Finally, the preseason games are over. Put them behind you because they were all just practice and get ready for real football. There are things you can draw from preseason games but they are just televised practices. There are too many series’ where scrubs are playing against scrubs and the starters are out there to go through the motions. It’s natural to come away with feelings and premonitions but there is usually nothing definitive that can be derived from a set of preseason games. For me, I still have questions but I didn’t see anything that made me overly excited or pessimistic and I didn’t see anything that has changed my mind about how the Kansas City Chiefs will fare this year. This means, of course, that I am still fairly uncertain regarding how the Chiefs will fare this year.
The Chiefs are going to be in the cellar again if they can’t rush the passer, can’t block, can’t convert on third down and can’t take the ball away. I wrote about the Chiefs’ pass rush last week and I still think it will improve to near average. I think the offensive line can be average. Ryan Lilja is an upgrade. I worry about the right tackle and whether it’s Barry Richardson or Ryan O’Callaghan, the RT will be the weakest spot on the line. The line won’t be great but it shouldn’t be the sieve that it was in the first half of last season and should be even better than it was in the second half.
Adding Thomas Jones helps the third and short game because the Chiefs have a ball carrier that can gain a yard when asked too. That ability alone should pay huge dividends and extend drives that would otherwise be over. A better pass rush will create more turnovers. Even if the Chiefs aren’t finishing sacks, hurried quarterbacks will make more mistakes. As far as ballhawks go, it may be a while before Eric Berry is a world-beater but he already makes the defense better in the takeaways department.
Last year, the Chiefs were horrible at these four facets of the game. This year, they may not improve in all of them but they should improve in at least one of them. I think that if some of these four facets of the team are below average, the coaching staff and the front office will shield themselves with the Chiefs being a “young team” and a “work in progress.” If they haven’t improved in at least two of these areas, the blame falls on the front office. If they are improved in three or all four of these areas, they will be enabled to win more games. If they don’t win more games, the blame will fall on Todd Haley and the supercoordinators.
The Chiefs are not a special case. This isn’t the first rebuilding project in the NFL. As fans, we have had to go through two “Year Ones” and are finally ready to move on. I am not demanding that the Chiefs win the Super Bowl this season but there should be marked improvement. This improvement I speak of is not theoretical; it will manifest itself in the win column. Football is not a game where you can rely on statistics, point to nebulous intangibles (#18 is what I am referring to) and create moral victories. Records determine which teams make the playoffs and I don’t accept anything but more wins as proof of improvement.
There are a lot of wins out there for the Chiefs this year. They host the Oakland Raiders, Denver Broncos, Jacksonville Jaguars, Buffalo Bills and Arizona Cardinals. They are on the road against the Raiders, Broncos, Cleveland Browns, Seattle Seahawks and the St. Louis Rams. They won’t win all of those “low-hanging fruit” games but they should be in the games against the teams that I haven’t mentioned. The conditions are right for improvement and that means that letting wins get away should happen less and less. The next step is the Chiefs leaving the NFL cellar. I think the Chiefs can make the next step but I also think they could have a season like the last three as well.
I believe in Scott Pioli and what he is trying to do with the team. I may not agree with everything he has done but I gladly defer to a GM who was partially responsible for producing a dynasty in a league that doesn’t facilitate dynasties. I understand that a Super Bowl team can’t be built in one year. A competitive team can be, however. Last year, there were too many things wrong with the Chiefs to expect them to go out and win “on any given Sunday.” This year, the team has reinforcements, they have weapons and they have the coaches that they want in house. It’s time for the Chiefs to produce. It’s time for them to take the next step.