AFC West Preview: Kansas City Chiefs are an intriguing experiment for the NFL
The 2012 Kansas City Chiefs season is marked by an intriguing roster and also a very interesting experiment.
Top-to-bottom it is tough to find any holes on this Chiefs roster. Years of steady drafting have yielded some impressive results, with high draft picks at every position throughout the roster. First round picks Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson man the D-line. If all goes according to plan 2012′s 11th overall pick, Dontari Poe, will join them in the starting lineup soon enough. Behind the line are a pair of first-rounder linebackers with all-pro talent in pass rusher Tamba Hali and tackling machine Derrick Johnson. Manning the secondary are even more Pro Bowl calibre players – safeties Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis, and corner backs Brandon Flowers and Stanford Routt (Note: three of the four are Chief draft picks). On the offensive side of the ball the Chiefs sport a pair of first round wide receivers in Dwayne Bowe and Jonathan Baldwin, while draft picks Jamaal Charles and Dexter McCluster man the backfield. On the offensive line three of the projected starters are Kansas City originals. Of the Chiefs 22 projected starters 15 of them have been drafted by the team and not a single one of those players is 30 or older.
The best way to build a team is with strong drafting. For the Chiefs to have found so many capable starters in the last six seasons through the draft is rare, and these players have the Chiefs lined-up to contend for many seasons. Several of these draft picks are the handiwork of GM Scott Pioli who has preferred to stay quiet in the free agent market while letting his draft picks develop. One of the few impact moves that Pioli has made outside of the draft was to land a quarterback. In his first year on the job he traded a high second round pick to bring in quarterback Matt Cassel after he completed a big season in New England filling in for an injured Tom Brady. This is where we get to the experiment.
The Chiefs roster as it stands now has so many potential impact players that if the team can get solid play out of their quarterback they will be a tough team to keep out of this year’s post season. All of the pressure will fall on the Chiefs’ signal caller, but Matt Cassel is far from a sure thing. In three years with the Chiefs Cassel has played in 40 games but has only managed to compile an 18-22 record. His biggest success came in 2010 when he led his team to a 10-6 record and a post-season berth. This was his lone season with a winning record in a Chiefs uniform, and when we dig deeper into their 2010 schedule we see why this record might not be as impressive as at first glance. In that season KC was only 2-6 against their own division, but thanks to one of the easiest schedules in the league they were also matched up against the AFC South (2-2 record) and the NFC West (4-0 record – this also happened to be the season the NFC West sent a 7-9 team to the playoffs) and went 2-0 in their strength of schedule games.
All told, the Chiefs only had to play a total of three games against teams with a winning record (two against San Diego) and managed to go only 1-2. Kansas City also finished 30th in the league in passing in 2010 while ending the season #1 in rushing. Cassel wasn’t carrying the Chiefs as much as he was along for the ride.
Cassel doesn’t look impressive when we take a look at his raw quarterback stats either. He has never completed over 60% of his passes in a season for the Chiefs, and has only managed to go over 3,000 total yards once. His TD-INT ratio is +18, but that all comes from 2010 when he was +17. In his 40 career games he has failed to pass for 200 yards 22 times and hasn’t even hit the 150 yard marker in 10 of those games – the Chiefs have only managed a 1-9 record in these games. These are almost unheard of numbers in the current NFL and they usually end up finding the player on the bench. But in his three years in Kansas City, Cassel has never been sat down for poor play.
In fairness to Cassel’s passing numbers he is not always asked to throw the ball around a ton in the Kansas City system. The Chiefs love to pound the ball on the ground and there is reason to think the run game will be more effective than ever this year in KC. It is shocking to look back on now, but in Jamaal Charles’ breakout 2010 season he didn’t even receive the most carries of any back on the team. That honour went to Thomas Jones who averaged only 3.7 yards per carry that season. This year the Chiefs have found a perfect complementary back to Charles by bringing in bruising tailback Peyton Hillis as a free agent. Hillis might not even be the most important free agent signing for the Chiefs offense this year either.
Right tackle Eric Winston was released this offseason from the Houston Texans for salary cap reasons. During his stint in Houston, Winston proved to be a dominating run blocker who helped the Texans achieve one of the most prolific run games in the league. He will be an upgrade over one of Kansas City’s weakest positions last year and will bring balance to their run game.
These free agent acquisitions are a clear sign from Pioli that he believes his team is ready to contend now. The Chiefs suffered several devastating injuries to key starters last season which derailed their season before it could even start. Three players (including Charles) will be returning from leg injuries this season, added to the three projected free agent starters Pioli has signed and that is six new players added to an already deep roster full of first round talent.
The question is: What do you get when you take a roster loaded with pro-bowl talent at nearly every position and hand the keys of the offense to a below average quarterback?
Matt Cassel has done everything he can in his career to prove to the Chiefs that he is at best a league average starter. The Chiefs have chosen to ignore these warnings and enter the 2012 season with Cassel as the only viable starting QB option on the team. The depth of talent on this team is too rich for them to fall apart. I expect the Chiefs to contend for the division lead all year-long. Because of the tough schedule every team in the AFC West faces this season, the division will be packed in tightly right until season’s end, too.
In the final few weeks when the importance of every game is immense can you really trust Matt Cassel to keep up with the likes or Peyton Manning or even Phillip Rivers? I don’t think I can and that is why I have to pick against the Chiefs to take the division crown in 2012.
If Matt Cassel doesn’t like it he will get his chance to prove his doubters wrong. On the last day of the regular season Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos host the Chiefs in the game that could decide the 2012 AFC West Champ. Good Luck.
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