The Man On The Gridiron, Masked
Sometimes, taking a closer look is all you need in order to feel better about the Chiefs. However, when it comes to finding positives regarding the Quarterback, it might require a magnifying glass.
Perhaps we've been too hard on Matt Cassel.
What I mean to say is... well yeah, the guy is pretty bad. Let's at least be honest for a moment, though: this season's hope was that with elite weaponry in place he could excel despite his many deficiencies. There was talk of "Killer B's" and a stacked backfield; Peter King was comparing Tony Moeaki to Dallas Clark. Thanks to some devastating injuries, Cassel has not been able to enjoy the full complement of players he was supposed to be provided.
Don't get me wrong, he's supposed to be an NFL quarterback. In all reality, if this team is built in the likeness of the New England Patriots then Cassel's arsenal should have no bearing on his production.
But he's no Tom Brady - that much is clear. What he is, however, is still undefined.
Here's what we know: at best, the Quarterback of the Kansas City Chiefs is a role player. That is not a ringing endorsement - nor is it an indictment on his ability to win games at the NFL level. Regardless, the diagnosis seems grim when considering the circumstances... he's 29 years old, has a career completion percentage below 60 and has lost 25 of his 49 starts as a professional.
A quick look at the tape will show that what Cassel truly lacks is confidence.
There are a number of Quarterbacks that have the ability to "throw receivers open" by simply using their God-given talent - think Aaron Rogers, Jay Cutler and Matt Stafford. On the other hand, there's a larger group of guys that have enough faith in their abilities that they're willing to at least try - see: Tony Romo, Eli Manning and Matt Schaub.
Then you have Cassel: a man with such moderate arm strength and accuracy that he lacks the fortitude to consider risky throws. Sure, coaching has a say in terms of risk-management, but the Quarterback is still the man that distributes the ball.
By now you're sick of hearing that the Chiefs are without three starting skill players, all of whom were expected to make major contributions offensively. I'd be willing to wager you're even less interested in watching the Chiefs offense sputter through games, hamstrung by arguably the most important player at any position in professional sports.
Well, Chiefs fans... I've got news for you: get comfortable. Not only is Matt Cassel's contract exceedingly more affordable over the next two-plus seasons, he once again has a built-in excuse for this lack of competency.
Additionally, with Scott Pioli making all the major personnel decisions, one has to keep the plan in mind.
Surprisingly enough, the plan is relatively simple... it just also happens to require masking the ineptitude of their starting Quarterback.
Today's match-up with Indianapolis should be a step in the right direction, if for no other reason than having an active John Baldwin. His presence alone changes the game plan at least a bit, hopefully leading to a more balanced and efficient attack.
Once again, the Chiefs game plan on offense will likely refrain from taking five and seven step drops. While it does eliminate most of the deep developing pass routes, it should also extinguish the Colts' talented pass rushing duo of Dwight Freeney and Robert Mathis. Rumor has it the Colts could only have two active defensive tackles, so expect a healthy dose of downhill running. Guys like Le'Ron McClain and Jackie Battle should see their highest carry totals of the season.
Defensively, Kansas City could have a field day given the injuries to Indy's offensive line. I feel very comfortable predicting another step forward for Tyson Jackson, even if it has to come at the hands of inferior competition. Without Manning under center, the Colts' offense has changed dramatically in ways the un-trained eye might not have noticed. Dallas Clark has been almost invisible, though a lot of that has to do with helping a depleted offensive line. Meanwhile, Joseph Addai has rarely been seeing passes out of the backfield despite being a very talented receiver. More often than not, the running backs have been kept in to block - another result of the injuries they've suffered up front.
What to Watch For:
1. Turnover Ratio - the Chiefs cannot afford to make mistakes, especially against a team as bad as the Colts. The defense, when opportunistic, can be quite good. Kansas City's dismal -5 ratio is a hole they'll have to gradually climb out of and today's game should present multiple chances to do so.
2. Third Downs - these teams are 16-51 and 16-52 on third down (un)respectively... good for (insert a number in the 30's) place in the league. Someone is going to have success on Sunday, you can count on it.
3. Penalties - Kansas City has a disciplined group when things are going well... however, frustration usually leads to a bone-headed play or two that can sometimes change the complexion of the game. If the offense gets off to a slow start or the Colts are moving the ball well, the Chiefs must maintain their composure. At least once in each of the first four games, we've seen drives killed on offense and extended on defense due to silly fouls.
4. Adaptation - it took a bit longer than we hoped, but the Chiefs figured out the right formula against the Vikings and began having success in the second half. When things aren't going the way you planned, some of the preparation needs to be tossed-out. The Chiefs cannot be stubborn in their attack with the offense well below full strength, so in-game adjustments will almost always be required.
5. Swagger - if the Chiefs walk into Lucas Oil with the attitude that they are the better team, it will undoubtedly result in a win. There's just something about confidence in this league - it goes a hell of a long way... unless you're the Philadelphia Eagles.
6. John Baldwin - multiple coaches mentioned that he will be required to play special teams in addition to his offensive reps. If he is on coverage units, it will be interesting to see whom he replaces. Jeremy Horne has made an outstanding impact in both the coverage and return units since his promotion to the active roster. We'll need to see that same kind of fire from Baldwin if he plans on impressing anyone in his first NFL action.
In what should prove to be another slow-developing game, the Chiefs have another opportunity to chisel away at the ugly start to the season. The NFL and NBA are similar in that it doesn't necessarily take a great defense to win games; it just takes getting a couple stops in the 4th quarter. Thanks to Curtis Painter and a makeshift offensive line, that should not be trouble for Kansas City.
Chiefs 23 - Colts 16 - Ryan 38 (in-game tweets)