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Measuring the Chiefs' 2009 Season

So the season ended with a surprising victory over the Denver Broncos that featured a pair of historically significant performances. A lot of the coverage of the team seems to have focused on this 44-24 win and the solid performances turned in by several young players during the game.

I don’t blame them, after watching this disaster of a season, it’s nice to have a happy fantasy of a team making progress to warm yourself with during the offseason. However, if you really look at the Denver game, it provides even more reasons for sadness than for joy. Let’s start with Derrick Johnson. Two interceptions returned for touchdowns, five tackles and one assist. A great day by any measure, and it came at a position that has been a weakness on the defense all season long. Which begs the question: why was DJ sitting on the bench all season when the starting linebackers weren’t getting the job done?

Next we move on to Bernard Pollard who had an interception, a fumble recovery, five tackles and one assist… for the Houston Texans. Pollard was cut at the beginning of the year for no apparent reason other than, well, we really don’t know why actually, but he was cut, and now he plays for Houston, and we have a gaping hole at safety – which, coincidentally, is where Pollard played. So basically what the Denver game tells us about the Chiefs defense is that the teams’ best defensive players at two positions that were dramatic weaknesses were either benched or cut because the coach decided to throw multiple hissy fits. How many other players who should have been starting didn’t see play for the same reasons? We don’t know, but being able to point out two obvious examples with such ease, its likely there were more instances of this.

Now on to the offense. Jamaal Charles had a great day, a historic day, and didn’t fumble once, which is sort of historic in and of itself. I don’t think his numbers would have been nearly as good if the Broncos had actually managed to show up for the game, but good players are supposed to dominate in situations like that, and it’s nice that Charles did. That said, the Chiefs really need to get another back to supplement Charles or they’re going to end up with another LJ/Priest situation where they’ve got a dominating back who’s hurt a fair amount and done after 2-3 years of excellence. And just so this paragraph actually gets to some kind of point, expecting this kind of performance out of Charles on a regular basis is crazy. A 4.5-5.0 yds/carry average with 0-1 fumbles a game is more in line with what we can realistically expect from him going forward.

Matt Cassel continues to inexplicably earn more money than Best Buy while playing like Circuit City. The guy throws one of the most uncatchable balls I’ve ever seen. Seriously, I don’t know if there’s a stat or metric for this but it just seems like ¾ of Cassel’s passes are about a foot off the mark. I don’t know if this is his fault or the receivers’, but something is seriously wrong there. I think this has something to do with the high number of drops, although by and large, the Chiefs’ receivers do suck. Although the musical chairs Haley plays with the position as apparently directed by his Ouija Board certainly don’t help matters. I think Cassel would be a very nice backup QB, much like Brodie Croyle, and I think that casting him as a starter is just a horrible, horrible mistake that the entire organization is suffering for now. I mean, for heaven’s sake, the guy has had three games where he completed less than half his passes and six games where he averaged less than five yards per attempt. Those numbers are positively Jamarcusian.

A good reality check for where this team stands at the end of year one of the Pioli/Haley rebuilding project is to compare it to the team as it stood at the end of the Peterson/Edwards era (ie last year). At the end of last year the team had a new Arrowspread offense in place tailored to the skills of a young, raw (extremely raw), QB guided by a veteran offensive coordinator with head coaching experience. At the end of this year the team has just hired a veteran offensive coordinator to build a new-ish offense around the skills of a young-ish QB. At the end of last year the team had a young secondary that looked to be full of breakout stars. At the end of this year the team has a young secondary that looks to be full of breakout stars – except at safety which is now a gaping hole. At the end of last year the team had a suspect offensive line that seemed to play better after the QB change and the implementation of the spread. At the end of this year the team has a suspect offensive line that seemed to play better after the change at RB and the accompanying shift in the offense. At the end of last year the team had an unhappy, washed up running back and an all-pro TE. At the end of this year the team has a young, exciting RB and several all-no TEs. At the end of last year the team had a crazy washed up egotistical GM who loved leather trench coats way more than any man should. At the end of this year the team has a crazy young egotistical GM who loves making trades with his father in law way more than any man should. At the end of last year the team had a head coach who gave goofy press conferences and was widely respected around the league and widely disliked in KC. At the end of this year the team has a head coach who is widely mocked around the league after firing his offensive coordinator at the end of the preseason.

The point of all this is pretty simple. For every area where you can point to progress on this team, you can point to several more where there isn't progress or where there has been backsliding. For every positive development (No more LJ!) there are negative ones (Lance Long? No more Chan Gailey?) The really troubling thing about all of this though, is that almost all of the problematic developments stem from erratic behavior on the part of the head coach and front office. That’s the kind of thing that’s likely to continue and get worse, not better, as time goes on.

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