The Infamous Five: Kansas City Chiefs
Infamous Five, number 5 – Kansas City Chiefs
2009 record: 4-12
4-12. 2-14. 4-12.
So have gone the last three seasons of the Kansas City Chiefs. The two years previous combined for 19 wins and a playoff berth (in ’06); KC has won as many games from 2007-10 as they did in 2005 alone. Larry Johnson was an NFL stud the last time the Chiefs had a winning season: Johnson’s personal fall from grace has run parallel to Kansas City’s, and it’s hard at this stage to say who’s had the tougher road since Johnson’s 416-carry, 1,789-yard 2006 season.
However, we’re gonna side with the Chiefs on this one. Even though Johnson is having trouble cracking the Redskins’ backfield rotation, the Arrowhead faithful have sat through three dismal seasons, the trade of franchise legend Tony Gonzalez to the Falcons, and even suffered the ignominy of having Damon Huard as their starting QB.
But look hard at the Chiefs’ roster, squint a little, and say Lamar Hunt’s name five times and there emerges a small amount of optimism.
And why do we say that? Three names: Weis, Crennel and Pioli. The reunion of three quarters of the Patriot dynasty quartet alone is cause for much spraying of champagne in KC. Head Coach Todd Haley, whilst now seriously under threat of being totally undermined by more veteran coordinators, has a crack team at his disposal, and if he can even hold the ship steady this year, the Chiefs could come on leaps and bounds.
If we at PaP hear the phrase ‘quarterback-driven league’ one more time we’ll probably strangle any football analysts within arm’s length, but undeniably the fortunes of the Chiefs are going to be hugely improved if Matt Cassel can look more like the 2008 Patriot model and less like Brodie Croyle. For all the hoop-la surrounding Cassel’s arrival in the “Paris of the Plains”, last year was underwhelming.
Although he was playing behind a dubious, young offensive line and had very limited receiver help, especially given Dwayne Bowe’s four-game suspension for violation of the league’s substance-abuse policy, Cassel was still a bit disappointing, throwing for less than 3,000 yards and as many TDs as INTs (16).
Bowe and Chris Chambers, who had some flashes last year, should provide a more steady combination at wideout this time around, although behind them there is little to get excited about at the WR position. The other big issue in Cassel’s first year, the aforementioned offensive line, figures to be a lot better.
Chiefs fans will still recall the glory days of Will Shields and Willie Roaf up front, paving the way for the likes of Priest Holmes to carve NFL defenses apart. With Branden Albert entering his second year, the addition of former Colts guard Ryan Lilja and the draft selection of mauler Jon Asamoah, KC should be able to lean on its rushing attack this year, allowing Cassel to get more comfortable and operate effectively off of play action, one of the many things Charlie Weis is a master of (NB: coaching Notre Dame is not one of these things).
What will also help that development is the Chiefs’ excellent backfield. Thomas Jones may be getting on a little, but showed with the Jets that he still has gas in the tank, and Jamaal Charles looked superb last year, both as a rusher and a receiver. Throw second-round selection and gadgety curveball Dexter McCluster into that mix, and a dangerous trio is plain to see. If the Chiefs can run the ball as effectively as we think they can, the rewards will be huge.
The 3-4 defense the Chiefs will sport is now being called by one of the game’s most creative defensive minds in Romeo Crennel, and with a front seven including Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson and Tamba Hali, pressure on opposing QBs looks to be a real prospect. On the back end, cornerbacks Brandons Carr and Flowers are both entering year three and look like becoming a solid, physical tandem, and fifth overall pick Eric Berry, perhaps the most complete athlete in this year’s draft, will add some ball-hawking skills and run support to help beef up a D which finished a dismal 30th in the NFL a year ago.
We’ve got reasons to believe in the Chiefs. However, this year will go a long way to either allaying or reinforcing the concerns surrounding Arrowhead. Is Cassel just a one-year-wonder? Can the Patriot triumvirate reinvigorate? Will Todd Haley have a Dennis Green moment of his own?
All interesting questions, but in a relatively easy division, where nothing except Charger dominance is certain, KC could be a real surprise package. If either a) Matt Cassel or b) the D and rushing offense performs, .500 is an achievable goal (though not one we’ll be predicting any time soon).
Any schedule which includes matchups against Buffalo, St. Louis, Oakland and Cleveland presents some very winnable football games, and we’re cautiously predicting the Chiefs to, if not awaken, then at least start to stir from their forgettable three-year slumber, and move a couple of games towards evens.
2010 prediction: 6-10