Monday, September 29, 2008

Suicide Watch Is Over for Chiefs Fans

Time ticked off the clock in Arrowhead Stadium and the Chiefs were on the right side of a 33-19 score against the hated Broncos. Thousands of Chiefs fans and myself slowly backed off the ledge. In my last post I compared rooting for bad sports teams to being in a bad relationship. The Chiefs of late had made me pondering crazy thoughts like divorce. Well the Chiefs sent me balloons, one of those cute teddy bears that says "I'm Beary Sorry" and a dozen roses. To beat the loathsome Broncos to break the 12 game losing streak is even sweeter.

I have been smiling since 3 p.m. yesterday and it would take something pretty catastrophic to wipe it from my face. The Chiefs played with heart. They were fired up and responded everytime Denver mounted a comeback. I'm not sure what Cutler was thinking throwing across the field when he could have tucked the ball and ran for ten or more yards on the bootleg but we (Chiefs, Chiefs fans, coaches) will take it. Heart and desire to win can overcome talent deficiencies. Throw in some great individual performances from young players and this is the kind of growth everyone in Chiefs Nation wanted to see. It is one thing to lose, it is another thing to lose to awful teams and look lifeless doing so. The past two weeks the Chiefs looked lifeless. I'm not sure if it was Herm's long interviews and motivational talk this week, Larry Johnson meeting Jim Brown and being reminded why he's in the NFL or a good game plan by Gunther and Chan Gailey but we'll take it.

Return of the Play-Action Pass
Play-action passes work. They draw linebackers up and create separation for a receiving corps in need of whatever advantage they can get. What play-action also does is puts doubt in the defender's minds. I think this was a main component in the game that helped decide the outcome. When Huard would fake the handoff to LJ or Charles it was almost always a completion. I think Chan had been hesitant to use it earlier in the year because the downside of play-action is it takes an extra second to get a pass off. The inclusion of play-action passing was a much needed boost to help the offense.

Defensively the team flew to the football. A young fast team finally looked young and fast instead of just young. Brandon Carr is a stud. Even on the touchdown to Brandon Marshall, Carr had perfect technique and coverage. I maintain that no corner in the NFL could have stopped that play. It was perfectly thrown by Cutler to a leaping 6'4" receiver and despite under-cutting the route like Carr did and leaping he just couldn't do much about it. Flowers on the other side also had his moments but to me Carr covering Marshall was a key difference in the game. He reminds me a bit of James Hasty. I know it's a bit "hasty" (bad pun I know) to crown him a Pro Bowl cornerback but he has great instincts and is a big fast corner. Gunther Cunningham for all of this "Cover-2" talk from Herm is a man-to-man, in your face, rush the passer kind of defensive coordinator. He and Jim Johnson of the Eagles are from the same mold. They are gamblers and big play creators. I never get the feeling that Gunther is comfortable sitting in soft zones hoping his defense doesn't make a mistake. I prefer watching blitzing, attacking defenses. I think it plays well with a young fast defense to just attack and dont think. It seemed that KC had that mentality today.

My biggest question is will these young kids let down in Carolina in front of a hostile crowd against an all-world receiver in Steve Smith and a powerful running back in rookie Jonathan Stewart? The Chiefs will have to play with just as much fire as they showed yesterday to have a chance against a good Carolina team and this Sunday could go a long way in deciding just where this season is headed. Win or lose Chiefs Nation wants heart out of its players and the Panthers will provide a stern test.

I've backed off the ledge and the doctors say I'm not a danger to myself or others. That is good news and if the Chiefs could somehow sneak out of Carolina with a win I might be forever cured.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Devotion to Bad Teams Borders on Enabling a Bad Relationship

The Attraction
My love affair with the Chiefs began in 1989 when our high school football coach took us to a game in Arrowhead stadium. It was October 22nd, 1989 against the Dallas Cowboys. Coach Potts and one of his assistants were Cowboys fans so we heard all about the Cowboys on the way up. I had a passing interest in the Chiefs in the 80s but up to this point they didn't really ever stand out. Well the Chiefs under first year coach Marty Schottenheimer won that game 36-28 and my love for the Chiefs was born.

The Marriage
All through high school I followed the Kansas City Chiefs led by Derrick Thomas, Neil Smith, Dale Carter, Joe Montana, and Marcus Allen. I remember the game in Houston and the playoff win and the subsequent heart-breaking loss in Buffalo the following week. I have watched nearly every game since 1989 the Chiefs have played. Through great wins and heart-breaking playoff losses I watched. I started to assume with Marty at the helm that the playoffs were just something the Chiefs did every year. I took it for granted in the same way I'm sure Atlanta Braves or Yankees fans did when their team went to the playoffs year after year. They were commonly the bridesmaids but never the bride, but I was passionate about them all the same.

Now twenty years after Marty Schottenheimer's first season coaching the Chiefs we are sitting on a twelve consecutive game losing streak. It's the kind of losing I just don't remember from the Chiefs. They were one of the winningest teams in the 90s. They were at least respectable in parts of the 2000s but here we are back to Jack Steadman's Chiefs. Part of me wants it to hit 16 games so that it's a nice even full season.

Everyone knows someone or was/is personally involved in a terrible relationship. The relationship started well but you could always see problems. It's like that significant other that turned out to be an alcoholic or an insecure control freak. When you first met them they were cute, had a good laugh and looked like they were going somewhere. You hooked up and then realized they only have a good laugh when they were drinking. They had serious character flaws like a nasty temper or a penchant for being irreresponsible. You stayed faithful hoping that if you loved them enough they would reward you in turn. You constantly wanted to write them off but then you would convince yourself that it's being unfaithful and they really weren't 'that" bad. I mean there were worse people (teams) out there right? You start coming up with the good things about them trying to convince yourself you see progress.

Jealousy and Anger
There is jealousy in the relationship as you looked around and saw other happy relationships. "Why can't we be happy like that?" you think to yourself. You see long suffering Patriots fans strike it rich with Tom Brady and lucky calls in the snow known as the "tuck" rule. Why can't we get those lucky breaks? I mean instead we get offensive pass interference called on Tony Gonzalez in a playoff game. We get Priest Holmes fumbling in that same Colts game after breaking off a 40 yard run. You see flash in the pan teams like the Falcons do the Dirty Bird and go to the Super Bowl with Jamal Anderson.

You start to question the decisions of your affection. Why didn't they ever develop a quarterback? Why don't they pick up some good defensive players? Why don't they ever do the dishes or keep the hair off the soap?

The Reconciliation
Inevitably you take them back hoping for better days. As a sports fan I get angry at fair weather fans for constantly switching their favorite teams with the direction of the wind. But sometimes I envy them. How do they let go of something so easily? How do they do that and have no remorse? If I give up on the relationship and they go on and win the Super Bowl after I've denounced them then I'll feel like a foolish traitor. However, if I stick with them and watch them I'm rewarding the team with good TV ratings for bad behavior. It's like your significant other does something bad and you tell them they are sleeping on the couch only to let them back in the bed after an hour or two. Will they ever learn that way?

I know, I know I'm being over-dramatic but keep in mind as a Kansas City Chiefs and Royals fan I haven't seen a win in the playoffs since 1993. I was a senior in high school. I haven't seen the Royals GO to the playoffs since 1985. The Chiefs were the one part of the Kansas City sports scene that I looked forward to. Now my weekend is filled with dread of not if we are going to lose but by how much.

Someone tell me when it is healthy to let go of the relationship and move on.

Royals Displaying Gamesmanship With WhiteSox

I find it a bit suspect that Royals ace Zack Greinke won't be making his final scheduled start on the last game of the season against the Twins. The reason out of the Royals front office is they want to save his arm wear and tear. While Zack has indeed thrown over 200 innings this season I find it strange they didn't make this decision two or even three starts prior to this. Is one start and six to seven innings really going to be the difference in an arm injury?

Unless Greinke is complaining of arm or shoulder troubles and I can't find any reports that he is I have to assume there is more to this. There is no love loss between the WhiteSox and KC. There have been bench clearing brawls in the past few seasons and words exchanged. Chicago is where our first base coach was attacked by a fan and his son out of the stands a few years back.

My personal opinion is that by starting journeyman AAAA pitcher Brandon Duckworth we are indicating to the small market Twins that it is their playoff berth to lose. The White Sox I'm sure won't forget this move by the Royals front office and I for one like some brush back pitches and drama in my baseball season. In a 162 game grind the game needs some excitement and the Royals pulling Greinke should make games against the White Sox in 2009 a bit more interesting.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

Dick Vermeil Must Be Smiling

Dick Vermeil must have been somewhere smiling watching the Eagles and Cowboys battle it out in Big D last night. Offensive firepower was in full display as each team traded homerun strikes down the field. Some good individual defensive plays were made on both sides. The Eagles recovered a Romo fumble in the endzone for a touchdown and the Cowboys stopped the Eagles final drive to seal the game. But individual defensive plays were sprinkles on the cupcake of offensive goodness. The defensive coordinators will be in full fury during film review after the exciting 41-37 shootout but bad tackling wasn't really the problem. It was great execution by two powerful offensive teams.

If the old adage that offense wins games but defense wins championships is true then both teams will need to step up their defensive efforts as the season wears on. However you must have the offense to win games to even worry about reaching a championship.

I don't get the sense either team will be hitting the panic button on their defensive efforts just yet. The fans in Dallas certainly got their money's worth and fantasy teams with Cowboys and Eagles players are rejoicing Tuesday morning.

I hope Herm Edwards and Chan Gailey were watching this game because if they ever want to elevate the Chiefs and excite the fanbase a healthy dose of play-action and opening up the vertical offense would go a long way. Perhaps they should sip some of Vermeil's wine and give him a quick phone call.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Who Is Ingle Freakin Martin? We Better Find Out

"Who is Ingle Freaking Martin?" I asked myself and anyone in earshot as I read the KC Chiefs had signed this unknown quarterback from the Tennessee Titans practice squad. I dug around the internet to find that Ingle Martin was a D-II quarterback from Fuhrman who also acted as their punter. He might have also been their waterboy supplying the team with high quality H2O. Ingle Martin transferred to Fuhrman from Florida when Chris Leak got all the playing time during their championship run.

The Titans have Kerry Collins as their back-up QB which isn't a bad guy to have behind Vince Young but the Titans thought so little of Martin that they decided to leave him unprotected rather than to bring him up behind Collins as the number two after Young's injury.

Within 48 hours the Chiefs were trying out the flying circus of Chris Simms and Tim Rattay when New England said thanks but "no thanks" to them. I started to envision Simms, Rattay and Daunte Culpepper driving around in a VW Bus between airports eating stale chips looking for odd jobs as they try out for backup QB jobs in the NFL. My mind does that sometimes.

So the Chiefs tried out Simms and Rattay and I looked at Simms career numbers. Even though they werent super impressive I do remember him being a bit mobile, left-handed, with a good arm and a good pedigree. He is only 28 so the Chiefs could have used him for a minimum of four to seven years given how long QBs are playing these days.

Instead the Chiefs said "no thanks" to Chris Simms and his pedigree and "yes please!" to Ingle Martin. The Titans the next day signed Chris Simms to back-up Kerry Collins. So in essence we and the Titans traded Simms for Martin in a weird waiver-wire deal.

Why you ask did KC do that? The answer is simple. Brodie Croyle is fragile. He is so fragile that "Fragile" Freddie Taylor calls him a sissy. But he isn't just physically fragile evidenced by three injuries in seven career starts but his psyche is crystal right now. He's never won a game in the NFL and he knows the Chiefs' brass are starting to question his toughness. To bring in Chris Simms would be a sure fire way to start a quarterback controversy. Simms would only need a somewhat decent showing for KC fans to be clamoring for him to remain the starter. Herm can't have that. Herm is stubborn beyond belief and once he claimed Croyle was his guy that's what he's sticking with. He can't have some guy like Chris Simms come in and upset this process. Ingle Martin is a nobody that no one is going to be clamoring for to start a game.

The Chiefs used Sunday's loss to the Raiders as a showcase of how bad their quarterbacks behind Croyle were. They even used Hagans off the practice squad to cement in everyone's mind "see and you thought Croyle was bad". Chris Simms would have represented a clear and present danger to that thought process. Chiefs fans wouldn't be clamoring for Brodie to return from injury like we are entering week 3 against the hapless Falcons if Simms were on the roster. On a side note, anyone with Michael Turner on their fantasy squad start him now! He might just break the single game rushing record against a Chiefs team that just allowed 300 yards to a Raiders team with no passing offense.

Well this week I expect Ingle Martin to be activated from the practice squad and to play at some point. Who is Ingle "Freaking" Martin? I dont know but we better find out soon because Tyler Thigpen and Hagans need to be selling insurance in Iowa not sitting behind center for an NFL franchise.

The sweet irony will be if Ingle Martin comes out and looks good the Chiefs will have a quarterback controversy anyway even if they didn't sign Chris Simms.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

KC Chiefs Rebuilding or Sinking the Franchise?

During the off-season I watched the Chiefs dismantle a geriatric team that finished 4-12 in 2007 and start "rebuilding" the team around young players. "Young teams are supposed to struggle" we were told by head coach Herm Edwards and GM Carl Peterson. They succeeded in lowering my expectations for this season from my usual 10 win prediction to 6-10.

Draft day rolled around and I watched all the pundits laud the franchise for their solid draft and remembered a very young Green Bay franchise went to the NFC Championship Game last season. Suddenly images of a 10-6 team started to come into view if I squinted hard enough at the easiest schedule the Chiefs have had in recent memory.

I was doing it again, I was hopeful when all the same pundits previewed the Chiefs at no better than third place in their own division. Somehow they were wrong and the Chiefs might be the AFC's Packers in 2008.

Two games later and boy do I feel foolish. After Week One's near miss in New England I had as good a taste in my mouth as you can have after a loss. Lots of 'coulda, shoulda' in week one that had me dreaming of a pasting of the pathetic Raiders.

Reality hit me around 12:30 central today. A hapless Raiders team that is the model franchise of what not to do with personnel and management came to town after getting their tails whipped 41-14 by a Broncos team most people thought wasn't much better than an 8-8 squad. With Huard behind center I felt confident that despite my desire to see the Chiefs develop a young QB with Croyle that he probably gave us the best chance to put more than 10 points on the board.

Sadly I forgot that the rebuilt offensive line is still a patchwork mess with a rookie left tackle and an immobile mess at right tackle and right guard. The same Raiders team that seemed so hapless a week ago was suddenly in our backfield like the old Tecmo Bowl game as if they picked our play. Larry Johnson still looked a step slow and lacked the vision he once had, but in his defense it's hard to find holes and cutback lanes when your linemen are shoved into your lap. The offensive game plan then took a turn for the worse when Damon Huard suffered a mild head injury (is there such a thing?). We used three different QBs in this mess of a football game. A practice squad WR/QB Haggans, a 35 year old 'never was' in Huard and a third stringer 'never will be' in Tyler Thigpen. It was an offensive disaster. The Chiefs couldn't run, couldn't pass, and couldn't fool them with trick plays.

What the Chiefs lacked in experience they made up for with a lack of discipline or talent. In the second half with the Chiefs surprisingly only down 6-0 we allowed a 95 yard drive of nothing but run plays. How does that happen in the NFL? What adjustments were made at halftime that the Raiders so confidently knew they could run the ball seven straight times from their own five yard line and score?

It was now 13-0 and I knew it was game over. How bad is your team when 13 points is too much to overcome with two quarters to play?

The Chiefs are supposed to be rebuilding and I know there are going to be rough games in this process but do they have to be so embarrassing? We have three Pro Bowl calibre players on this offense with Waters, Gonzalez and Larry Johnson and none of them did anything to make me think they deserved a spot in Hawaii. How does Herm go into that locker room and talk to his team after this mess? How do you possibly inspire any confidence in a team that was shellacked in a home opener to a hated rival and showed very little passion in doing so?

The Chiefs have drafted a lot of first and second round picks on that defensive unit that was gashed for 300 yards rushing despite no threat of a passing game. I don't care what scheme you are running you'd be hard pressed to give up three hundred yards to a team with no passing attack just based on sure talent and hustle. The Chiefs are either missing on their draft picks badly or they are badly coached. Young team or not this was inexcusable.

The Chiefs may be rebuilding in name but look like a sinking franchise destined to be mentioned in the same breath as the Lions, Cardinals and Raiders. The difference is the Raiders have three Super Bowl appearances since the Chiefs last saw one in 1969.

There are two things you need before anything else when you rebuild a team: an offensive line is number one and a quarterback is number two. The Chiefs are lacking both and yet continue to build a defense with draft picks. I understand defense is important, I just got finished watching the Greg Robinson/Dick Vermeil era Chiefs, but watching a team finish 9-7 with a punchers chance of putting 40 points on the board weekly is a hell of a lot more exciting as a fan than watching 8 points put on the board against a team that is likely going to only win 3 more games all season.

I am on board with rebuilding but after watching certain teams "rebuild" for two decades I'm starting to seriously wonder if we aren't headed down that slippery slope. The Chiefs are at a serious fork in the road of their franchise. Do they go the way of the Lions or the 2007 Green Bay Packers?

I am rooting for the latter but early evidence leans toward the former.