Warpaint Roundtable: Learning to Win

Cassel is gaining confidence.

In this edition of our Warpaint Roundtable, our entire staff tackles the Chiefs slow first half last weekend; Todd Haley's gambling and how best to use Dexter McCluster.

Should we be concerned that it took over three quarters before we could finally pull away from a struggling Jacksonville team with a quarterback who was signed off the street?

Nick Athan: Not at all. Just be glad they did it. Remember, this team has to learn how to win games. Based on their recent history, that's not going to be an easy task. Still, the fact they defeated a team with lesser talent is a huge sign of progress for the Chiefs.

If they had blown this game, or failed to put them away, then they would have learned nothing from their recent experience at Houston. The fact they were able to get that done proves that they can in fact close out a team. It's not a matter of when in the game they did it, as long as they do it.

Josh Scotten: If this team was further along in the rebuilding process, I would say yes. But these guys are still growing. Not to mention, despite their troubles, Jacksonville is no pushover. As we saw Sunday, they are very tough and physical.

As far as Bouman is concerned, I just think the combination of a crafty veteran who played beyond expectation and a young/inexperienced secondary is what got the Chiefs into trouble on Sunday. After shutting down Manning, I will give the "D" a get out of jail free card with an expiration date ending in 2011.

C.E. Wendler: No, because the Chiefs dominated in the second half after they made their adjustments. That's what they've done all year long, regardless of the opponent.

If you really want to "explain" why the Jaguars kept it close for awhile, two completely bogus pass interference penalties had a lot to do with it. That's not going to happen to the Chiefs every week. Of course, it's happened three weeks in a row, so maybe there's a league-wide conspiracy in effect against the Chiefs.

Conor Crawford: I don't think so. Jacksonville was 3-3 entering the game, and while it's easy to point out how all three (now four) of their losses have been by gigantic margins, nothing will take back the fact that they won three games. Like every team in the NFL, Jacksonville is not a pushover.

I only find it concerning that the Chiefs' secondary continues to struggle. Now that a quarterback who was literally pulled from obscurity just days before the game (Todd Bouman) threw for over 200 yards with two touchdowns against this secondary, the Chiefs' defenders need to start to lock things down. Their run defense is spectacular and shutting down Maurice Jones-Drew is no easy task. However, this team's entire defense has got to be clicking on all cylinders in order to stop opponents from playing in shootouts like this.

This was the second week in a row where the Chiefs battled in a shootout, and hopefully for their sake, it will be the last.

Michael Ash: It definitely would have been nice to see the Chiefs put the hammer down sooner than they did. But we can't forget that with the exception of the Jags' first drive of the third quarter, which was aided by a near 40-yard pass interference penalty, the Chiefs' defense pretty much shut them down after halftime.

We'll probably never know what their strategy was in the first half – was Crennel keeping things basic while he saw what Jacksonville had in mind with Bouman, and then he unleashed the dogs in the second half? Or was the Jags' offense just that good? Either way, after the defense collapsed against Houston late in the game, it was good to see them get back to clamping down on the opposing offense.

No matter what, though, you have to tip your cap to Bouman. He was putting the ball right on the money for most of the game. It looks like David Garrard will be back under center for the Jags this week, but if Bouman sees any additional time as the starter, I wouldn't be surprised at all if we saw more of the same from him.

Is Todd Haley's "gambling" starting to get too risky?

Nick Athan: Heck no! I think it's great that he takes risks. Let's face it – Haley, for the most part, is an inexperienced head coach. But his passion for winning is rubbing off on his players. Now they know going into every game that they're going to push the envelope on offense and sometimes on special teams.

Thomas Jones dove over the Browns defense to seal a victory at Cleveland.
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And there is another benefit. Every single team the Chiefs will face the remainder of the season has to think that at any point Haley will call for an onsides kick. Had it worked at Indy, it might have changed the game. The players I talk to love that about their head coach, and as long as they're good with it then I say throw caution to the wind.

Josh Scotten: Make no mistake about it, Haley has made some borderline calls in the context of football philosophy and history. But I can't say I don't love the aggression. Haley is trying to give his young squad a competitive advantage and a way to do that is to take some risks. But there is a down side.

As we all witnessed in each of the last two games, Haley has handcuffed Crennel in regards to short field position. If Haley wants to be aggressive, I'm all for it. But if it comes at the expense of a conservative defense or making for six total passes by Cassel in the first half of the Jacksonville game, he may want to think about toning it down, if just a tad.

C.E. Wendler: Depends on whether you view his fourth-down gamble against the Jaguars as a risk. On the surface, it certainly appeared to be a tactical blunder, but the word is that swirling winds at Arrowhead made Haley reconsider whether or not he wanted to attempt a field goal that would have been over 40 yards.

Given the success of the Chiefs' running game against Jacksonville and the fact their defense had played well to that point in the second half, going for it on fourth down wasn't that huge of a risk. I doubt Haley would have made the same decision against a different team that wasn't playing a Farmboy/Quarterback.

Conor Crawford: Nobody was more vocal than me when Haley showcased his risky play calling against Indianapolis. While I still get a little nervous about it, I'm starting to warm up to the fact that it shows what kind of coach Haley is, which sets him apart from the previous two Chiefs head coaches who rarely, if not ever, did that. The last truly risky play call I remember a Chiefs head coach calling was when Dick Vermeil went for a two-point conversion against the Oakland Raiders in 2005, and thankfully, the team pulled it off for a victory.

I can't remember if Herm Edwards ever went for it on fourth down all that much, because the team surely wouldn't have converted it or he would have been too scared to do such a thing, rather sticking to his conservative approach to play calling. I honestly don't mind Haley's gambling, I just hope he doesn't do it so much that opposing defenses will come to expect an attempt on fourth down. If you hold a bone out in front of a dog, sooner or later, that dog's going to bite.

More importantly, in the future I think Haley will certainly know when it's the right thing to do and when it's the wrong thing to do. I would hate to have this team win the AFC West, host their first playoff game since January 2004, and lose because of a blown attempt on fourth down. However, if this team has to go for it on fourth down a whole bunch of times in games in order for them to clinch that playoff spot, go right ahead. I'm all for it.

Michael Ash: I'm assuming this question stems from Haley's decision on Sunday to pass on a 40+ yard field goal and attempt to convert a 4th and 3, when the field goal would have given the Chiefs a two-score lead late in the game. On the surface, that's a pretty indefensible decision. When you get the chance to go up by two scores, take it.

But according to the Chiefs' radio broadcast of the game, Haley's decision was likely prompted by the wind conditions at the time. The wind was never mentioned as a factor on TV, but on the radio, after hearing from sideline reporter Kendall Gammon about the decision to pass on the field goal, Mitch Holthus even noted that the wind could be heard whipping into Gammon's microphone.

Haley's decision to pass on that field goal is the only one of his "gambles" this season that I would take any issue with. And if he had a legitimate reason for doing it, then there's really nothing to be critical of.

If Dexter McCluster is out for any length of time, do you think Charlie Weis will start using Jamaal Charles more in the passing game? Or will they just make due without him for a while?

Nick Athan: It's possible. A year ago Charles ran several plays as a receiver both in the slot and outside. With the luxury of Thomas Jones and Jackie Battle on the roster, Weis can do anything he wants with Sir Charles.

Chiefs need to find more ways to get the ball in McCluster's hands.
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The man who has to step up is malcontent Chris Chambers. If he doesn't start acting like a professional and resemble the overwhelming sentiment in that locker room, he's going to hurt his teammates. If McCluster is out for any length of time (which is doubtful), this offense needs Chambers to resemble his 2009 self.

Josh Scotten: Although I believe Charles has the quickness to fill McCluster's void, make no mistake about it – there is no one on this roster that can fill his shoes entirely. Not to mention, toying with the rushing game at this point doesn't sound like the idea of the century.

The Chiefs are currently leading the league in rushing and I don't see a good reason to sacrifice that for a passing game that has been relatively non-existent to this point. Having Charles on the field in any capacity will make opposing defenses worry, so I don't see the coaches adjusting the game plan at this point. Between Tony Moeaki, Dwyane Bowe, and even Verran Tucker, the Chiefs still have plenty of weapons that Weis can be creative with until DMC gets his wheels fixed.

C.E. Wendler: Weis will adapt. He's a good coordinator, and that's what good coordinators do. I'd imagine Charles and Thomas Jones could both receive more touches in the passing game in McCluster's absence. The real issue is what the Chiefs will do at wide receiver. Without McCluster, they don't really have a slot specialist. The Chiefs really need a receiver to step up, because they won't rush for 200 yards every game.

Conor Crawford: That's tough to say because I think the Chiefs were planning on using McCluster a whole lot more now that Chris Chambers is in Haley's doghouse. I think their go-to-guy will still be Dwayne Bowe, but in order to change up the tempo of the game, I bet we might see more of Terrence Copper. Copper isn't nearly as talented as McCluster, but he'll still give the Chiefs the chance to keep Charles in the backfield, where he's meant to be.

Michael Ash: For the first five games of the season, McCluster was more of a compliment to the offense than anything. Against Jacksonville, he finally became more of a contributor, and that was largely due to Chambers being inactive. Why it took Weis six games and the lack of Chambers to get McCluster more involved in things, I'll never know.

With that in mind, I wouldn't expect Weis to be on the lookout for an immediate replacement. Charles will still be in the mix in the passing game, catching the occasional dumpoff pass from Cassel, but I'd be surprised if they start splitting him out wide or anything.

At this early date, what would you say is the position the Chiefs need to target with their first round draft pick in April?

Nick Athan: If Matt Cassel continues to play well, it won't be a quarterback. But for me, they need to improve the speed at linebacker. In fact, they need to draft two in the early rounds next spring. Of course, we all know they need another wide receiver, but with Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali and Mike Vrabel all set to be free agents, no position on this team needs help than at linebacker.

Signing Cornerback Brandon Flowers long term is going to be very costly for the Chiefs.
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There had been rumblings that the team would like to get Hali signed, but that might depend on even more speculation that a new CBA might be completed with the players prior to the end of the year. If that deal is on course, Pioli could lock up both Hali and stud cornerback Brandon Flowers. Because there is no doubt that the agent for Flowers is going to want something equivalent to what the Jets paid Darrell Revis.

Josh Scotten: At this point, you have to be thinking wide receiver. The Chiefs' passing game ultimately could be the teams Achilles' heel this season. And until someone other than Bowe can prove otherwise, it will remain the top concern heading into the 2011 draft.

But this draft needs to also address the future of their offensive line. This franchise has suffered greatly due to the lack of forethought towards the offensive line. Scott Pioli added Jon Asomoah in the 3rd round this of this last year's draft, but with Waters and Wiegmann aging, there will be more holes to fill next season.

It will be interesting to see who Pioli decides to lock up before season's end. I suspect it will start with Hali and Flowers, but with Pioli you never really know what he might be thinking.

C.E. Wendler: It has to be a wide receiver, doesn't it? Chris Chambers has been a non-factor, Dexter McCluster is probably too small to ever be a legitimate starter, and the Chiefs have zero quality depth at wide receiver. Not only that, they don't have a deep threat, unless Chambers suddenly wakes up. The lack of a deep threat - and a quarterback who can hit him down the field - is the final piece to the puzzle of KC's offense. They have everything else. Fortunately for the Chiefs, the next wide receiver class is rich, especially in the early rounds.

Conor Crawford: I think the Chiefs will be looking to get a new nose tackle. Ron Edwards isn't necessarily a bad fit, but I think the team will be planning for the future and draft a guy who can learn the system behind Edwards for a year or two and then let him slide into the starting spot. Edwards will be 32 at the start of the 2011 season, and will keep on looking to make their front three as young and mobile as possible.

The new kid could potentially start alongside Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson (and/or Shaun Smith) for at least a decade if things were to fall perfectly into place. I wouldn't characterize the nose tackle position as the number one position in need of improvement, but I think the team will certainly give it a look.

Michael Ash: Barring a total collapse, we can probably expect the Chiefs' first pick to fall somewhere between the middle and the end of the round. In that area of the draft, I think the two areas they have to focus on are wide receiver and an outside linebacker (or converted defensive end) who can rush the passer.

At this particular point in time, I'd lean towards the pass rusher. They desperately need someone opposite Tamba Hali who can get after the quarterback. I think it cost us the game against Houston, and I wouldn't be surprised if it costs us more games when it's all said and done. And this year's receiver class is supposed to be fairly deep, so maybe a good one will still be available in round two.

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