2011 Kansas City Chiefs Preview

What produces a good team?  Is it based upon the accumulation of top shelf talent or can you coach a lesser talented team with top shelf coaching?  Head Coach Todd Haley put together a staff with 3 former head coaches with multiple Super Bowl rings from the 00’s Patriots and 1980s New York Giants. Did you know that current defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel has 5 Super Bowl rings?  Yet is overlooked when it comes to credit in formulating defensive gameplans and getting the most out of moderate talent.  The Chiefs lost Charlie Weiss, who went back to the college ranks with the Florida Gators.  Yet the offense he leaves behind was the sparkplug that powered this team to a 10-6 record and the AFC West Divisional Crown.  Haley, who was the former offensive coordinator for the 2008 NFC Champion Cardinals, should have more of a hand in the play calling.  Can the Chiefs improve on the rapid rise and improvement shown in 2010?  Has the talent on this team developed enough to take the next step?

Quarterback: Time to enter the confessional: How many of you were thinking Matt Cassel was the second coming of Scott Mitchell or Rob Johnson? Quarterbacks who filled in for an injured starter, played well, parlayed it into a big free agent contract, then faltered with his new team. Well after a lukewarm 2009 in which Cassel tossed 16 TDs and 16 interceptions, he improved dramatically in his single season under Weiss. Cassel tossed 27 TDs with only 7 interceptions while moving his passer rating to a respectable 8th in the NFL. His improvement from 69.9 in 2009, to 93 was the best turnaround in all of pro football.  These numbers even top his 2008 campaign when he filled in for Tom Brady and led the Patriots to a surprising 11-5 season, which included a 5 game winning streak to conclude the season. Going into his 7th season,, he is entering his prime as a signal caller. One way to get to Cassel is to rush him from his front side.  He seems to throw the ball away or pull it down prematurely at times when he has a split second to complete the throw.  Even though he’s intelligent enough to know when to throw it away, this contributed to his ranking of 18th in passing yards per attempt (6.9yd avg.) along with his dumpoffs. He’s a little quick to move his feet from a throwing position.  So time your front side overload blitzes and jump his short routes when you do.  The Ravens were affective with this in last year’s wildcard playoff loss. Otherwise he can play action pass the Chiefs to efficient drives and to narrow wins. Arrowhead stadium has its most effective quarterback since Len Dawson and quarterback is good in Kansas City.

Offensive Backfield:  This team is set at running back with the continued development of Jamaal Charles. Entering his 4th season he is averaging a whopping 6.0 yards per carry over 3 seasons. His 1,467 yards last year was 2nd in the NFL while snaring 45 receptions for another 468 yards, scoring 8 times overall. His yards per reception average of 10.4 shows you can’t discount Charles in the passing game.  You had better bring some healthy, in shape linebackers to  play Kansas City or you might be in for a long day. At 5’11 199 lbs., it was thought by some that Charles may not be tough enough between the tackles, coming into the NFL.  Last year showed his 1,100 yard season in 2009 was no fluke. He started only 5 games last year and the Chiefs are doing the right thing playing him with 2 backs sharing the workload otherwise Charles might break down.  This keeps Charles fresh and allows him to break big plays once the Chiefs opponents start to wear down. Many good years ahead for this talent from Texas.

One thing we can’t come to grips with at the Taylor Blitz Times is why teams have let Thomas Jones go when he has been so productive? The last two stops he was let go by teams fearing he’d get old on them and not perform which is nuts if you see this guy out of uniform.  In his last year with the Bears in 2006, he led the Bears to the Super Bowl rushing for 1,210 yards. He even ran for 112 yards in Super Bowl XLI, which was the first time since Thurman Thomas in Super Bowl XXV to do so. In his last year with the Jets in 2009, he rushed for 1,402  yards and 14 TDs, leading the Jets to the AFC Championship game.  Then released after those two years?? Are you kiddin’ me? Its no coincidence that Jones physical running style embodied the attitude of his team’s offense on a 3rd successive team that made the playoffs.  Last year was the first time in 6 years Jones didn’t cross the 1,000 yard threshold finishing with 896.

First glance at his 3.7 yard average per rush, you’d think he was slowing down when in reality he carried the ball in all obvious running situations.  The Chiefs may benefit themselves by not telegraphing that they are always going to run when Jones is on the field.  Make no mistake that Jones is in the twilight of his career. Yet this is an extreme physical specimen who keeps himself in great shape with a body weight lifters could be proud of. So even at the age of 32 we expect him to have at least two good years left in him with the current situation.  With teams focusing a little more on Cassel, WR Bowe, and first round draft pick in Pitt wideout Jonathon Baldwin, expect him to cross the 1,000 yard threshold yet again.  As a matter of fact the Chiefs may post the first 1,000 yard rushing tandem in AFC West history.  Rushing the football over 500 times last year, yikes. At running back, Kansas City is Super Bowl quality…better bring some linebackers with “big boy” pads on to play them too.

Receivers: The Chiefs wanted to ensure that teams couldn’t concentrate solely on Dewayne Bowe last year by running effectively, and this year by drafting him a running mate in Pitt’s Jonathon Baldwin.  As for Bowe, he had an explosive year pulling in 72 receptions for 1,162 yards and 15 TDs.  A physical specimen at 6’2 221lbs with good speed, is only going into his 5th season and should be there for the Chiefs for years to come.  With a strong running game to force more 8 man fronts Bowe had a field day against undersized DBs. With the addition of 6’4 228 lbs Baldwin, the Chiefs will field one of football’s largest set of receivers. They will be a team that can move the chains yet we have to see how Bowe comes back after this lockout.  If he’s worked out fiendishly so that his hamstrings hold up, he will be the deep threat with Baldwin the itermediate target. With wideouts this big Oakland had better think twice about Namedi getting out of town as a corner.

The Chiefs are serviceable at TE with Leonard Pope and Tony Moeaki combining for 57 receptions and 5 TDs. Its hard to think of that being productive after Tony Gonzalez manned this spot for so long but these guys are better blockers.  Also 3rd down back Dexter McCluster ate into some of this group’s production running the up and under routes that the tight end would usually run.  With some of the division’s defenses in flux, this should be a good receiving group in Kansas City.

Offensive Line: After leading the NFL in rushing attempts (556), rushing yards (2,627), and finishing tied for 4th in rushing attempts with a 4.7 yards per carry average, this team comes off the ball with consistency.  The seven man sled is alive and well in Kansas City practices.  This team had 72 runs of over 10 yards or more and pushed for first downs on 3rd or 4th and 2, 73% of the time up the gut. Coach Haley has to love that!  How they only had one Pro Bowl lineman in LG Brian Waters is embarrassing.  As always it takes the league 1 year after a performance to recognize emerging talent.  With a heavy dose of running the football, you have to say RG Ryan Lilja and RT Barry Richardson are getting the job done.  They are in their 7th and 3rd years respectively and should be able to maintain their level of play for the foreseeable future.

One of the ways to get after the Kansas City offensive line is to get on top of this team by 7 or more points.  Since they are a heavy run offense they aren’t conditioned to come back or protect the quarterback for extended drives consisting of a majority of passing.  This team ranked 12th in the NFL allowing 32 sacks, and 18th allowing 74 hits on the quarterback.  So they are better suited in pushing off the ball than they are at protecting the passer.  With this line I’d definitely overload blitz in the face of Matt Cassell who gets the ball out a tad early which couples with the tendency that he gets hit a lot on dropbacks.  All told this team has a lot of leads and stays committed to the run so they don’t fall too far behind.  Offensive line is superior in Kansas City and may be a shade better than New England.

Defensive Line: Surprisingly the Chiefs aren’t getting the return they had originally envisioned in DE Glenn Dorsey out of LSU.  This is partially the team’s fault for drafting a 3 technique 4-3 tackle then converting to a 3-4 defense the next season.  He got caught in the middle, just ask former Green Bay Packer DE Aaron Kampman.  Now that isn’t an excuse for an anemic showing with only 2 sacks in nickle situations when they employ 4 man fronts, but he isn’t effective as a DE.  The Chiefs should trade him to a team committed at a 4-3 defense like Chicago, Minnesota, Atlanta, or home to New Orleans and getting something in return.  His build is conducive to be a “rooter”, to shove the middle of a pass pocket and not come from the additional 3 yards away at DE. Since the Chiefs are 14th in rushing yards allowed and average with 1,764 and 4.3 respectively they could use more help on this line.

The combined 5.5 sacks amongst the front 3 needs to be higher, especially for a defense that should be that rested on a team that ran the most in the NFL. DT Ron Edwards and DE Shaun Smith are decent players yet could improve as pass rushers.  The issue is that in year’s 9 and 6 respectively, this is as good as they will be and play for the aging Edwards could slip. To that avail the Chiefs drafted specimen Allen Bailey from Miami to help with that interior push.  The question is where will they play him.  He seems suitable to rush from the inside on nickle and dime packages with his explosion and strength. He should be able to play special teams to keep him engaged in games but again his body type doesn’t lend to a DE, maybe part time DT. He could be disruptive if he learns to fight better with his hands.  The defensive line is slightly below average yet it could make a few strides this season if Bailey disrupts on 3rd down.

Linebackers: The Patriots flat out gave Scott Pioli and the Chiefs brass a gift when they traded Mike Vrabel to them.  A heady linebacker who’s veteran leadership and 3 Super Bowl rings give him the locker room clout to have the ear of his younger teammates. He has shown invaluable in helping the Chiefs grow up fast under Romeo Crennel’s watch.  He is showing signs of wear in not making any splash plays but he just made the right ones yet father time may be catching this 14th year vet. Star of this defense is Tamba Hali closing in at the right side OLB spot.  The Chiefs were hoping he’d improve on his 2009 and he didn’t disappoint charting 14.5 sacks (1st in AFC) and second in the league to DeMarcus Ware with 15. Hali forced 4 fumbles, recovered 2 and knocked down 3 passes and should have been to the Pro Bowl.  He’s only 27 years of age and has steadily improved with now 3 years with over 8 sacks.  Only going to get better.

Inside linebacker Derrick Johnson #56 led the team with 120 combined tackles and returned his only interception for a TD.  He gets to the football and along with Jovan Belcher’s 84 tackles this may be the best younger set of inside ‘backers in all of football.  Combined they had 2 sacks and 4 forced fumbles bringing some thump with their tackles.  Belcher was a rookie and Johnson is only entering his 6th season.  Couple that with the ages of the Jets and Raven’s inside tandem and this could be the AFC’s best within a year or two.  Linebacker is really good in Kansas City.

Secondary: Of all the playoff teams out of the AFC last year, the Chiefs were fair larsonists with 11 interceptions between their starters. They had solid play out of free safeties John McGraw and Kendrick Lewis who combined for 5 interceptions and benefitted from teams throwing away from Pro Bowl SS Eric Berry.  In 2010 Berry had 4 interceptions while making 87 tackles.  Of his 4 interceptions he did take one back for a pick 6 from 54 yards out.  This guy is a playmaker.  At the corner position, high draft pick Javier Arenas could only make the field in obvious passing situations as a nickle back. Why?? Ask the Chiefs brass about the play of corners Brandon Flower with 14passes defensed, and Brandon Carr’s 23.  An active group.  Now throw in Arenas’ 7 passes defensed and 1 interception to go along with the 2 Brandon’s 3 picks and teams had better not throw into this secondary.  With their top three corners all being 24 years old or less, this is the best secondary fielded by the Chiefs since the million dollar secondary of Kevin Ross, Albert Lewis, Lloyd Burrus, and Deron Cherry of mid to late 80s fame.  Superior is the only grade to be given out here and if this team can get another pass rusher to force more errant throws….yikes!!

Overall: Still the best in the AFC West, and if they could take something from the intensity they faced in the wild card round against Baltimore, this team could be headed to the AFC Championship Game or beyond.  Last year early on the question was were they as good as their 3-0 record. They weren’t.  They were better as evidenced by their 5-2 stretch to win the division crown when the pressure was on at the end of the season.  As strong as they are in the phases of running the football and defending the pass, if they get a lead its curtains.  They are well coached and they could make a conference splash this year if age shows up in Pittsburgh and Baltimore.  A team with no obvious weaknesses that has to see Head Coach Haley scout himself and not get pass happy with another big target opposite Bowe. He could get flashbacks to his offensive co ordinator days with the Arizona Cardinals and take to the air.

Careful Coach Haley, you have a good thing building in Kansas City and this team could make a Super Bowl run in these next two seasons.  One of the chances for this team to see growth is in week 10 with a Monday night matchup in New England.  Kansas City comes through with a win there in a championship building block game, this team could be the AFC’s sleeper.  I know that sounds crazy to say of a possible two time division champion, but they are not the sexy pick and most pundits would list them as the 5th or 6th best AFC team. They should finish with a record of 11-5 or 12-4 with another AFC West Title. Plenty of bar-b-que and handwarmers come playoff time in Kansas City.

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2011 Steelers Preview

Welcome to the casual Friday version of the Taylor Blitz Times.  Time to look at what the Steelers have to address as we look into the crystal ball and figure what this team needs to address going into 2011.  While it’s true Pittsburgh has made it to 3 Super Bowls in 5 years they do have a few things to address.   The Steelers have another solid year of being clearly better than all but Baltimore in their division.  The Browns are improving and the Bengals aren’t sure if they are coming or going, especially with the ongoing Carson Palmer saga.  Yet a closer look and there are some positions where the Steelers are showing age and wear.  This can haunt a team that is used to winning close games for a fickle bounce of the ball one way late can turn what would have been a win into a loss.  So lets get started.

Quarterback: Big Ben Roethlisberger, who doesn’t play according to the quarterback ratings system and doesn’t seem to be a polished passer.  He’s not in the Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Peyton Manning class right? Thats perception until you look at the actual numbers. In 2010 Roethlisberger threw for 17 TDs and only 5 interceptions and had a passer rating of 97.0.  His TD to interception ratio is as good as any QB in the NFL.  His never give up on a play attitude does lead to some sacks and turnovers but it also leads to breathtaking plays like the 59 yard bomb to rookie Antonio Brown, with 2 minutes to go in the divisional playoff with the Ravens.  His comebacks are more schizophrenic than artistic yet his statistics are starting to show he belongs in the upper echelon of quarterbacks.

Going into his 7th season Ben is clearly in his prime.  In 2009 he threw for over 4,300 yards and 26tds a season after throwing for a career high 32tds in 2007.  Scrambling and making plays has masked a deficient running game a few years back and now a suspect offensive line.  You have to give him credit he’s a winner.  He had an off game early in Super Bowl XLV against the Packers, yet battled back in that one as well.   Still on the upswing…

Offensive Backfield: The Steelers are set for the forseeable future with Mendenhall.  A physical runner with quick, patient feet.  No running back in football defines his team with his style of play.  Although he’s had back to back 1,100 yard seasons, 1,273 in 2010, and he’s done so behind a patchwork offensive line  which needs to be improved.  Could challenge for a rushing title behind a better line. Entering his 4th season, he’s proven durable and may have his best season.  He wants to make good after his 4th quarter Super Bowl fumble and you know he’s living with it this entire off-season.  Look for him to come into 2011 with a serious chip on his shoulder.  Mewelde Moore is a capable backup and can fill in for Mendenhall in spells yet is better as a back on screens and draws than off tackle plays.   A little of Mendenhall has rubbed off on Moore who has run with more authority since Rashard’s arrival.

Offensive Line: A beleaguered group did hit a good note with the drafting of center Maurkice Pouncey.  He can anchor the Steelers line for many years to come.  Where there are issues is when you move out to Tackle.  Flozell Adams was only a stop gap measure for the injuries to both Willie Colon and Max Starks.  The Ravens Terrell Suggs had 3 sacks against this line in the divisional playoff also.  When healthy, Starks has problems with quicker pass rushing ends and linebackers anyway.  Look to the Steelers to draft some help here.

Contrary to popular belief, this line doesn’t get as much push in the running game as it seems.  They have benefited from Mendenhall breaking tackles and making them look better than they have played.  Much like Roethlisberger’s scrambles have helped their sack numbers.  In the Super Bowl you could see this when Mendenhall was hit in the backfield 6 times on rushing plays including the critical 4th quarter fumble that sealed the Steelers fate.  More and more drives depend on Ben making a play to keep drives alive than the Steelers powering the ball down opponents throats.  That deficiency clearly comes from this line not getting much push.   Need a serious upgrade and should use 2 draft picks here.

Receivers: After the loss of Santonio Holmes, I for one, thought this would be a weakness that would come back to haunt the Steelers.  The emergence of Mike Wallace, who was a Pro Bowl snub, more than made up for Holmes departure.  Wallace’s performance?  60 receptions for 1,257 yards and 10 touchdowns with a whopping 21 yards per reception and no Pro Bowl? Come on man!  This deep, threat entering his third year, played better than expected and compliments Big Ben’s scrambling to put fear in rival defenses and will only get better.  Rookie Antonio Brown started to emerge as the playoffs neared and should replace Randle El.  He showed explosive speed as well and was a jolt to the Steelers special teams and will come into year 2 brimming with confidence.

Hines Ward has really slowed, he looked like a tight end through much of last year.  He’s been a durable Hall of Fame receiver who may retire before we get to the 2011 season. The Steelers will need to develop a possession receiver or move to more 2 tight ends if Ward doesn’t come back.  If he does look to teams running man under coverage and smothering him on underneath routes because he can’t get deep.  He may need to be platooned and come out in certain situations. He’s slowed too much.  At tight end Matt Spaeth and Heath Miller are the best one – two punch in football. Each block and are sure handed underneath receivers and bail Ben out on those 3rd and 4 scrambles.   At receiver, the Steelers are really in good shape.

Defensive Line: Although this team was one of history’s most stout defensive fronts, this team can become old and give up yards in a hurry like the Steel Curtain of the 70’s did in 1980.  DE Aaron Smith enters his 13th year along with fellow DE Brett Keisel going into his 10th.  At NT, you have Casey Hampton entering his 11th season while his backup Chris Hoke is going into his 10th…Yikes!! They could be on the verge of a defensive collapse. They really had no affect in Super Bowl XLV.  They did draft Ziggy Hood who has been a little more consistent as of late but 2011 could be the last hurrah with fingers crossed that 2010 wasn’t for this group.  Face it from halftime of the AFC Championship game against the New York Jets on through the Super Bowl, this group was non existent.  The Packers and Jets ran when they wanted to.  Watchout…seriously

Linebackers: Don’t look now but the Steelers are getting a little long in the tooth at inside linebacker also.  James Farrior has quietly been one of football’s best ILBs for the last six years.  He’s been a consumate pro since he came over from the NY Jets yet he’s entering his 15th season.  The Steelers brought back Larry Foote who played well last year and he’s entering his 10th season while they’re backup Keyaron Fox is entering his 8th.  Fox also had a dumb personal foul call on the kickoff before the Steelers final drive that pushed them back to a point of desperation in the Super Bowl.  The Steelers need to draft here to prepare for the enevitable.

At outside linebacker this team couldn’t be more set with former NFL Defensive Player of the Year in James Harrison and LaMarr Woodley.  The best set of outside linebackers in football bar none.  Even if one of them goes down, the Steelers have Lawrence Timmons out of Florida State, whom they play out of position as a nickel inside linebacker just to get him on the field.  Harrison and Woodley are stout against the run and rush the passer as well as any set of linebackers in history.  Their disappearance in Super Bowl XLV was puzzling….Woodley, Farrior, and Harrison combined for only 7 tackles in that football game.  The Packers handled this team at the line of scrimmage and no one was used to that.  Need to draft some inside linebacker help….

Secondary: The word for today kids is exposure.  LOL  Ike Taylor and William Gay were struggling to chase down Greg Jennings and Jordy Nelson in the Super Bowl.  Do you realize had Jordy held onto the 3 passes he dropped he would have broken Jerry Rice’s Super Bowl receiving record for yardage?  This bunch got scorched once the pass rush was stymied.  Need legitimate help here. Taylor is a free agent and may leave, barring the team that tries to sign him not look at the Super Bowl footage, yet I digress.  a stat was floating around that this was the 22nd best defensive backfield as a group yet it was the corners who were the Achilles heal.  Help needed immediately

For the safeties are the best in football as a tandem in NFL Defensive Player of the Year Troy Polamalu and Ryan Clark out of LSU.  However how long can these two play at such a high level?  Polamalu is going into year 9 and Clark is going into year 10 and the pounding is taking its toll on Troy who has missed 5 games in the last two seasons due to injury.  He rushed to come back and wasn’t the same player and you saw he couldn’t get to the corner to stop Aaron Rodgers throws over the corner.  Troy just couldn’t get there.  When healthy he is the most instinctive defensive players in the NFL and will go to the Hall of Fame.  Has his physical style of play rendered his body to the point he can’t complete a full season anymore?? Hmmm??

Draft, draft, draft!!  There are some needs everywhere from both the offensive and defensive lines, the inside linebacker position and cornerback. Age can really hit this team all at once.  Although its not likely they just have to prepare.  This is that last season where they are clearly better than the rest of the division.  They are about to transition into being more of an offensive football team than that of a defensive one.   The defense will need to be rebuilt in 2012. The Steelers have to get younger.