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Brojans Unite! (Week 16 Game Review)
Posted By ChiefsWarpath.com On December 27, 2010 @ 10:05 pm In Commentary | Comments Disabled
I’ll apologize in advance for the length of this article. With everything that’s happened in the last 36 hours, brevity is not an option.
Last week we examined the current employment status of the four Brojans – former USC quarterbacks Matt Cassel, Matt Leinart, Carson Palmer, and the ever flamboyant, Freddie Mercury-esque Mark Sanchez. This week they united toward a common goal which I consider to be good above all other earthly goals: to help the Chiefs get a playoff victory.
Many of you will feel, given that the Chiefs are only hours removed from having clinched the division, and with one week of regular season play left, that it seems premature to discuss playoff wins. Maybe it is. But I’m encouraged. With a Cassel victory today (more on this in a moment) and a Sanchez loss (not entirely his fault, but he played a part), the playoff scenario in which the Chiefs play the Jets is increasingly more likely. Essentially, the following four teams must win their remaining game: Kansas City, Baltimore, Pittsburgh, and New York. Their respective opponents: Oakland, Cincinnati, Cleveland, and Buffalo.
This scenario is a punching of the proverbial easy button for the Chiefs. The Jets are beatable. Better yet, no team has to necessarily beat the Jets to win a game; the Jets are pretty good at beating themselves.
All of this was made possible by today’s collective efforts by the Brojans. Had a different Matt Cassel shown up at Arrowhead (the one who squeaked by the clearly inferior Bills, for instance), the 8-7 Chargers would still be in contention for the division. Had a different Mark Sanchez shown up at Soldier Field (the one who dismantled each of his division opponents in weeks 2, 3, and 4, for instance), a complicated set of factors could have resulted in a higher probability of the Chiefs facing the much tougher Ravens. Most importantly, however, was the third Brojan (Leinart is an irrelevant joke; he’s the Jimmy Messina to Sanchez’s Kenny Loggins): Carson Palmer. Palmer has looked nothing short of useless for a few seasons now, despite having a consistently solid cast of skill position players around him. Why exactly it was today that Palmer got his groove back, without either of his Pro Bowl receivers on hand and with a near useless complementary performance by Cedric Benson, is beyond me. I’m just happy it happened.
Last week Matt Cassel had one of his worst starts, statistically speaking, yet everybody seemed to agree that it was one of his best in red and gold. This week the statisticians can get on board too. Passer rating is not a useful stat in most cases, but at 314 yards with three touchdowns and a completion percentage a hair over 70, it’s safe to say that 128.8 rating he posted is indicative of what happened on the field. The first half was the best half of football I’ve seen from a Kansas City quarterback in over half a decade. Trent Green used to piece together games like this.
That’s not to say I’m on the Matt Cassel bandwagon. I need more than two games of Cassel leading with his arm for that to happen. I’m just saying that Trent Green used to piece together games like this, and there are some very important congruences between the two.
To begin with, they both had a tight end named Tony. Tony Gonzalez will be branded the greatest tight end to play the game, and rightfully so. He’s been to more Pro Bowls than Joe Montana. He’ll be a first ballot Hall of Famer. He’s past the point in his career wherein he’s guaranteed a trip to Hawaii every February, but he’s not far off either. He leads Tony Moeaki by a paltry 52 yards. Moeaki is a rookie. Furthermore, he’s a rookie putting together a far better rookie season than Tony Gonzalez. Am I stating that Moeaki is going to be the better player? No. Am I stating that I believe he’s going to make it to more than a few Pro Bowls? Yes, I am. Today Moeaki played what I consider a near perfect game in the Jay Novacek tradition – five catches on seven targets for 63 yards, all up the middle, most on checkdowns. What’s important here is that it took Novacek six seasons to start doing that consistently. Am I stating Moeaki is going to be better than Jay Novacek? Maybe.
Second, Matt and Trent both had a running back outrunning the rest of the league, albeit in completely different manners. Jamaal Charles will probably never be the touchdown machine Priest Holmes was, but what he is is a better pure rusher. Splitting carries with Thomas Jones has obscured exactly how good he really is, however, so let’s give it a little perspective. Taking less than half of the team’s rushing downs, Charles is second in the league in rushing yards. More significant, however, is the near unreal 6.4 yards per carry he’s averaging. That puts him in the company of players like Gayle Sayers and Barry Sanders. Am I stating Charles deserves to be mentioned in the same breath as guys like that? Yes.
Third, and most likely overlooked in all of this, is the element that makes a quarterback most successful: a Pro Bowl-worthy offensive line. In Trent’s case, three of his guys made it there consistently. In Matt’s case, he’ll be lucky to see one of his guys go, but that doesn’t mean he doesn’t have three guys worthy of the honor. He does. Waters, Wiegmann, and Lilja are not only the best interior run blocking trio in the league. They’re the best pass protectors too. Imagine now what could have been had Kansas City not taken that brief foray into the world of Rudy Niswanger, Wade Smith, and Mike Goff. Imagine if neither Wiegmann or Lilja had been given the opportunity to walk out of the building and onto the rosters of two of Kansas City’s most hated opponents. For as good as they are now, imagine how much better they’d be with three years of post-Will Shields chemistry. Am I stating Ryan Lilja is as good as Will Shields? No. Nobody is. But he ain’t that far off.
What Matt has that Trent never had is this: a true #1 receiver. You could not have possibly convinced me at the beginning of this season that Dwayne Bowe could transform himself into that. I’m happy to say I was wrong. Kansas City lacks a rich tradition of quality wideout performance. No more. Whereas I believe a quarterback must win with his arm, not his head, I believe a quality receiver must win with his head and hands, not his feet. I’m accustomed from the last few years to seeing Bowe check out early in a game. He ran sloppy routes and dropped easily catchable balls. No more. Now he wins games the same way Larry Fitzgerald does. Am I stating Dwayne is as good as Larry? It’s hard to say at this point, but we’ll all find out next year when they both wear red and gold.
Last week I summed up the defense in three words – Wallace Gilberry: outstanding. It didn’t do the unit justice, but it accentuated that one player earned himself some long overdue respect. This week didn’t belong to Wallace Gilberry. In fact, he was a nonentity. I doubt we’ve seen the last of him though. Oakland’s offensive line doesn’t protect their quarterbacks. Their tailbacks don’t block either. Wade Smith and Larry Johnson would fit right in. In a season already mimicking the best of Robert Mathis in the Raheem Brock era, don’t be surprised if Gilberry has another career day next Sunday. He might yet still eclipse the double digit mark in quarterback sacks.
This week it was a different player – one of whom I’ve been highly critical – who earned himself some long overdue respect. That player is Brandon Carr. Lost in the hubbub of Eric Berry’s pick-six is that Berry simply wasn’t the team’s best defensive back. Nor was superstar Brandon Flowers. It was the maligned second fiddle, seemingly hellbent for the second week in a row to prove his naysayers wrong. He did. I’m still not all the way on the Cassel bandwagon, but I’m on Carr’s. I’ll even go as far as to say that he put on one of the best displays I’ve seen from a Kansas City cornerback in over a decade. Maurice Leggett, I know you read this column. Take note, and go review some film. Your buddy just put on a pass defense clinic.
Of course, it always aids a cornerback when his front seven put on a clinic of their own. What Tamba Hali, Andy Studebaker, Derrick Johnson, Glenn Dorsey, and particularly Mike Vrabel did wasn’t quite a clinic, but it wasn’t far off. If the first half belonged to Cassel, the second half belonged to them. Chris Johnson, widely regarded as one of the league’s finest, might as well not have shown up. They beat him like a drum. It’s hard to believe that was the same bunch of guys that floundered against the Chargers only two weeks ago, but it was, and I’m happy to say I wasn’t the slightest bit disappointed by any of them.
Finally, allow me to take a moment to acknowledge a superior performance by another player of whom I’ve been highly critical: Demorrio Williams. Resigned to being little more than a roleplayer on defense, he apparently learned sometime over the past week how to channel his inner Gary Stills. I doubt at age 30 Williams pictures himself as a potential special teams wizard, but this team has lacked the kind of luster and firepower Demo brought to the table this week. Demo, welcome to your new job. Terrance Copper, kindly return to the bench.
Postscript: I’m sure some of you will expect some commentary regarding the play of Brodie Croyle. I’m not giving any. All I’ll say is that it was a mistake to put in a backup quarterback with such a surmountable lead. For a game that was coached error-free otherwise, that was a considerable lapse in good judgment, and hopefully one Todd Haley won’t commit again.
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