Five to Watch: Chiefs vs Packers

Warpaint Illustrated Beat Writer
Posted Dec 17, 2011


Josh Scotten previews Sunday's matchup with the Green Bay Packers.

New Quarterback

Chiefs Nation will finally get their wish on Sunday when Kyle Orton makes his first start with the Chiefs. Orton has been nursing a dislocated finger since his unceremonious debut in Chicago two weeks ago but he’s looking like the featured quarterback heading forward. Oh, and just in case you were worried, the only chance for a return to Palko is if the injury bug works through both Orton and backup Ricky Stanzi.

The Packers’ defense is certainly one that can make big plays when they have to but is anything but dominant. They are 31st in the NFL in both average total yards and pass yards yielded per game although they are significantly better against the run. For the Chiefs to move the football Sunday, and put up any legitimate fight, they are going to have to get some production from their quarterback. So can Orton prosper where both Palko and Matt Cassel had failed? If his finger holds, I can’t see how he would be anything but an improvement.


Will KC’s Defense Hold?

On a team with few bright spots, this Kansas City defense has really shined. Behind Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson, and Brandon Flowers, the defense has battled through adversity and is stronger than ever. The bar was lowered significantly after the loss of star safety Eric Berry but Romeo Crennel’s unit has continued to persevere and even improve. Considering what this defense has had to endure on a team with internal fighting from the field to the front office, you have to believe he deserves to be the front runner for the permanent role as head coach.

The only problem with a Crennel-coached 2012 Chiefs might be the risk of a regressing defense. It stands to reason Crennel would appoint a full time offensive head coach but the duties of a head coach are more strenuous than that of a coordinator. Crennel will get his first opportunity to prove his multitasking ability with a difficult opponent in the Super Bowl Champion Packers. Although this won’t be the best measuring stick for Crennel, it will be interesting to see how his defense responds on Sunday.


Play Calling

One of the more interesting post-Haley topics will be how to move forward with this offense. Already, offensive coordinator Bill Muir has moved back up to the press box where he had been for the vast majority of the season. It is no secret that Todd Haley had a heavy influence on the offensive game plan and now with his input out of the equation, it will be interesting to see what Muir and quarterbacks coach Jim Zorn cook up.

The rate and pace at which the plays are received by the quarterback will be an area of interest as well. The Chiefs have been awful at times in 2011 getting the play call into the huddle in a timely fashion. Haley's control, and need to berate his coaches and quarterback, left too many links in the chain from coordinator to coach to quarterback coach to quarterback. This led to too many unnecessary timeouts, penalties, and an overall lack of flow offensively. The Chiefs’ offense amassed just four total yards last week in New York (in the first half) so it would stand to reason this Sunday the Chiefs can do nothing but improve.


Running backs

One of the more frustrating and inexplicable moves by Todd Haley this season was his steadfast dedication to running back Thomas Jones. Outside of a handful of plays, Jones has been a shadow of the 1000-yard rusher he used to be. Seemingly oblivious to this fact, Haley stood by Jones despite his struggles. Jones is one of the locker room leaders on this young Chiefs team and that was likely the reason for his continued reps. It will be interesting to see what Crennel is willing to tolerate.

Crennel said early in the week that he plans on a running back by committee approach. This is not too far off from where Haley’s staff was as they featured a steady mix of Jones, Jackie Battle, and Dexter McCluster. With Green Bay’s solid rushing defense, I can’t see the Chiefs dictating the game between the tackles, meaning KC’s running backs might not get much work. Battle, however, has been the most productive in terms of yards per carry. Crennel is not likely to have too much direction over KC’s offense but making his presence felt couldn’t be all that bad of a plan.


Seller’s Remorse?

There are a lot of people around Chiefs Nation who have been feeling a sense of buyer’s remorse since Todd Haley arrived three season’s back. But over the past week, there has also been a contingency of Haley bashers feeling the surprising sense of seller’s remorse. Todd Haley appeared on ESPN’s Audibles this week looking confident and intelligent about the game of football. It’s easy to assume this is the Todd Haley that impressed Chiefs general manager Scott Pioli and Chairman Clark Hunt when they brought the Arizona coordinator on board.

But the friction in the front office never allowed Kansas City to see the true Todd Haley. We just got the image Hunt and Pioli wanted. But Haley was not without fault and his biggest flaw in many eyes was his inconsistency. Haley’s teams would be competitive at times, then utterly inept without relevance to the opponent’s strength. The Chiefs play the best of the NFL Sunday. Regardless of end results, if this team is competitive for four quarters, moving on from Haley was the right choice.


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