A football team is a lot like a tree. No seriously, play along with me here. A football team is like a tree in a number of ways. Often times, both are strong, deeply rooted objects firmly implanted in one specific place. Dependent upon on location, and how this tree (or team) is tended to, it can either flourish and become a mighty, leafy beast full of life and vigor, or it can die a slow, painful death due to neglect and oversight.
Any arborist will tell you it’s possible to nurse an ill tree back to health with proper care, and the same can be said about a football team. Though injuries may decimate, a general manager and his coaching staff have the ability to bandage the lightning strikes, to eradicate the borers and help the tree live to its fullest potential. The question is, eight games in, how is the Chiefs’ tree doing?
The Quarterback/ The Hawk: D-
Matt Cassel’s bi-polar passing attack is terrifying. From the highest of highs—last year’s pro-bowl appearance and fantastic TD-to-INT ratio— to the lowest of lows—this year’s litany of head-shakingly awful performances, you’re never certain which Matt Cassel will show up on Sunday. Will he protect the tree from predatorial assault, or will he spastically flip-out and peck off the face of his children? It’s anyone’s guess.
Frankly speaking, he’s been terrible through eight games. Oh sure, he’s had some encouraging performances—21 of 29 for 257 yards, 4 TD’s with no picks against a lousy Colts’ team—but for the most part, he hasn’t become the player that many thought he would be when he was generously gifted $63 million. A lot of pessimists like to proclaim that “Kansas City will never win a playoff game with Matt Cassel as quarterback.” I don’t think this is necessarily true. It seems unlikely, sure, but stranger things have definitely happened in this league. I’m completely comfortable saying that the Chiefs will never be a consistent threat with him at the helm, however; he’s simply too erratic. One moment he’s protecting the ball and making efficient decisions, the next, he’s squirting white-diarrhea all over the windshield of your recently washed car.
We’ve seeing the worst of Hawk Cassel this season (I hope), and it has quickly become apparent that we desperately need a new quarterback.
The Running Game/ The Nest: D
Plenty has been written about the loss of Jamaal Charles. There’s no point in whining about it anymore. The Chiefs had one of the best running backs in the league; now they do not. Bemoaning this fact is like pontificating what life would be like with Christian Okoye in the backfield next week against the Broncos… it’s a moot point. And so you move on, and, like some magnificent, industrious falcon, you build your new nest with the choicest twigs, clothing scraps and plastic bags that you can find.
Yes, I just insinuated that the Chiefs’ running game is composed of twigs, plastic bags and t-shirt scraps.
The T-Shirt Scrap:
Thomas Jones is old, and it’s starting to show. He is your genuine, threadbare, 1976 Bob Seger “Night Moves” tour t-shirt that could possibly disintegrate if subjected to a spin-cycle. Your wife begs you to throw it out, but there’s too much nostalgia trapped in those permanent pit stains. I like Jones, and he deserves props for playing at the level he did for as long as he did, but he just doesn’t have it anymore. He can’t find holes. His first step is slow. He’s getting gang-tackled on seemingly every play, after picking up only a smidgeon of yards. It could be worse, I suppose. He could be Le’Ron McClain (though McClain—averaging 2.0 yards-per-carry—does have a touchdown. Oh, SNAP!).
Dexter McCluster is a really speedy scarecrow. I don’t know how else to put it. When he gets into space, he’s dangerous. He would be a really, really outstanding flag football player. The problem is, people like to tackle in the NFL. And when someone gets a paw on him, he turns into London Bridge, pulverized into a fine dust of bone-particles and dreadlock.
The Plastic Bag:
Jackie Battle is… well, he’s a backup, folks. And I get that he’s been playing behind some stallions throughout most of his career, but now that he’s been given the starting job, it simply reaffirms my notion that he’d make a really solid number two (yep, “solid number 2”). I’m all for keeping Battle around as a nice change of pace back. He’s powerful and has good vision. But too much Battle is like a trip to the grocery store where you forget your reusable bags: it’s okay to do it once in awhile, but if you never invest in the reusable bags to begin with, you’re killing your running game one delayed-draw at a time.
The Wide Receivers/ The Murder of Crows: B
They’re sleek. They’re fast. They’re dangerous. Oh—and they’re all black, too. The wide receiving core—with a good-by-any-standard Dwayne Bowe and the recent additions of Steve Breaston and Jonathan Baldwin—is easily the most talented part of this team.
Bowe—who seemed to reach full transcendence last season—is having another fine campaign. Making Cassel look serviceable is an unenviable task, and he manages to do it well. Baldwin, who brought his diva-act to the preseason and promptly broke a digit trying to fight the Bob Seger t-shirt, has shown flashes of what he could easily become, if he can keep his head on straight (perhaps Bowe can—gasp—act as a role model?) And Breaston is Breaston. If he were a package delivery service, his motto might be, “Solid. Dependable. Breaston.”
Can you image what this group might look like if we had a good-to-great quarterback throwing to them? Well, probably like the 2008 NFC Champion Arizona Cardinals with Bowe playing the role of Larry Fitzgerald, Baldwin as Anquan Boldin and Steve Breaston in the rold he was born to play, Steve Breaston.
(You’ll note that I didn’t discuss the tight-ends here with the other receivers… this is because I’m fairly certain the Chiefs don’t HAVE tight-ends. Can somebody prove me wrong? And if you try to point out Leonard Pope’s 13 receptions, I will come to your house and put a real-life rattlesnake in your mailbox. Oh, and I’ll poop in it, too. Yep, so unless you want feces and a rattlesnake all over your Christmas card from aunt Diane, I suggest you shut up)
The Offensive Line/The Bark: C-
Bark is important. A tree without bark is chili without meat. Have you ever tried vegetarian chili? Okay, but I bet you didn’t try it again. A tree can’t survive without bark protecting it from pesticides, natural predators, inclement weather and fudge-packing elves hell-bent on churning out snack food. And this tree, unfortunately, has Cambial cankers (it’s a tree-thing, look it up).
The O-line—an interesting mix of the Old and the (not-so) Beautiful (Wiegmann, Lilja), the Yet-to-Live-Up-to-Potential (Albert, Asamoah) and the Low Risk /Low Reward (Richardson, your obese uncle Mike), have given up 18 sacks, 8th most in the AFC. That’s, well, average. And sure, some of those (actually, probably a lot) are on Cassel for being such a poor decision maker, but some of those are the fat middle-aged guys just getting flat-out beat.
Offensive Line performance is a hard thing to measure, and though I’m not going to begin to pretend that I understand how the quantification works, rush-protection measurement typically utilizes things like adjusted line yards, adjusted running back yards, and Power Success. In this regard, the Chiefs are 27th in the league. In passing, where things like adjusted sack rate is the metric, they’re 19th (and this was before Sunday’s 5 sack debacle which ASSUREDLY dropped them into the high 20’s).
Bottom line? The offensive line needs some extensive reworking come draft-time. No big surprise, right?
So there’s the summation for the offense. With the exception of the receivers, pretty poor. In tomorrow’s installment, we’ll take a look at the defense and special teams. Is it possible that they’re any worse? Well, maybe.
Come back to find out.