Archive for September, 2011

Chiefs, Royals, Jayhawks and More

Sunday, September 18th, 2011

So much happening in local sports. Just a few thoughts for a Sunday morning.

Kansas City ChiefsKansas City Chiefs
That was quite a pounding the Bills put on the Chiefs last week. Is there anybody left on the Chiefs bandwagon? Not many. There’s plenty of room. Am surprised at just how quickly Chiefs fans turned on Todd Haley, Scott Pioli, Clark Hunt and Matt Cassel. These four took quite a beating this week on the radio and the message boards.

If you include the preseason and the playoffs, the Chiefs have now lost seven straight, and have been dominated in many of these games. They’ve lost young stars for the season due to injury (Eric Berry and Tony Moeaki). And the offense has been ineffective since Charlie Weis bolted for Florida.

Is there reason to hope? Can the Chiefs bounce back from this?

Todd Haley has warned us that the Chiefs are not good enough yet to win when they make mistakes. He said this all year last year, to the point where the media was tired of hearing it, and the fans no longer listened. He came out this week, and like a good leader, took complete responsibility for the loss. And again explained that the Chiefs are not good enough to win when they make mistakes. They made a lot of mistakes against the Bills.

What we’ve seen from the Chiefs the last couple of years is that they don’t give up. Last year after getting pounded by the Chargers in San Diego 31-0, the Chiefs came back and dominated the Rams in St. Louis 27-13.

I seem to be in the minority, but I like Todd Haley. I don’t believe, like many, that his ego gets in the way of his coaching. I think the Chiefs will right the ship and play better over the coming weeks. I had the Chiefs going 2-2 over their first four games. This is still possible. They just need to grab one on the road against either the Lions or the Chargers to get back on track. And even if they start the season 1-3, they’re still only one game back from where I thought they’d be. The season isn’t over yet. We’ve only played one game.

One more quick comment about the Chiefs. One of my criticisms about Herm Edwards as a head coach was that his teams never seemed prepared during the first few games of the regular season. Todd Haley took a different path this year in preparing the Chiefs. It may have been the wrong choice as his team does not look prepared for the regular season. Only time will tell, but this was a unique off-season. And even if Haley made a mistake with his plan, the Chiefs should be caught back up within another week or two.

If the team falls apart and finishes with only four or five wins, then I’ll admit I was wrong about Haley.

Kansas JayhawksKansas Jayhawks
That was quite a beating the Jayhawks took from Georgia Tech yesterday. The offense has shown some flashes. They’ve got some good young talent in the backfield. The defense is horrendous. I’m rooting for Turner Gill to succeed because I love my Jayhawks, and he seems like a fine man. But I’ve said from day one that he was not my choice to lead KU. I haven’t changed my mind.

It will be interesting to see how long new athletic director Sheahon Zenger sticks with Gill. Typically schools will give a new head coach at least three years to make his mark on a program. I’m afraid that Gill has already left his mark on KU.

Kansas City RoyalsKansas City Royals
Typically by mid-July I’m done with the Royals and am ready for football. Not because I’m not still a fan, but you can only watch so many losses. But this year the Royals have continued to hold my attention. This is an exciting young team currently on a seven game winning streak.

The outfield is among the best in baseball. They hit (all four have 40 or more doubles) and play great defense (more outfield assists than any other team in baseball). And they’re young. They’re all 27 years old. Which on this team makes them grizzled veterans compared to the infield.

The infield is exciting as well. First baseman Eric Hosmer looks like he’ll be a star. Catcher Salvador Perez has shown that his defensive prowess and game managing skills are well beyond his years. He’s only 21, and may be the best young catcher in baseball. And his bat has been much better than advertised. Alcides Escobar is among the best defensive short stops in the game, and his bat is improving. Mike Moustakas does not look very smooth at third base, but seems to be making all the plays you would expect him to make. And his bat is waking up. He will be able to hit in the big leagues. At second base we have Johnny Giavotella. He’s just the type of kid you want to cheer for. He’s got a decent glove, and looks like he’ll have a good approach at the plate.

The problem remains starting pitching. Most of the Royals premium talent is a year or more away from the big leagues. And the Royals will not be able to fix their staff in free agency. They may try to bolster the rotation in a trade, but that will prove difficult. Realistically, fixing the rotation will probably have to come from improvement from within. Bruce Chen has been their most effective starter the last two years. The Royals need to get him resigned. We’ve seen flashes from Danny Duffy, Felipe Paulino and Luke Hochevar. I’m hopeful they’ll give Aaron Crow a crack at the rotation. And Everett Teaford is making a case for his shot as well. Will this be enough? I hope so.

The End of the Big 12?
When we found out that Nebraska and Colorado were leaving the Big 12, it looked like the end. At the time I would have predicted that we were moving towards four 16-team super conferences. But then the Big 12 (at least the remaining ten) hung together and worked out a lucrative TV deal to keep the league together. But now things are falling apart again. Can the powers-that-be keep the Big 12 together again? I don’t know. I do know that if KU, K-State and MU end up in different conferences, college sports in the Midwest will never be the same again. And that will truly be unfortunate.

Solutions Looking for Problems

Tuesday, September 13th, 2011

President ObamaToday is going to be a rant. My apologies.

I’m not a hater, but what I deeply dislike is when politicians offer solutions that have little to do with the problems at hand. You see, I’m a problem solver. You should study a problem, and develop a solution that fixes the problem. Then implement the solution. It’s really not as tough as it sounds. And when you explain it like this, it doesn’t even sound very tough.

Example 1: In 2000, candidate George W. Bush ran on a platform of tax cuts. Why? Because at the time the federal government was running a surplus (though the surplus was created by social security payments, a topic we’ll get around to soon). Bush wanted to give this money back to the people who had earned it. Then to pull us out of recession, President Bush pushed through these very seem tax cuts and tax reforms in an effort to stimulate the economy.

Did the Bush administration study the recession and develop a solution for the problem? No. For the right, tax cuts are always the solution.

Example 2: Most liberals in this country want a single-payer, government run health care system. Is the cost of health care going up? Are people struggling to afford it? Are there problems with the current system? Then we need universal health care.

Did the Democrats in Congress and the Obama administration study the problems with our health care system and develop a strategy to fix the problems? No. For the left, universal health care is always the solution. And since they couldn’t get universal health care, we got ObamaCare. A system designed to push us towards universal health care in the future.

So here we are today. Unemployment remains above 9%. Economic growth is stagnant at best. The economy appears headed towards a double dip recession. But the President has a plan. Stimulus four! Or is this stimulus five? Six? I’ve lost count.

For the President, he has two solutions looking for problems. How convenient.

One, the President wants to spend more money on creating jobs. He refuses to call it economic stimulus because that wouldn’t be politically popular. This time he wants to spend approximately $450 billion. How will he spend it? Sending money to the states to help pay for teachers. More infrastructure investment — though this time he wouldn’t call them shovel ready jobs. Extend unemployment benefits and the temporary payroll tax reductions. And some targeted tax cuts and tax credits for small businesses that will do little to create jobs.

How will he pay for it? That’s easy. Another solution looking for a problem. Tax increases. The administration has proposed that we’ll raise the $450 billion in tax revenues by cutting oil subsidies, and closing loopholes so that the rich “pay their fair share”.

Spend now and raise taxes later to pay for it. Solutions looking for problems.

The President has repeatedly said that his bill should be passed “now” because these are ideas that Democrats and Republicans have agreed upon in the past. And if the bill is not passed, it’s because the GOP is putting party before the economy.

He’s partially right. These are ideas that politicians have agreed upon and tried before. That doesn’t make them the right thing to do. Matter of fact, we have already tried most of these recommendations before. It was supposed to prevent us from exceeding 8% unemployment. It didn’t work then, and it won’t work now. We had the first stimulus of more than $800 billion. We’ve printed money with QE1 and QE2 to the tune of about $2.3 trillion. The President and Congress have already passed cuts in payroll taxes and extensions to unemployment. Through tax cuts, stimulus spending and monetary policy, we have injected trillions into the economy. It hasn’t worked. Keynesian economics has failed.

Why? Because it doesn’t fix the problems at hand.

We have long-term systemic problems that the President has failed to offer solutions to fix. And many of his own policies have actually exasperated these problems.

We badly need tax reform in this country. The President has discussed cutting loopholes on corporate taxes and lowering the corporate tax rate which is among the highest in the world, but has never actually submitted a plan that does this. His own deficit commission recommended this same approach for corporate AND personal incomes taxes — closing loopholes and lowering tax rates. The President won’t do it. Why? Because you can’t play the class warfare card if you fix the tax system.

We badly need entitlement reform in this country. The President has discussed that Medicare is a long-term financial problem that needs to be fixed. It’s unsustainable in its current form. He’s right. But where is his plan? I can’t find it. And he won’t even discuss fixing social security which is every bit as unsustainable as Medicare.

We badly need regulation reform in this country. The President has said that he agrees, even writing an op-ed in the Wall Street Journal discussing his plan to cut needless regulations. He named Cass Sunstein as his regulation czar, spent months evaluating government departments, and has come up with $10 billion in savings over the next five years. It has been estimated that government rules and regulations cost the economy approximately $1.75 trillion per year. Not to mention the mountains of new regulations being written by the EPA, and implemented by ObamaCare and the Dodd-Frank banking reform legislation.

We badly need a balanced budget in this country. It’s not all Obama’s fault, but in the last few years our national debt has jumped by trillions of dollars, and our debt-to-GDP ratio has jumped to almost 100%. This is a bad number. Really bad. When you see the economies failing in Europe, that’s because their debt-to-GDP ratios have exceeded 100%. Spending is on an unsustainable path. The credit ratings agencies have warned that we must stabilize our debt-to-GDP, and that a $4 trillion deficit reduction plan is only a “good down payment”. Where is the administration’s plan to stabilize debt-to-GDP? I can’t find it.

Well, I’ll take that one back. The President’s debt commission put together a plan to stabilize debt-to-GDP. The administration just ignored it.

It has been estimated that big business has somewhere between $2-3 trillion sitting on the sidelines, much of it kept overseas. How do we get this money back in play in our own economy? By fixing our long-term systemic problems. Only then will this money be invested into our economy. And only then, will we once again be headed in the right direction.

Chief Predictions 2011

Saturday, September 10th, 2011

Kansas City ChiefsTomorrow the Chiefs begin their quest for a second consecutive AFC West title as they face off against the Buffalo Bills in Arrowhead Stadium. There seems to be two streams of thought about the Chiefs in 2011:

1. The Chiefs could be better, but since their schedule is tougher, they are likely to finish below 10-6 and miss the playoffs.

2. There’s a history of teams that make a big leap forward one year then slipping back the next year. The Chiefs will finish below 10-6. Possibly 7-9. Some are predicting 6-10.

On paper the schedule certainly appears tougher, especially a stretch late in the season as the Chiefs must play New England, Pittsburgh, Chicago, New York Jets and Green Bay over a five week span. However, seasons seldom unfold the way the pundits expect. For instance, in week five the Chiefs travel to Indianapolis to face the Colts. Most of us probably put this game in the loss column for the Chiefs when the schedule was released. But now that Peyton Manning has had his second neck surgery and the Colts have pulled Kerry Collins out of retirement, this game is back in play.

Six Reasons the Chiefs Are Better

Kansas City Chiefs Safety Eric Berry1. The secondary will be better. Last year the Chiefs started two rookie safeties in Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis. They also used rookie Javier Arenas as their nickel cornerback. They were good last year, and all three should be better this year. Eric Berry might be great. This young secondary could become one of the best in the NFL.

2. Last year the Chiefs struggled in short yardage and goal line situations running the ball. This year the Chiefs have brought in running back Le’Ron McClain. As a fullback he is a better blocker than what the Chiefs had last year. And as a running back he’s the big powerful presence that the Chiefs were missing. Converting a few more of those third-and-ones will sustain drives and improve the offense.

3. The pass rush will be better. Tamba Hali was a stud last year, and Wallace Gilberry did his part to throw in a few sacks. This year the Chiefs will be adding Cameron Sheffield and rookie Justin Houston into the mix. The Chiefs were very excited about Sheffield last year until he was hurt in the preseason and put on injured reserve. Both have shown flashes this preseason, in particular Houston who should take the starting spot away from Andy Studebaker before the season is done. Houston looks like a freak. Matter of fact, and I hate to write it, he reminds me a bit of Derrick Thomas.

4. The passing game will be better. Last year the Chiefs put Matt Cassel on a very short leash in the passing game. By mid-season, Cassel had become one of the more efficient quarterbacks in the league. He threw for 3,116 yards and had an amazing TD-to-INT ratio of 27-7. With the development of Dwayne Bowe, a new stable of wide receivers and another year of experience, I expect the Chiefs offense to be much more balanced this year. I don’t expect the Chiefs to be #1 in rushing, but I do expect them to be much better than #30 in passing. Last year the Chiefs were #12 in total offense despite their passing game. This year with better offensive balance they should crack the top ten. My prediction is that Cassel will throw for more than 3,500 yards, but he probably cannot duplicate his TD-to-INT ratio. Predicting 26 TDs and 12 INTs. Anything better than 2-to-1 is good enough.

Kansas City Chiefs Allen Bailey5. The defensive line is improving. I am in the minority on this one, but I like how the defensive line is coming together. Glenn Dorsey has gotten better every year. Kelly Gregg is an upgrade over Ron Edwards at nose tackle. Wallace Gilberry brings the heat. Amon Gordon could be this year’s Shawn Smith. Rookie Allen Bailey, nicknamed “The Freak”, adds much needed depth and athletic ability to the line. And the Chiefs think they have their nose tackle of the future in rookie Jerrell Powe. (Great article on Powe in the Star recently. Read it here.)

6. Consistency and coaching. Even with the loss of offensive coordinator Charlie Weis, the Chiefs have put together a solid coaching staff. Romeo Crennel is in his second year as defensive coordinator. I love the addition of Jim Zorn to help the quarterbacks. And head coach Todd Haley showed significant progress in his ability to lead the team from year one to year two.

Four Reason for Concern

1. The offensive line. Last year the offensive line was receiving a lot of praise for the Chiefs #1 rushing attack. I credit Jamaal Charles much more than I do the line. Second year guard Jon Asamoah replaces the veteran Brian Waters. In the long run this is the right move. Waters is at the end of his career, and is not the player he once was. But Asamoah is not Brian Waters yet. Center Casey Wiegmann is old, small and has never stood up well against big, powerful nose tackles. Rookie Rodney Hudson is the heir apparent in the middle, which could come sooner rather than later. Branden Albert is serviceable at left tackle, but has not become the player the Chiefs had hoped for. And right tackle Barry Richardson struggled mightily during the preseason. If tackle Jared Gaither is healthy and can play at right tackle, that would help a lot.

2. The injury to tight end Tony Moeaki will be tough to overcome. Moeaki is a matchup problem for opposing defenses, and figured to play a significant role in the offense. Without him, the Chiefs do not have a pass catching threat at tight end.

Kansas City Chiefs Tyson Jackson3. The jury is still out on defensive tackle Tyson Jackson. Many have already written him off as a bust. My hope is that he makes the same strides forward from year two to year three that Glenn Dorsey made last year. I’m rooting for him, but I think this could go either way.

4. The Chiefs defense must improve. Last year the Chiefs were ranked #14 against the run, #17 against the pass, and #14 in total yards allowed per game. With improvement from the secondary and an improved pass rush, I expect the pass defense to be better. But will their run defense be better? I don’t know.

Predictions for the AFC West

This is really a two horse race for the AFC West. I would be incredibly surprised if either the Oakland Raiders or Denver Broncos surpassed six or seven wins. That leaves KC and San Diego to fight it out for the AFC West title. Who is the coach in San Diego? Norv Turner. One of the worst coaches in the NFL in my opinion. Despite having one of the most talented rosters in the league, the Chargers have grossly underachieved in two of their last three seasons. In 2008 the team finished 8-8, and amazingly won the division. And last year finished 9-7. People keep talking about the Chiefs schedule, but the Chargers have basically the same schedule. They face all of the same opponents but two. The Chiefs face division winners Indianapolis (without Peyton Manning) and Pittsburgh. The Chargers face second place finishers Jacksonville (who I expect to be better without David Garrard) and Baltimore (a very good team who smashed us in the playoffs).

Now the wildcard is not likely to come out of the AFC West, so the Chiefs must win the division to make the playoffs. So here’s my prediction:

Kansas City Chiefs: 9-7
San Diego Chargers: 8-8
Oakland Raiders: 7-9
Denver Broncos: 5-11

You might call me a homer, but just as a reminder, I did not pick the Chiefs last year. And if the Chargers had a better head coach, I would probably pick them again this year. The Chiefs roster is improving, but the Chargers still have more talent, especially at the quarterback position.

A Final Thought

So when does a team take that final step from being a good team to an elite team? Are the Chiefs ready to make that step? It’s easy to predict that the teams who were good one year will be good the next. But we know from history that about half of the teams who made the playoffs in 2010 are unlikely to make the playoffs in 2011.

You’ve heard the cliche for years — defense wins championships. And I still believe this to be true. The Chiefs were a decent defense last year. Middle of the pack. But to make a run, they must evolve into a top ten defense. My thought has always been that you need three stars on defense to be great. And then you must surround them with the right supporting cast. When the Chiefs had those great defenses in the ’90s, they had four impact players in Derrick Thomas, Neil Smith, Dale Carter and James Hasty. And they surrounded them with an excellent supporting cast.

Last year Tamba Hali was a star, but the only one on the defense. Brandon Flowers is a very good cornerback, though not sure he’ll ever be great. Eric Berry looks like he could become a star at safety. If Derrick Johnson could just hold on to a few of those interceptions, he could be a game changer in the middle. And Justin Houston looks like he could become an impact player opposite Hali. If this defense comes together, the Chiefs have a chance to become great.