Does Haley Need Larry?

When Scott Pioli hired Todd Haley as the new head coach of the Kansas City Chiefs, much was made of Haley's history in the passing game. This was not without good reason, because really, Haley's NFL career is all about the passing game.

Before he was offensive coordinator in Arizona, Haley was a wide receivers coach in New York, Chicago and Dallas. Indeed, Haley was also the "passing game coordinator" with the Cowboys, so to associate him with the passing game is only natural.

That association has led quite a few people to the conclusion that the 2009 Chiefs will be a high-flying, explosive, pass-first offense. The 2008 Cardinals called more pass plays than any other team in the league last year, so why not this year's Chiefs? They went out and traded for Matt Cassel and signed Bobby Engram, so Air Haley must be fueling up, right?

Mark May 22, 2009 as the date when we may have received an inkling that the Chiefs won't be so pass happy after all, at least not this year. The clue came from Haley following the conclusion of Kansas City's first week of OTAs.

"We are going to do what we have to, to give us the best chance to win," said Haley. "If that is three yards and a cloud of dust, we don't turn the football over and we play great defense, I'll be the happiest guy sitting here after games."

How about that? Despite all the gaudy statistics the Cardinals put up last year, Haley appears absolutely prepared to grind it out on the ground in Kansas City if that's what he has to do to win.

The notion that the Chiefs may not employ the aerial attack some are expecting actually answers several questions that have been burning for weeks now. Why haven't the Chiefs done more to upgrade their pass protection? Who is Matt Cassel going to throw the ball to? Where's the third-down back who will catch all the passes out of the backfield?

Well, perhaps the Chiefs haven't done more to upgrade their pass protection because they don't plan to drop Cassel back 600 times this year. Certainly the Pittsburgh Steelers, last year's Super Bowl Champions, managed to get by without the world's greatest pass-blocking unit.

Is it possible Cassel already has the wide receivers he needs in Dwayne Bowe, Bobby Engram and Mark Bradley? Is there an enormous difference between that trio and the group the Steelers ran out last season (Hines Ward, Santonio Holmes and Nate Washington)? The top seed in the AFC last season, the Tennessee Titans, certainly got by without the league's best receiving corps.

Finally, unless Haley actually plans for his running backs to catch 75 passes (as Cardinals backs did a year ago), perhaps all he really needs is Larry Johnson and Jamaal Charles. The pair combined for 39 receptions in 2008.

And speaking of Johnson, we shouldn't ignore what Haley had to say about him, either.

"I think Larry is working hard," he said. "He has made some runs in the last few practices that I thought were pretty special and showed signs of somebody who can run the football. I was very encouraged and a couple of those flashed at me and the coaches to where you say, ‘that was pretty good.' If Larry continues to work, stay on point and do the things asked of him, I think he will definitely have a chance to help us."

Does anything else really need to be said? Not only is Haley apparently willing to adopt the "three yards and a cloud of dust" mentality, he's already identified his primary role-player should that philosophy be implemented. This, too, answers a burning question that has been on the mind of many Chiefs fans for months now:

Why is Johnson still in Kansas City?

While there is no shortage of Chiefs fans who are fed up with Johnson's off-the-field issues and have made their opinion known via the radio waves and internet, it would appear he may be a bigger piece of the puzzle than some had previously thought. Certainly, if smash-mouth football is in the gameplan, there is no other running back on the current roster better suited to drive the offense.

Obviously, that would explain why we haven't heard so much as a whisper from any source about the Chiefs making overtures to any team about trading Johnson. They may just end up needing him more than anyone – except perhaps Todd Haley - had anticipated.

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