s loss may not be the death knell for the team, it certainly makes the playoff hunt a lot more convoluted. It’s very likely that 10-6 won’t be good enough to earn a wild card in the AFC this year, so the Chiefs are now stuck hoping the Chargers lose two of their remaining three games. Their remaining three are against the 49ers, the Bengals, and the Broncos. The Chargers are skilled at playing down to their competition, but unless Billy Volek takes the reins, I just don’t see it happening.
That means the Chiefs must win out. At present none of their remaining opponents possesses a winning record, but none are mired in mediocrity either. It’s a major uphill climb for a team whose defense looks as if it just died, and Todd Haley has precious few practices to bring his unit back to life.
But hey, at least they have their health. That’s the blowoff consolation offered whenever every other aspect of one’s life goes horribly awry. In football, however, there’s great meaning to that statement. Kansas City put a handful of players on injured reserve at the end of preseason, but only one since the regular season started. Aside from third string cornerback Jackie Bates, who saw no significant playing time anyway, the worst affliction to any Chief this season has been Matt Cassel’s dodgy appendix. That speaks volumes about the way Haley runs practice. If nothing else comes of this season, let it be said that the boss knows how to keep his players in proper football shape – not bad for a bunch of guys that spent the afternoon looking like they just died.
Finally, to close this week, we return to a classic: fire Tyler Palko. That left-handed pitch was one of the worst, most dangerous passes I’ve ever seen. It’s hard to believe, but the 0-10 QB that just completed 41% of his passes in a division loss with major playoff implications probably has more job security than ever.