Scott Pioli is presently hailed as a draft genius. Everyone knows why: Eric Berry. Forget that all but one of the remaining picks made significant contributions through the season. Eric Berry was seemingly NFL posteason-ready the day he was drafted. That’s not normal, even for a top five pick. At present pace, Berry is going to spend a lot of Februaries in Honolulu.
In contrast to an overwhelmingly successful 2010 draft, the 2009 draft was not genius level, ultimately yielding four career backups, three goners, and a kicker. Two of those backups (Donald Washington and Quentin Lawrence) are probably going to have short careers. The historical perspective of that draft was going to hinge on the trade made in the 2nd round: the 34th overall pick to New England for quarterback Matt Cassel and veteran linebacker Mike Vrabel. The knock on the trade was that Cassel was too inexperienced and Vrabel was too old.
Today, Cassel looked inexperienced and Vrabel looked old.
I won’t waste much space being critical of Vrabel’s performance. He was banged up early and played out the game well under 100%. I was happy to have him around because he’s one of a scant few Chiefs who knows what a playoff victory tastes like, but he’s 35 years old. I doubt anyone, even Vrabel, thinks there’s enough left in the tank for another year or two as a starter. It’s getting close to time to cut cord.
The question is whether or not it’s time to do the same with his trademate. I refuse to sugarcoat what I just witnessed: Matt Cassel was awful. His completions were few and his mistakes were plentiful. He clutched the ball too long, took needless sacks, missed receivers by a mile, and, worst of all, one out of every six attempts landed in the willing hands of a guy in a road jersey. As I watched I couldn’t help but sense an air of familiarity. I had seen this exact execution somewhere else before, but I couldn’t pinpoint when and where. It reminded me a little of last week’s soulless demonstration against the ever-imploding Oakland Raiders, but this team didn’t look demoralized like that one did. No, this was something else. For the entirety of the second half I struggled to discern exactly what.
Then, shortly after the game, I examined Cassel’s stat line, and it dawned on me: what I was witnessing was a replay of Kansas City’s gameplan in week 14. Against San Diego. Captained by Brodie Croyle. Only Croyle didn’t cough up the rock three times. This unit wasn’t demoralized. They were scared. They didn’t believe they could beat the Baltimore Ravens. Why should they dare to dream such a thing? The Ravens, after all, have Terrell Suggs, Ed Reed, and Ray Lewis. Those guys will surely shut down Jamaal Charles, right?
At this point I’m just improvising, because I’m trying my best to get into Charlie Weis’s head. I’m doing my best to understand why, when Charles was the absolute only player demonstrating any degree of success against the Ravens, he was given only two carries in the entire second half. I’m struggling to determine why, with a surmountable point deficit, it ceased to be important to help rest the defense by controlling the clock, rather than stranding them onfield for nearly 42 minutes of regulation football. I’m not coming up with anything.
What I am coming up with, however, is a scathing review of a player whom I errantly exonerated a few weeks ago. Matt Cassel looked lost. He looked like a rookie. He’s a six year vet with three seasons as a starter now. Going forward, his inexperience can no longer be used as justification for any shortcomings. I’m not back to the point of stating the guy should be outright replaced, but I’m not far off, and if that’s how Pioli chooses to spend his first pick in the coming draft, so be it.
Lost in the fray of all of this is that a defense that allowed 30 points didn’t play that badly. In particular, Tamba Hali, Glenn Dorsey, Brandon Flowers, Brandon Carr, and the aforementioned Eric Berry collectively played one of their best games. Flowers and Carr effectively eliminated two of Joe Flacco’s top four targets, while Dorsey and Hali dirtied his jersey and kept him on the run. Unsurprisingly, with 42 minutes of playing time and an invigorated Todd Heap covered only by an aging and recently ineffective Jon McGraw, Flacco ultimately made a halfway decent game for himself, but, in the words of coach John Wooden, don’t mistake activity for achievement. Any quarterback worth his salt would post 265 yards with that much time to work.
Even Matt Cassel.
Having said all of that, it’s important now for Kansas City fans to remember from whence their team came. 10-6 with a playoff berth was a pipe dream six months ago. Today it was a reality. The foundation this team is built upon is young. The core of the coaching staff, including MVPs Mike Clark and Brent Salazar (the two strength and conditioning coaches who miraculously kept every starter and every key backup healthy for the entire season), will likely stay put. The 2010 Kansas City Chiefs were not built for current success. They were built for future success. 10-6 with a playoff berth was a bonus. The outcome of today’s game should serve as discouragement to none. It was a mark in the L column, but the season itself was a W.