The Kansas City Chiefs got beat by the Denver Broncos 17-10 on Sunday. The score is closer than the game actually was. Kansas City could not produce in any aspect of the game, and it inevitably killed their chances to get back on top of the AFC West this week. At times, the Chiefs looked like they were going to move the ball and score. Other times, they looked like they forgot that there was a football game going on, and that they were playing in said game. The Chiefs desperately need to get back to basics. Throwing, catching, blocking, running, tackling, and the importance of how all these things intertwine.
Matt Cassel and the Chiefs passing game looked rough. There was no consistency in the passes thrown. Not all of it was Cassel’s fault though. There were too many dropped passes by Chiefs players that would have gone for first downs or even a little yardage that would have made a conversion for a first down easier. Many other writers in the Kansas City area are dogging Cassel. I don’t think he deserves that flak. When Cassel had protection, he looked good. When his receivers caught his passes, he looked good. Unfortunately, Denver found weak spots in the Chiefs pass protection, such as Barry Richardson and Dexter McCluster. Yes you heard right, little DMC was used in pass protection against 250-pound blitzing linebackers and 300-pound rushing linemen. McCluster got chewed up and spit out. Richardson, on the other hand, just needs to mark his territory on the bench. He doesn’t need to step foot on the field unless it is for warmups. I don’t understand why Todd Haley won’t at least test Jared Gaither at right tackle. It can’t hurt anything thats not already hurt. Either that, or keep Leonard Pope lined up on that right side of the line and keep him in pass protection all game, which won’t benefit the Chiefs either, but at least it might give Cassel another second or two to throw the ball.
When I was in 6th and 7th grade playing football, the coaches focused on BASICS. “This is how you throw, this is how you catch. This is how you block, this is how you tackle.” I played quarterback, wide receiver, tight end, offensive lineman, defensive lineman, linebacker, and safety all at some point in those two years. I learned a lot about each position and how it is supposed to work with the other positions. But the main thing that they focused on wasn’t elaborate coverages or tricky offensive schemes. On a running play, the offensive line creates a hole, the runner hits the hole. On a passing play, the quarterback reads a certain player which will show where the open window will be, he passes, and the receiver catches (or attempts to catch) the ball. On defense, the linemen attempt to either get to the quarterback or running back, or try to push the offensive linemen into the hole that they opened. The linebackers are the safe men that are supposed to keep the running backs from getting through to the secondary and to cover routes over the middle. The secondary covers receivers and makes sure big plays don’t happen downfield. Its simple.
Today, NFL playbooks are so crammed with trickery and special blocking patterns and routes and seventeen different words to call a play. When you have a play that comes out “Shotgun Trips right X flower Y pancake Z cheeseburger 19 fairydust 75 porta-potty on 2,” it just gets ridiculous. Line up, run your routes, block the person designated by where they line up. Sure you have blitzers from the outside that you have to account for, but you also have a guy in the backfield to help, sometimes. Give your quarterback more than two seconds to throw the ball and he will be successful.
Ryan Fitzpatrick for the Buffalo Bills is the least sacked starting quarterback in the league, with nine sacks on him this season. Cassel has 22, tied with the Browns’ Colt McCoy and the Panthers’ Cam Newton for 5th most in the NFL. Why does Fitzpatrick have so few sacks against him? The Bills don’t try to do too much on offense. They block their men, hit their windows, and make plays. Cassel has 22 sacks on him through nine games this year. He had 26 against him ALL SEASON in 2010. With good blocking comes more production by the quarterback. This season, Cassel has thrown ten touchdowns, nine interceptions, and for only 1,713 yards. In 2010, Cassel threw 27 touchdowns, seven interceptions, and for 3,114 yards. I know there are still seven games left. But when Cassel’s yards per game average drops from 207.7 to 190.3, and his TD/INT ratio goes up, as well as his pass/sack ratio, you have to question whether he is getting protected.
If I were Scott Pioli, if the Chiefs make it through this season with a few more wins, maybe go 8-8, I would keep Haley for one more season. This offseason, I would go after offensive linemen to protect Cassel from getting slammed to the turf all game. Pioli needs to part with some of the cap cash in his pocket and sign a couple proven offensive linemen or draft a young one in April that will be a stable first round pick. Then fill your vacancy on the defensive line, add some better cushion to the wide receiver core, maybe a utility receiver that can also return kicks and punts, and then some more depth to the offensive line. If Jonathan Martin from Stanford or Riley Reiff from Iowa are available when the Chiefs go on the clock in the first round of the 2012 draft, that is who they need to pick up. The line desperately needs help.
The defense needs help as well. I understand the Chiefs are without Eric Berry, but Jon McGraw is not up to par as a backup and replacement to Berry. Maybe a utility third stringer and special teams guy, but that is about all he is good for. His coverage is awful and his tackling is worse than that. The defense needs to get back to basics as well. Tackling and stripping blocks and defending the pass are what Romeo Crennel and the Chiefs coaching staff needs to work on this week. Given, the Patriots haven’t looked too great offensively over the past few weeks, but there is always that one game where they explode, like the Cowboys did against the Lions Sunday. Tom Brady is that type of quarterback who can brush off some poor performances and come out and throw for 400 yards and five touchdowns against a weakened secondary.
In closing, the offensive line needs to go back to what they know about blocking and build from there, which will help open up the running game (as long as the backs hit their holes) and the passing game (as long as the receivers catch the ball). The defense needs to wrap up on their tackles, and fill the holes the opposing offense tries to open. If the Chiefs can do these basic things, they could give the Patriots a run on Monday Night Football. If not, it’s going to be a long night.