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Chiefs Start 8-0 — Thoughts and Observations

Saturday, November 2nd, 2013

Kansas City ChiefsNobody saw this coming. I thought the Chiefs would be better. I never expected them to start 8-0.

If I’d written my preseason AFC West predictions as I normally do, I would have predicted 8-8 with a ceiling of 9-10 wins, and a second place finish in the West. The offense and Alex Smith have been pretty much what I expected. But the defense has been awesome, and the NFC East has been abysmal.

How Did They Get Here?
New defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has been masterful. His scheme fits incredibly well with the talent of his players. I’ve always preferred an attacking, relentless defense (like the Gunther Cunningham days) than a read and react or cover two approach. There is some high risk high reward with an attacking defense. This year it’s been all high reward. The Chiefs are number one in the league giving up an average of only 12.25 points per game.

There has been a lot of talk about the Chiefs’ schedule. You can only play the teams in front of you, and you should never apologize for that. But fans also need to realize that the Chiefs have had an amazing string of good luck through the first half of the season.

1. Their first half opponents have a cumulative record of 20-41, and none of them have a winning record as of today. Only the Cowboys look likely to make the playoffs. By default, somebody has to win the NFC East. Their second half opponents have a cumulative record of 35-24. (This is counting all division foes twice.)

2. In the first half, the Chiefs played teams with injuries, turmoil and inexperience at quarterback (Raiders, Jaguars, Titans, Texans, Browns), or teams with quarterbacks having down years (Giants, Eagles). Only the Cowboys feature an above average quarterback playing pretty well. In the second half they’ll see Peyton Manning twice, Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Philip Rivers twice (having a much better year than I would have predicted). The defense will be tested in the second half, and will be giving up more than 12 points per game. It will be interesting to see how they hold up against much better competition.

3. The football gods have been good to the Chiefs so far this year. Multiple scores from the defense and special teams. Few key injuries. And potential turnovers that have bounced back to the Chiefs. That’s tough to expect for a full season.

Kansas City Chiefs Alex SmithReasons for Concern
1. There’s no way to sugarcoat it. Alex Smith has been very mediocre. He has 9 TDs and 4 INTs, and has thrown for 1795 yards. Very pedestrian numbers. He’s shown some nice escapability out of the pocket, and has a nice touch on shorter passes. He often hits his receivers in stride, which is a nice contrast compared to Matt Cassel. But much like Matt, he’s inaccurate when he throws to the sidelines or down the field. He’s missed some open receivers where big opportunities were available. While I think it’s possible, even likely, that the offense can continue to improve, I’m not sure how much Smith can improve. This is what he is. I still don’t see him as a long-term solution for the Chiefs.

2. Jamaal Charles is having an excellent year. They’ve done a great job of integrating him into the passing game. But they’re overworking him, and his yards per rush are down. He’s yet to break a big run, which is probably the most surprising. Maybe he’ll have a couple in the second half. The Chiefs badly need to get Knile Davis integrated into the offense for a second threat out of the backfield, and to keep Charles fresh over the second half.

3. The offensive line has been inconsistent at best, and at times they’ve been dreadful. This may be one of the reasons Charles has yet to break a big run. And might be why the Chiefs seldom look downfield in their passing game. Smith rarely has much time to setup and scour the field for his receivers.

4. We need the D-Bowe Show to emerge. If the Chiefs have any shot to make a run in the playoffs, they need their best receiver to average more than 3.25 receptions and 38 yards per game. Hard to tell if this is a scheme issue, a chemistry issue, or what. Cassel often forced the ball to Bowe, but Dwayne made the receptions. He’s gotten few opportunities this year. The good news is that he’s kept his head in the game, seems genuinely enthused about the team, and has made some great blocks downfield for Charles. The Chiefs are paying him way too much to be a decoy and downfield blocker.

Second Half Predictions
Not sure what Vegas thinks, but I’d put the over/under at 4.5 wins. It’s likely the Chiefs will go 5-3 or 4-4 over the final eight games. The Chiefs will probably lose at Denver, and I think it’s likely they stumble at either Oakland or Washington. That’s two losses. They have tough home games against Indianapolis, Denver and San Diego. There’s one more loss in there somewhere — hopefully not against the Broncos. And then they wrap up the season on the road at San Diego. If the Chargers are still in the running for a wildcard birth, that will be a tough game. While this team is different, this season reminds me a lot of the 2003 season when the Chiefs started 9-0 before the wheels started shaking. The Chiefs won’t collapse. They may even play better football over the second half of the season. I want to predict 13-3, but I’m going to predict 12-4. And I’m not going to be terribly surprised if they finish 11-5.

2013 NFL Draft Begins Thursday

Sunday, April 21st, 2013

Kansas City ChiefsJust a couple quick thoughts as we head into the 2013 NFL Draft.

Twitter Is Awesome
For those of you not on Twitter yet, what are you waiting for? I’ve been following a number of NFL player analysts and draft analysts. Have really enjoyed their insights and banter. A great daily fix for an NFL junkie like me. (Shameless plug: follow me on Twitter @leeceldridge.)

What I Wish Would Have Happened
I won’t belabor the point, but I would have much preferred drafting Geno Smith than trading for Alex Smith. At this point, I can only hope I’m wrong. Alex is good enough to improve the Chiefs immediately. We may make it to the playoffs with him. Hell, we might even win a playoff game for the first time in 20 years. Wouldn’t that be nice? But I have no illusions that Alex is going to win a Super Bowl. I’d take the unknown with the higher ceiling (Geno) over the game manager (Alex). It’s also not my job on the line if I’m wrong.

Draft Scenarios for the Chiefs
As I see it, there are four scenarios for what the Chiefs could do at the top of the draft. And it depends on whether or not they can trade offensive tackle Branden Albert, trade their top pick, or both.

1. The Status Quo: If the Chiefs are unable to trade Branden Albert, and if they’re unable to trade down, they must make their pick of the number one overall draft choice. The Chiefs have been coy and continue to say that there are four players they’re interested in with this pick. I assume that’s gamesmanship. And smart. I just can’t imagine they haven’t already made this decision. It’s just not their preferred outcome.

2. Trading Albert: The Chiefs appear to be in negotiations with the Dolphins for a second round pick. It’s been reported that the Dolphins are talking with Albert’s agent about a long-term contract. The Chiefs clearly want this to happen. I think it’s likely to happen, but not certain to happen.

3. Trading the Pick: I would imagine that the Chiefs would like to trade down and acquire more picks. This will be difficult to do. The most likely scenario is if a team has fallen in love with Geno Smith and is concerned about losing him. It just doesn’t sound like a likely scenario. My guess is that there’s less than a 20% chance that the Chiefs can trade out of this pick.

4. Trade Albert AND Trade Down: At this point, I’d take this in a heartbeat. Don’t think it’s likely. But I’d do it.

Trading Albert
A lot has been made of whether or not the Chiefs should trade Branden Albert. Supporters of Albert like to point to the fact that he gives up few sacks as an indication that he’s an elite left tackle. I’ve also seen analysts break down the tape and point out significant flaws and holes in his game. The eye test tells me he’s a good, but not great, left tackle. And he missed several games last year with back problems, which makes me nervous. I don’t have a problem with trading Albert for a second round pick and drafting either Luke Joeckel or Eric Fisher — currently sitting at #1 and #2 on Scouts Inc.’s Top 32. I think this would improve the left tackle position for years to come with a younger, better player with a higher ceiling. It will also save the Chiefs a significant amount of money by avoiding paying Albert almost $10 million this year.

Cap Space
The Chiefs have been accused for years of being cheap. Not this year. They’ve spent their money and are only about $3 million from the cap (according to NFL.com here). They will actually need to open up some cap space to sign their draft picks. The trading of Branden Albert is probably all they’ll need to do to open up the necessary cap room to sign their draft picks, and maybe even do some last minute bargain shopping among available free agents. Karlos Dansby anybody? Chiefs have a hole at inside linebacker, and Dansby is still on the market.

Prediction
My best guess is that the Chiefs will trade Albert to the Dolphins, but will be unable to trade out of their pick atop the draft. Will be interesting to see which of the two left tackles they like better. I’m guessing it will be Joeckel.

Alex Smith To Become A Chief

Saturday, March 2nd, 2013

Alex Smith Kansas City ChiefsMuch has been written about our new quarterback, Alex Smith. I’d been planning for weeks to write a column about what the Chiefs need to do at quarterback. But now that the Chiefs have apparently acquired Smith, I’m going to try to come at this from a slightly different direction.

A friend asked me, “Is this trade worth it if Alex Smith takes the Chiefs to the playoffs and wins a playoff game?” As we all know, the Chiefs haven’t won a playoff game since Joe Montana took the Chiefs to the AFC Championship game following the 1993 season. It would be great to win a playoff game.

But the answer, is no. If you’re not trying to win a Super Bowl, you’re not trying. And Alex Smith will not win a Super Bowl.

I hope I’m wrong. I will be rooting for the Chiefs. I’ll be watching every game. But I have no illusions that Smith is the guy. And here’s why.

Elite Quarterbacks Win Super Bowls
I was admittedly late jumping on the whole “elite quarterback” thing. I’ve been an NFL junkie my whole life, and I remember plenty of decent, but not spectacular, quarterbacks leading good teams to Super Bowl victories. But I’m an analytical guy. What can change my mind on a subject? History and facts.

Let’s look at the last 21 Super Bowls — what I would consider the modern era of the NFL. Here’s the list of quarterbacks who have won: Troy Aikman, Steve Young, Brett Favre, John Elway, Kurt Warner, Trent Dilfer, Tom Brady, Brad Johnson, Ben Roethlisberger, Peyton Manning, Drew Brees, Aaron Rodgers, Eli Manning and Joe Flacco.

I would lump these quarterbacks into three categories:

1 – Elite Quarterbacks – Quarterbacks who consistently play at a high level, and are considered among the very best in the league year after year. For me, this includes: Aikman, Young, Favre, Elway, Brady, P. Manning, Brees and Rodgers.

2 – Almost Elite Quarterbacks – These are the guys capable of playing at a very high level for stretches at a time, but don’t do it consistently enough for me to consider them truly elite quarterbacks. For me, this includes: Warner, Roethlisberger, E. Manning and Flacco. (Before this season, it would have been impossible to put Flacco in this category, but he was amazing down the stretch.)

3 – Game Managers – Guys who can make a play here or there, but mostly are there to manage the game, and avoid mistakes. This includes: Dilfer and Johnson.

So out of the last 21 Super Bowls, 19 have been won by elite quarterbacks, or quarterbacks capable of playing at an elite level. And two have been won by game managers. By the numbers, that means that in the modern era of football, non-elite quarterbacks only win 9% of the Super Bowls. Basically one every ten years. Elite and almost elite quarterbacks win 91% of the Super Bowls — nine out of every ten.

How many elite quarterbacks are there in the game today? I probably grade harder than most, but I count four: Rodgers, P. Manning, Brady and Brees. (If you’re counting more than a few guys, then you misunderstand what the word elite means. It means the best of the best.)

How many almost elite quarterbacks are there in the game today? This is a bit harder, but I would include: Matt Ryan, Flacco, E. Manning and Roethlisberger. Cases could be made for a couple others.

And you’ve got a group of young quarterbacks trying to add their names to these lists, such as Robert Griffin III, Russell Wilson, Cam Newton, Andy Dalton and Andrew Luck. Not all of them will make it. Not all of them will become elite quarterbacks.

So going into any given season, how many elite or almost elite quarterbacks are there? I’d say maybe ten. So ten teams cumulatively have about a 90% chance to win the Super Bowl, and the other 22 teams cumulatively have about a 10% chance to win a Super Bowl.

Is Alex Smith an elite quarterback? No. Is he an almost elite quarterback? No. He doesn’t appear to be to me. So statistically, the Chiefs have virtually no chance to win a Super Bowl. They are lumped into the bottom 22 with a cumulative 10% chance to win it all (which breaks down to about a .5% chance per team each year).

Sound bleak? Let me add one more fly to the ointment. When Trent Dilfer won the Super Bowl, the Ravens didn’t have just a great defense, it’s widely been considered one of the best defenses EVER in the history of the NFL. And Brad Johnson? Yes, the Bucs also had a dominating defense the year they won the Super Bowl. Do the Chiefs have a dominating defense? Nope. And if recent history is any indication, it doesn’t appear that a game manager QB can win a Super Bowl without the help of a dominating defense.

Reasons To Be Optimistic About Alex Smith
Alex Smith is a good guy. He’s a leader. He’s athletic. He’s been in a bad situation for years in San Francisco. Multiple defensive-minded head coaches who weren’t very good. Yearly changes with offensive coordinators. Few quarterbacks could thrive under these conditions. But finally the 49ers have a good (maybe great) head coach in Jim Harbaugh, and Smith has played well for him. Alex has become a very good game manager on a team that runs the ball well, plays great defense, and has great coaching.

Andy Reid knows quarterbacks, and word has it that he likes Smith a lot. Alex is accurate on the short and medium range routes, which is vital to run Reid’s version of the West Coast Offense. Maybe it’s the perfect match, and maybe Reid can do what so few other coaches have been able to do in the modern era — win a Super Bowl with a game manager at quarterback. Or maybe Smith will excel and shed the description of game manager. Flacco did it this year.

Reasons To be Pessimistic About Alex Smith
I’m concerned that Smith is Matt Cassel. Their career stats are eerily similar. Cassel put up good numbers in 2008 in New England (good coaching and great organization), and again in 2010 under offensive coordinator Charlie Weis. Under the right coaching and the right surroundings, Cassel has proven to be an effective game manager. But with bad coaching and bad surroundings (the last two years in Kansas City), he’s proven that he’s not a good enough quarterback to elevate the team around him. Alex Smith has been at his best the last two seasons, and his numbers are still very comparable to Cassel’s number from ’08 and ’10.

And the coach who turned around Smith’s career and who knows him as well as anybody, Jim Harbaugh, benched him for a second year quarterback with no experience. Why? Because he wanted a quarterback capable of playing at an elite level.

Draft and Develop
Some have called the trade for Alex Smith “bold”. I don’t understand that at all. Though the Chiefs gave up quite a bit to get Smith, I think this move was incredibly safe. The Chiefs will be better next year with Reid and Smith. I would venture to guess that the Chiefs will make the playoffs in the next two to three years. They might even win a playoff game. I think Smith is likely to be an effective quarterback in Reid’s system.

Does that make this trade worth it? No. If you’re not trying to win a Super Bowl, you’re not trying.

The Chiefs have clearly decided that Smith is a better option than the quarterbacks available in this year’s draft. And in the short term, they’re probably right. But somewhere in this draft is a quarterback who will become an elite quarterback, or at least is capable of playing at an elite level. There is a quarterback in this draft who will become a better quarterback than Alex Smith. Who? I don’t know. Maybe Geno Smith. Maybe not. But the odds are a lot better on winning a Super Bowl with a quarterback with a high ceiling capable of playing at an elite level, than settling for another game manager.

Chief Opinions 1-6-2013

Sunday, January 6th, 2013

Kansas City ChiefsYesterday we discussed the hiring of Andy Reid. Today we’ll wrap up a few final thoughts about the Chiefs season, and recent events.

The Firing of Romeo Crennel
On black Monday, the Chiefs fired head coach Romeo Crennel. I had my reservations a year ago when the Chiefs hired him, but I had no idea it would be this bad. He’s a good man. A good defensive coordinator. He represented himself and this city well. Maybe if the Chiefs had signed Kyle Orton, the quarterback Crennel clearly preferred, things would have turned out differently. Crennel often seemed confused and uncertain about how to proceed. It never appeared that Crennel had confidence in Matt Cassel. And after a few losses, it appeared that the team had lost faith that it could win with Crennel and Cassel leading the way.

The Firing of Scott Pioli
On black Monday, the Chiefs publicly neutered general manager Scott Pioli, and left him twisting in the wind. Clark Hunt stripped him of many of his responsibilities, and rearranged the structure of the organization. It was Hunt who would interview and hire the next head coach. And the head coach would report directly to Hunt. Pioli’s fate would be decided soon.

What were the Chiefs waiting for? Were four years of mistakes not enough of a track record to fire Pioli? Chiefs fans became nervous that Hunt was going to give Pioli another chance. Then the news came down that Pioli was accompanying Clark Hunt and the rest of the Chiefs’ brass during the head coach interviews. I was nervous.

This is purely a guess. There were reports that Pioli had received a contract extension before the season, though this was denied by a source within the organization. I bet that Pioli got the extension, and that it took a few days for the Chiefs and Pioli to reach a buyout agreement for him to step aside. Remember, before the season began, there were high expectations for the Chiefs. Many pundits had picked the Chiefs to win the division. If the Chiefs had announced a contract extension before the season, most fans would have understood. Though after the season went south, it would have been a publicity nightmare to admit that Pioli had received an extension.

If it wasn’t the contract, then Hunt really was leaving the door open for Pioli to remain in Kansas City. Shudder.

The Hiring of Any Reid
This is pure speculation on my part. I think Clark Hunt knew all along who he wanted to hire for his next head coach. And it hit me when I listened to an interview with Dick Vermeil.

Dick Vermeil has close ties to both Andy Reid and the Chiefs organization. Plenty of speculation existed that the Eagles were going to fire Reid. If you were Clark Hunt, who would you call to gauge Reid’s interest in Kansas City without violating the NFL’s tampering rules? I’m betting that Hunt called Vermeil in the last few weeks for his input, and to test the waters about Reid, in case he became available. Vermeil has said that he told Reid that he can win in Kansas City, and that he should take the job. But Vermeil was never asked when this conversation took place. Not that Vermeil would likely admit if it had happened before the Eagles fired Reid. Vermeil was clearly pleased that the Chiefs had hired Reid.

And think about the timing of events. On Monday, the Chiefs fire Crennel. On Tuesday, they interview a couple coaches in Atlanta, one of whom is black, which means that the Chiefs have met the requirements of the Rooney Rule (which I think needs to be eliminated, but that’s a discussion for another day). And on Wednesday, Clark Hunt and his top executives fly to Philadelphia, and conduct a nine hour interview with Andy Reid.

Kudos to Clark Hunt for getting his man. And doing it quickly.

Finding a Quarterback
We’ll talk more about the draft in upcoming weeks, but I’ll be very disappointed if we don’t draft a quarterback this year. I don’t want to trade for a veteran backup. I don’t want to sign a guy who has failed elsewhere. I don’t want to trade for Alex Smith, Kevin Kolb or Michael Vick. I want to draft and develop our own quarterback.

The pundits have said that there isn’t a quarterback worth drafting number one overall. They’re wrong. Somewhere in this draft is an elite quarterback. And elite quarterbacks are worth the number one pick. It may not be a “value” pick, but I don’t care. And if I were running the Chiefs, I’d do exactly what the Redskins did last year. I would draft a quarterback in the first round, and then draft another one in the third or fourth round.

Who should they draft? I don’t know. There’s a handful of quarterbacks who are potential first round picks. I’m still betting that by April one or two of these quarterbacks will climb into the list of top ten prospects, and it won’t be so much of a reach to draft one of them. I do think it’s interesting that several analysts have compared West Virginia’s Geno Smith to Donovan McNabb, the quarterback that Reid drafted with the second overall pick in 1999. And you still might end up with somebody like Mike Glennon from NC State on the board at the top of the fourth round.

Chiefs Hire Andy Reid

Saturday, January 5th, 2013

Kansas City Chiefs Head Coach Andy ReidAs you might expect, I have quite a few thoughts on the Kansas City Chiefs this week. And I’m pleased that owner Clark Hunt made quick and decisive plans for the future of the organization. Today we’ll focus on his hiring of Andy Reid as the Chiefs’ head coach.

Andy Reid is One of the Most Successful NFL Coaches to Never Win a Super Bowl
Reid spent 14 years as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles. During that time, he amassed a regular season record of 130-93. His teams were amazingly consistent, finishing first or second in the NFC East 10 of those 14 years. If you take away his first season (5-11) and his last season (4-12), the numbers are even more impressive.

If I were to list the top three NFL head coaches to never win a Super Bowl, it would be Marv Levy (4-1 in AFC Championship Games, and 0-4 in Super Bowls), Andy Reid (1-4 in NFC Championship Games, and 0-1 in Super Bowls), and Marty Schottenheimer (0-3 AFC Championship Games and an NFL regular season record of 200-126 across four NFL teams). Most interesting to me is that all three of these men have now been head coaches for the Chiefs. Quite a dubious distinction.

What Went Wrong in Philadelphia?
There are plenty of people who follow the Eagles much more closely than I do. I think there are two pretty obvious reasons for what went wrong.

1. You’ve got to have a franchise quarterback to win in the NFL. We know this better in Kansas City than most cities. With Donovan McNabb at the helm from 1999-2009, the Eagles went 108-67 (that’s the team’s record, which includes games started by other quarterbacks). Since then, the Eagles have gone 22-26.

2. Sometimes you’re the product of your own success. Six of Reid’s assistant coaches become head coaches — Brad Childress, John Harbaugh, Steve Spagnola, Leslie Frazier, Ron Rivera and Pat Shumur. Add to that long time defensive coordinator Jim Johnson (1999-2008) who left the Eagles for health reasons. That’s a lot of talent to replace.

Is Reid the Right Choice for the Chiefs?
I’m torn on this one. He’s a MUCH better choice than Romeo Crennel. He’s a very good coach. He’s low risk. He’s young enough at 54 to be a long-term solution. He’s a good evaluator of talent. He will likely make the Chiefs competitive almost immediately. But I’m not sure this is a great hire. And I’m ready for greatness in Kansas City.

He’s got two big decisions to make that will likely shape whether this is a good hire, or a great hire.

1. Quarterback: The Chiefs must draft and develop a quarterback. Every year there are two to three quarterbacks drafted that become very good quarterbacks, if not elite quarterbacks. In 1999, Reid’s first year in Philadelphia, there were five quarterbacks taken in the first round of the draft. Reid selected Donovan McNabb with the second pick in the draft. Tim Couch had gone number one overall to the Browns. Akili Smith was chosen third by the Bengals. The Vikings picked Daunte Culpepper with the 11th pick. And Cade McNown was taken 12th by the Bears. Culpepper had some good years, but McNabb was clearly the best of the bunch. This should give us hope that Reid can identify the next quarterback for the Chiefs.

2. I completely trust Reid to assemble an offensive staff. The key acquisition will be at defensive coordinator, where he clearly failed to adequately replace Jim Johnson with the Eagles. The Chiefs have plenty of talent on defense, and should be an attractive fit for the right defensive coordinator.

Parting Shot
Sam Mellinger at the Kansas City Star made an interesting point in his column:

If Reid helps drive the Chiefs to the Super Bowl, it would fit the pattern of many football men who found bigger success in their second job. Tom Coughlin spent eight years in Jacksonville before winning two Super Bowls with the Giants. Tony Dungy was fired in Tampa Bay before winning a title in Indianapolis. Gruden failed with the Raiders before winning big with the Bucs. Bill Belichick flopped in Cleveland before becoming the most successful coach in recent NFL history.

All told, seven of the last 11 Super Bowl winners were coached by a man in his second job.

What is Sam missing in this analysis? Coughlin has Eli Manning with the Giants. Tony Dungy had Peyton Manning with the Colts. And Bill Belichick has Tom Brady in New England. All three are significant upgrades compared to the quarterbacks they had during their first jobs. Only Gruden ended up leaving the better quarterback behind with Rich Gannon, though Brad Johnson had a very good season for the Bucs when they won it all.

Patience can pay off for an organization. The Steelers gave Bill Cowher time, and he rewarded them with a Super Bowl victory in his 14th season in Pittsburgh, with the help from quarterback Ben Roethisberger. I anticipate the Chiefs giving Reid plenty of time in Kansas City, but if we’re hoping for a Super Bowl, it still comes back to finding the right quarterback.

The Chiefs Moving Forward

Thursday, November 29th, 2012

Kansas City ChiefsAs you know, I’m a diehard Chiefs fan. But I’m not a fanatic. I’m the preacher of patience. The voice of reason. I understand that football is a business, and that not all long-term decisions are popular today. That sometimes you have to take a step back to take two steps forward. That injuries can derail a season. And that sometimes, the football gods are unkind. Not once in more than 20 years have I called for the Chiefs to fire their general manager or head coach.

Until today.

Fire Scot Pioli
The Chiefs are 1-10 in the fourth year of general manager Scott Pioli’s tenure in Kansas City. The worst record in the NFL. This was a team many predicted to win the AFC West. I did not, though I expected them to play much more competitive football. The question that owner Clark Hunt must ask himself is this: Do I want Scott Pioli to lead this team moving forward? Let’s evaluate Pioli’s track record on the most important decisions.

Head Coach: In year one, Pioli hired the fiery Todd Haley to coach the Chiefs. By year two, the Chiefs were 10-6 and won the AFC West. The future looked bright, but a fractured relationship was bubbling under the surface. Apparently Pioli and Haley were unable to work together, and as the Chiefs underachieved in 2011 (they finished 7-9), Haley was fired with three games left in the season. Pioli replaced Haley with veteran defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. I voiced reservations about promoting Crennel last year. Crennel is largely responsible for the team’s failure this year. More on him shortly. Pioli Grade: F

Quarterback: What has happened to the Chiefs is not Matt Cassel’s fault. Since he came to Kansas City, he’s had five offensive coordinators in four years. He’s shown that with the right team and the right coaching, he can be a competent quarterback (see 2008 with the Patriots and 2010 with Charlie Weis as his offensive coordinator in KC). But it’s also clear that he’s not good enough to overcome the many obstacles he’s faced in Kansas City. Backup Brady Quinn is worse than Cassel. And second year quarterback Ricky Stanzi must be awful because he can’t even get a whiff of the field. The Chiefs are looking at having to replace at least two, if not all three, of their quarterbacks for 2013. Pioli Grade: F

The Draft: The NFL draft is the lifeblood of your team. And first round picks are one of your most important commodities. In the last four years Pioli has drafted defense lineman Tyson Jackson, safety Eric Berry, wide receiver Jon Baldwin and nose tackle Dontari Poe in the first rounds of the draft. Jackson has been underwhelming to say the least. Berry may become a great player, but I haven’t seen it yet. Baldwin has done nothing. And Poe is a project. Other than 2011′s third round pick, linebacker Justin Houston, have any of Pioli’s picks made a significant impact on the team? No. Pioli Grade: C- (and that’s being generous)

Free Agency: This year’s crop of free agents looked good coming into the year with offensive tackle Eric Winston, running back Peyton Hillis, and cornerback Stanford Routt. Winston has been OK but will be most remembered for calling out Chiefs fans for booing Matt Cassel’s injury. Hillis has been largely ineffective. And Routt has already been released from the team, making the decision not to resign Brandon Carr even worse. In four years in Kansas City, who were Pioli’s most significant signings in free agency? Wide receiver Steve Breaston was productive last year, but has done nothing this year. Offensive guard Ryan Lilja has been pretty good. That’s it. Pioli Grade: F

Pioli has been a bust at hiring head coaches. We have no quarterback of the future. Though I would agree that the team is more talented than it was when he was hired, the majority of our best players were already here (Jamaal Charles, Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali, Branden Albert, Dwayne Bowe, Dustin Colquitt, and Brandon Flowers). He’s provided no stability within the organization. And we’re left with a losing team, angry fans and a half empty Arrowhead on game days.

There have been reports that Clark Hunt extended Pioli’s contract before this season began, though there have also been reports that the deal was never signed. If true, that would make firing Pioli expensive. Either way, Hunt must fire him. And the sooner, the better.

Romeo CrennelFire Romeo Crennel
When you take a team that was expected to win the division and go 1-10, can you really expect to keep your job? I was afraid that Crennel was another Wade Phillips — a fine defensive coordinator but ineffective head coach. I was wrong. He’s worse than that. Crennel is in way over his head. I could site a whole laundry list of stats to show just how bad this team has been, but the one that sticks out to me the most is point differential. The Chiefs have been outscored by 140 points this year in just 11 games. Take away their one win, and they’re losing by 14 points per game. Only two other teams in the NFL have point differentials of more than 100 — the Raiders at -138 and the Jaguars at -120. This team is more talented than the team that won the division in 2010. The difference is coaching.

Parting Shots
Scott Pioli was a good hire four years ago. He was highly respected around the league from a successful organization. Many expected him to be the next great general manager. It just didn’t work. It happens. If owner Clark Hunt still remains unconvinced about firing Pioli, he needs to think about two things. Why wouldn’t head coach Jeff Fisher consider Kansas City, opting to coach the Rams, a team with less talent than the Chiefs? Why wouldn’t quarterback Peyton Manning consider Kansas City, opting to play for the Broncos, a team with less talent than the Chiefs? Maybe the Chiefs were never serious about either Fisher or Manning. Or maybe they had no desire to come to Kansas City because of Scott Pioli.

Moving Forward
I’ve seen enough of both Pioli and Crennel to know what needs to be done. I would fire Pioli now and start the hunt (no pun intended) for a new general manager. If you can get the right GM hired before the season is over, you’ve given that person a huge advantage heading into next season. I don’t see any advantage of firing Crennel until a new general manager has been hired. Somebody has to coach this team through the next few games. It might as well be Crennel.

The Quarterback
We’ll talk about the quarterback position a lot heading into the draft. My only comment for today is that we know what Matt Cassel is. We think we know what Brady Quinn is. We have no idea what Ricky Stanzi is. The Chiefs need to start Stanzi the last three or four games of the season in order to evaluate him for next year. Is he the future of the team? Probably not. But it would be nice to know if he’s capable of being a competent backup.

Chiefs and AFC West Update 10-7-2012

Sunday, October 7th, 2012

My plan had been to write quarterly updates on the AFC West this year. Games start shortly, so here goes!

Denver Broncos
Prediction 10-6 / Record 2-2

I still expect the Broncos to win the division. They’ve beaten the Steelers (who have not been very good) and the Raiders (who are bad). And they’ve lost to two very good teams in the Falcons and the Texans. The Broncos’ defense has shown signs of dominance. And the offense will only get better as Manning develops chemistry with his backs and receivers. They are the best team in the West.

Kansas City Chiefs
Prediction 8-8 / Record 1-3

How bad are the Chiefs? We’ll probably find out today against the Ravens. But they’re still only one game behind the pace that I expected, even if they lose today. The turnovers from the offense, and the lack of turnovers from the defense, has exasperated the rest of the teams’ problems. They aren’t as bad as they’ve looked. But I’m not sure you can expect things to get much better. If the Chiefs can flip the turnover numbers, they’ll win some games. More on the Chiefs later in this post.

San Diego Chargers
Prediction 7-9 / Record 3-1

I’m still not sold on this team. They’ve beaten three teams with a cumulative record of 3-9. The only good team they’ve played are the Falcons, who dominated them in San Diego 27-3. Who is the head coach? Norv Turner. Sell high.

Oakland Raiders
Prediction 6-10 / Record 1-3

I guess they’re about what I expected. The only team they’ve beaten is the Steelers, who do not look like the Steelers of old. Carson Palmer has not been very good. Will be interesting to see how long they stay with him at quarterback. They gave up a lot to get him last year, but they’ve got the youngster Terrelle Pryor sitting on the bench. By mid-season, it might be time to see if he can play.

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So what’s up with the Chiefs? If you’ve read my blog over the years, you know that I’m not very reactionary. I think fans and the media often react too quickly to what has happened, instead of understanding the bigger picture. When the team wins, we’re going to the Super Bowl. When we lose, start firing people!

But I’m almost to the end of my rope. I think this team has some good talent, but some significant problems at quarterback, head coach and general manager. Only the three most important positions in a team. I would play Matt Cassel the next two games against the Ravens and the Bucs. If the team gets crushed, it’s time to make changes during the bye week. At a minimum I would sit Cassel and let Brady Quinn finish out the season. Though I would be tempted to fire general manager Scott Pioli during the bye week as well. I would replace Romeo Crennel at the end of the season. And I would do whatever I had to do to draft Matt Barkley or Geno Smith as our next quarterback.

AFC West Predictions

Friday, September 7th, 2012

Every year there are surprises in the NFL. A team that had struggled to a 5-11 record the year before goes 11-5 and wins their division. Teams lose key players to injury, like the Colts losing Peyton Manning, and end up with the number one overall pick in the draft. The league is unpredictable. Except that it’s not. While NFL fans always seem to have hope at the beginning of the season, most teams end up in that middle ground winning somewhere between 7-9 games. Bad teams typically remain bad teams. And despite all of the parity in the league, the best organizations, like the Steelers and the Patriots, seem to find ways to win year after year.

The AFC West appears to be an interesting division again this year. The division has a low ceiling, and a high floor. Whichever team wins the division, may be the worst division winner in the league. And whichever team ends up last, will probably be better than the last place team in every other division. Look at last year’s records: division winner Denver (8-8), San Diego (8-8), Oakland (8-8), and Kansas City (7-9). Nobody was really good. And nobody was really bad. I doubt it will be much different this year. Every team has a legitimate chance of winning the division. Though it’s not likely that they’ll all finish within one game of each other again.

Denver Quarterback Peyton ManningDenver Broncos: It pains me to write this, but the Broncos have the best head coach and the best quarterback in the division. They have a decent supporting cast. And they likely have the highest ceiling of any of the teams in the division. But they’ve also installed a new offensive system with Peyton Manning, and they’ve had to replace their defensive coordinator, Dennis Allen, who moved onto Oakland to become their head coach. If everything clicks quickly for the Broncos, they could win 12 games. If the team struggles and Manning isn’t quite the Manning of old, they could win six. I have a lot of faith in Manning’s ability to overcome adversity. Prediction: 10-6 and Peyton Manning starts all 16 games.

Kansas City Chiefs: On paper, the Chiefs have the most talent in the division. But I have big questions about this team that I wrote about a few days ago. Is Romeo Crennel a good head coach? I don’t know. Can offensive coordinator Brian Daboll hit the ground running? That’ tough. Most teams take some time to adjust to new coordinators. Can the Chiefs overcome Cassel’s weaknesses? If everything goes right, the Chiefs could win ten games. And last year, when just about everything went wrong, they still won seven. Prediction: 8-8 and that Brady Quinn starts at least two games.

San Diego Chargers: These are not Marty Schottenheimer’s San Diego Chargers. Marty had built a team that was deep and talented. Other than Phillip Rivers, the stars are gone from San Diego. And who is their head coach? Norv Turner. A fine man, and a very good offensive coordinator. But he’s not an effective head coach. They have issues with their offensive line. A running back and tight end who can’t stay healthy. They lost their best wide receiver. And have struggled to replace their best players on defense. The last two years, the Chargers have finished 9-7 and 8-8. I don’t see anything that leads me to believe that this team can get back to winning 10+ games. And I think it’s possible that this is the year they fall off the cliff, go 4-12, and fire Norv Turner. Prediction: 7-9 and they fire Norv Turner.

Oakland Raiders: I like the direction of the Raiders under new general manager Reggie McKenzie and head coach Dennis Allen. I’m not making any long-term predictions for how this team will develop over the next few years. But often a team has to take a step back before it can take two steps forward. The Raiders have some talent. If he can stay healthy, Darren McFadden has the potential to be one of the most dominating players in the league. If everything goes right they could win 8-9 games. It’s more likely they’ll have some struggles this year as they try to rebuild the franchise. Prediction: 6-10 and that Carson Palmer gets benched before the end of the season.

Five Questions on the Chiefs v2012

Tuesday, September 4th, 2012

Kansas City Quarterback Matt CasselLet me first admit that I’m not only an NFL junkie, but that I even enjoy preseason football games. I typically watch every minute of every Chiefs’ preseason game. This year? Not so much. I have maybe watched five quarters of preseason football. And it doesn’t appear that the Chiefs have answered any of the questions I had coming into the season.

Matt Cassel: What exactly is Matt Cassel? Is he the solid quarterback who put up good numbers for the Patriots in 2008 (QB rating 89.4) and the Chiefs in 2010 (QB rating 93.0)? Or the guy who struggled in 2009 (QB rating 69.9) and 2011 (QB rating 76.6)? Can you win playoff games with Cassel? How about a Super Bowl? I’ve been slow to come around. For years I’ve held the belief that you could win a Super Bowl with a competent quarterback. We’ve seen guys like Mark Rypien, Jeff Hostetler, Doug Williams, Jim McMahon, Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson win Super Bowls. And Matt’s struggles are not all his fault. He’s had a different offensive coordinator every year in Kansas City. His offensive line has been mediocre. And last year he lost running back Jamaal Charles and tight end Tony Moeaki for the season.

It’s also important to understand that Cassel’s had limited time as a starting quarterback. If you combine college and the NFL, he’s still only got four years of experience as a starter. Matt has all of the intangibles you could want in a quarterback. His ability to read a defense will continue to improve. If given protection and a strong running game, Cassel can be an effective quarterback.

But is that enough? It appears to me that in today’s NFL you must have an elite quarterback (Tom Brady, Peyton Manning, Aaron Rogers, Drew Brees), or at least a quarterback capable of playing at an elite level (Eli Manning, Ben Roethlisberger), to win a Super Bowl. During the last 20 years, the only quarterbacks to win Super Bowls who we can compare to Cassel are Trent Dilfer and Brad Johnson. Smart players who can best be described as game managers. The odds are stacked heavily against the Chiefs ever winning a Super Bowl with Matt Cassel. And isn’t winning the Super Bowl the goal? (See list of Super Bowl winning quarterbacks here.)

And having said all of that, what are the odds that Brady Quinn could eventually unseat Cassel? If the Chiefs start 3-6 or worse, would Crennel consider switching quarterbacks? Quinn was drafted by Crennel in Cleveland in the first round of the 2007 draft.

Romeo CrennelRomeo Crennel: Crennel seems like a great guy, and he’s been a fine defensive coordinator in the NFL. His only stint as a head coach came in Cleveland from 2005-08 where he compiled a record of 24-40. Was that his fault or is Cleveland just that bad of an organization? I’m not sure. But I will tell you this — at the age of 65, Crennel is not the long-term answer for the Chiefs. It seems to me that you should be looking for the next Mike McCarthy, Sean Payton, Bill Cowher, Jon Gruden, Mike Tomlin, Bill Belichick or Andy Reid. A guy young enough to be your head coach for many years to come. The goal is not only to build a Super Bowl winning team, but to build stability within the organization in order to obtain long-term and continued success. Even if Crennel achieves some success with the Chiefs, how long will he be the head coach? And he’s stuck with a competent quarterback who will likely never get him to a Super Bowl. Seems like a short-sighted solution for a team without a Super Bowl caliber quarterback.

Brian Daboll: I don’t know a lot about Brian Daboll, but I do think that this is an interesting hire as the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator. He’s a high energy guy. He’s 37 years old, and has some experience as a coordinator — 2009-10 with Cleveland and 2011 with Miami. He got pretty good production out of quarterback Matt Moore last year. The Dolphins started the season 0-7 before going 6-3 over their last nine games. Their offensive production improved as the season went along. But as I mentioned before, the Chiefs have had a new offensive coordinator every year since Matt Cassel has been here. I think it’s a lot to expect for this offense to hit the ground running starting week one.

Scott Pioli: No matter what you feel about Todd Haley, the fact that he was fired midway through his third season in Kansas City means that Pioli made a poor decision when he hired his first head coach. And I’m not confident that he’ll be any more successful with his second head coach. Pioli also needs some of his draft choices to step up and produce. Eric Berry looks like a star. Kendrick Lewis has been solid. I like how Pioli’s been rebuilding the offensive line. But after that we’re left with a bunch of question marks. Will Jon Baldwin produce big plays? Can Dontari Poe become the force on the defensive line that the Chiefs have been missing? Will Pioli ever attempt to draft and develop a replacement for Matt Cassel? We’re now in year four of Pioli’s tenure and his drafts have been unspectacular at best.

Defense: While the offense has been under a lot of scrutiny by the fans, the Chiefs defense hasn’t been much better. We’ve been saying it for years, but the Chiefs have to get better play out of their defensive line. It all starts up front with the big guys. They were one of the better defenses in the league in the second half last year. Can they carry that success into this year? How much will they miss Brandon Carr? Will Justin Houstin become that second pass rusher they so desperately need?

The good news for the Chiefs is that everything that could go wrong, did go wrong last year. And they still finished the season 7-9. Romeo Crennel will certainly offer a steadier hand than Todd Haley. And you wouldn’t expect the team to have the same devastating injuries two years in a row. This team has big questions, but on paper this is probably the best collection of talent that they’ve had since the mid ’90s.

Manning Update 3-10-12

Saturday, March 10th, 2012

Just a couple quick notes.

1. The Redskins have reportedly made a block buster trade with the Rams to move up into the second spot in the draft. I never thought that Manning to the Redskins made much sense. Manning will want to play for a team that’s ready to contend immediately. That’s not Washington. People have talked a lot about what Manning wants and doesn’t want. Most of it is nothing more than speculation, but two thoughts probably carry some actual weight. All else being equal, it makes sense that Manning prefers to stay in the AFC. And he would probably prefer NOT to be in the same division as his brother (the NFC East).

2. The Jets have reached a new deal with quarterback Mark Sanchez. I never thought the Jets would be in play for Manning, but the speculation can end on this one, too.

It looks to me like it will come down to the Arizona Cardinals, Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins or Kansas City Chiefs. I think there’s a slim chance that the Seattle Seahawks could enter the Manning Sweepstakes. I don’t see another team that makes sense. Maybe we’ll all be surprised.

There will be many rumors the next few days. I wouldn’t waste much time on them. For instance, yesterday, it was reported that the Chiefs had already offered Manning a contract. This doesn’t even make any sense. The Chiefs have not met with Manning. Peyton will narrow down his list. He will interview the teams. They will interview him. And Manning will make a decision as to what is the best situation for him.

Whatever happens, please don’t let Manning pick the Broncos!