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Three preseason games are in the books, with a fourth on the docket for Thursday night, but we've seen enough. Exhibition games, of course, shouldn’t be treated as gospel where the regular season is concerned, but it’s becoming obvious what the Chiefs are and are not at this juncture. What have we learned?
We know the Chiefs probably won’t be good this year. There are simply too many question marks at too many key positions, too much youth throughout the starting lineup.
But specifically, I’ve identified seven key points that I believe will define this year’s Chiefs team. Some of them have been obvious since training camp, some came to light in the preseason. Some are positive, some negative.
1. The Chiefs will struggle to run the football again this season.
Last year KC’s offense finished dead last in the NFL in rushing. Based on what we’ve seen so far in 2008, I’m not expecting a huge improvement.
The Chiefs had an outstanding drive against the Cardinals two weeks ago, pounding out 57 yards rushing and looking like a team that would run all over just about any defense. Unfortunately, there’s no consistency in the running attack we’ve seen so far.
The Chiefs’ first-team offense – defined by Brodie Croyle’s presence under center - has generated 137 yards rushing this preseason on 37 carries. That’s only 3.7 yards per carry, and when you remove the flash-in-the-pan drive against Arizona, it looks really bad – only 80 yards on 29 carries. Kansas City’s starting offense has produced just three runs over 10 yards all preseason, and none longer than 18. That’s just not getting it done.
The Chiefs have a fine stable of running backs with Larry Johnson, Kolby Smith, Jamaal Charles and Dantrell Savage, but the horses up front (the offensive line) are struggling much as they did a year ago. Chan Gailey better hope Branden Albert gets some push, because otherwise, we’ll see plenty of third-and-longs for Brodie Croyle this year.
2. Jarrad Page and Bernard Pollard won’t be liabilities.
Fans and media alike criticized Pollard last year for his lackluster play, and everyone knows Page has had issues in run support since he was a rookie. Based on preseason, both of KC’s starting safeties appear improved by large margins.
Pollard’s weight loss is noticeable, and he’s much quicker this season, especially when he breaks down to tackle a running back in the box. Page has been stuffing runners left and right this preseason. The longest pass reception by a wide receiver against the Chiefs this August is only 22 yards.
I’m not completely sold that Pollard is the hitter he was drafted to be, and Page still whiffs on his share of attempted knockouts, but both players appear to be firmly entrenched as starters this season. To his credit, Pollard never really gave rookie safety DaJuan Morgan a chance at his spot.
3. Kansas City’s pass rush is abysmal.
I’m not going to sugar-coat it. The Chiefs really miss Jared Allen. The move I recommended in mid-April – switching Tamba Hali to right defensive end – has bore little early fruit. Hali looks overmatched against left tackles, even rookies like Miami’s Jake Long.
Alfonso Boone was a flop at left defensive end, and yes, he leads the preseason NFL in sacks, but Turk McBride isn’t going to log 10 sacks this year. I still say McBride’s future is inside, as a pass-rushing defensive tackle on third downs, where his lack of foot speed isn’t such an issue (and one of Turk’s preseason sacks came from left defensive tackle).
I love KC’s interior line – a fresh Boone should be great off the bench at defensive tackle, and Glenn Dorsey’s too talented and driven to be the next Ryan Sims. But where is the outside pressure coming from? Rookie Brian Johnston has a long way to go before those post-draft comparisons to Jared Allen even come close to reality. I’ll be shocked if the Chiefs generate 30 sacks this year.
4. Kansas City’s run defense is solid.
Like I said, I love the Chiefs’ defensive tackle situation. Tank Tyler and Dorsey are going to dominate guards and centers in the running game all year long. A fresh Boone and Ron Edwards off the bench is tremendous depth.
Derrick Johnson will have space to flow to the ball all year. Pat Thomas, while not as rich as Napoleon Harris, is easily tougher and stouter coming downhill in the middle. Throw in Brandon Flowers, who’s tackling has been lights out off the corner this preseason, and you have the makings of a much-improved run defense. Don’t forget the Chiefs were 28th in this category last year.
5. The Chiefs don’t have a right tackle.
We might as well call this The Curse of John Tait, because since he left town, the Chiefs haven’t found a suitable replacement. John Welbourn was a flop, Chris Terry a nightmare. Kevin Sampson couldn’t stay on the field and now it appears Damion McIntosh is going to be in and out of the training room all year.
Is the answer rookie Barry Richardson? Maybe next year, when he’s adjusted to the pro game. Is it Herb Taylor? The Chiefs are probably hoping so. Hey, we all are, because the curse just keeps getting worse.
6. Brodie Croyle is a horrible fantasy quarterback.
Somehow, Croyle has already managed to throw 44 passes this preseason without connecting on a touchdown. His longest completion is 22 yards, and his favorite receiver is Kolby Smith. Watching him play football, I wonder if there’s a fan in America with Croyle on their fantasy draft board.
Is that the quarterback, or his coaching? We know this team won’t take a lot of risks on offense. But the coaching staff has to take advantage of the howitzer on Croyle’s throwing shoulder, right? Otherwise, what’s the point of starting him? Damon Huard can check the ball down just as well as Croyle (and probably better, considering his extensive experience in that field).
The point is this – have some patience with the kid. It’s not a perfect offensive situation. The Chiefs’ supposed #2 wide receiver, Devard Darling, hasn’t caught one pass this preseason. We haven’t seen Tony Gonzalez haul in a 15-yard crossing pattern since training camp. Those two elements won’t lay dormant all year.
Fans, the media, and anyone who cares a lick about the Chiefs should have the utmost patience with Brodie Croyle this year. People are already upset with Croyle over a boring preseason in which he’s routinely dumped the ball off to running backs. It could be much worse – watch any of last year’s preseason games.
7. Derrick Johnson will dominate.
With Donnie Edwards’ nagging hamstring injury keeping him out most of preseason (who knows if he lasts 16 games), the mantle has been passed to Johnson, who might have had the best preseason of any Chief. Back at the position he played in college at Texas (weakside linebacker), Johnson looks like a player who’s no longer thinking, only reacting. He’s busting up running plays in the backfield, destroying screens and his pass coverage has never been better.
Johnson won’t make the Pro Bowl. It’s ridiculously tough for 4-3 outside linebackers to get tickets to Hawaii. But there’s a good chance he’ll be the best defender on Gunther Cunningham’s defense this year. The only question about Johnson is how large his bank account gets next offseason.