Since signing Chris Chambers and starting Jamaal Charles, Kansas City’s offense has discovered ways to move the football. Sunday, Chambers, Charles and their teammates rolled up almost 500 yards of offense. Matt Cassel was efficient and at times, shockingly spectacular. He was sacked only once and the Chiefs’ offense as a whole had only five negative plays.
Yes, the Cleveland Browns have arguably the NFL’s worst defense. It doesn’t matter. These Chiefs couldn’t get out of their own way on offense a few months ago and now they have multiple playmakers producing with consistency. That’s progress, no matter the record or opponent.
What’s not progressing is Kansas City’s defense, which allowed the Browns a whopping 351 yards rushing Sunday. It was the third straight game of at least 200 yards rushing against the Chiefs, and most of it (286 yards) came courtesy of Jerome Harrison who previously had just one 100-yard rushing game to his credit in four NFL seasons.
Harrison broke Jim Brown’s 47-year old single-game franchise rushing record, and Cleveland probably could have rolled out Brown himself for a good 100 yards against the Chiefs. It’s that bad, but we’ve seen it all before. That’s where the déjà vu comes in.
Harrison isn’t the first marginal player to go off like a nuclear bomb against the Chiefs this decade. In fact, he’s not even the first Cleveland Brown. It was early in 2002 when Kelly Holcomb and Quincy Morgan made like Tom Brady and Randy Moss against the Chiefs, enjoying the best afternoons of their NFL careers to that point.
It wasn’t a coincidence. The 2002 Chiefs allowed Tom Brady the first 400-yard game of his career. Chad Pennington had his coming-out party against Kansas City a couple weeks later, despite the presence of Herm Edwards on the sidelines.
The list goes on – Drew Brees, Shannon Sharpe, Matt Hasselbeck, Shaun Alexander – they all enjoyed career games against the Chiefs that season, and Kansas City had the worst defense in the NFL. Dead last. It prevented the league’s top-ranked offense from advancing to the playoffs, and one thing was abundantly clear – Greg Robinson, KC’s defensive coordinator, had to be fired. The progress the Chiefs were making on offense was being held back by the defense.
There was absolutely no question about it. The Chiefs were soft, gave up gobs of rushing yards and, most of the time, couldn’t stop anyone. But despite that, Robinson was retained by former head coach Dick Vermeil. It was a waste of time. A year later Robinson resigned after Peyton Manning decided his offense didn’t need to punt against the Chiefs in the playoffs.
Think about what could have happened if Vermeil had done the right thing and dumped Robinson a season, or even two seasons, before the inevitable happened. We might not be sitting here today lamenting the fact that Trent Green, Priest Holmes, Willie Roaf, Will Shields and Tony Gonzalez left Kansas City without a championship.
The 2009 Chiefs may not be close to a championship, and certainly they have a long way to go towards fielding a top-ranked offense. But they are making progress on that side of the ball. Instead of making the same mistake Vermeil made, Todd Haley can head it off at the pass and fire Clancy Pendergast right now, before any further damage is done.
Sunday’s game against Cleveland should be the final straw. The Chiefs have now allowed 40 or more points in three of their last four games. Pendergast’s defense hasn’t made a lick of progress since the beginning of the season, and his best defenders are Tamba Hali, Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr. They were here last year.
We have no reason to believe Pendergast can bring out the best in any young talent that might be acquired this offseason. Just look at this year’s first-round pick, Tyson Jackson. There’s no question he has talent, so why is he rated as the worst 3-4 defensive end in the NFL by ProFootballFocus.com?
Sure, he’s a rookie. But, the worst? In the entire league? Something is just not right. If you believe Jackson is a bust, you’re making a terrible rush to judgment. Pendergast? We have years and years of disappointments to judge him on.
All you have to do is look at Pendergast’s former team, the Arizona Cardinals. With nearly the exact same defensive roster from 2008, they have shaved almost a touchdown off their defensive scoring average this season. With two games left to play, they have seven more sacks, four more interceptions, and most notably, are tied for second in the NFL in third-down defense. A year ago, Pendergast’s unit was near the bottom of the league. Their pass defense folded in the waning moments of the Super Bowl.
The players starting in Arizona this season – Brian Robinson, Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, Clark Haggans, Gerald Hayes, Karlos Dansby, Chike Okeafor, Adrian Wilson, Antrell Rolle and Dominique Rodgers-Cromartie – were all in Arizona a year ago. The only notable addition is Bryant McFadden.
The notable subtraction is Pendergast. For four consecutive seasons in Arizona, all his defenses did was allow gobs of yards and points. Now in Kansas City, all his defense is doing is giving up gobs of yards and points. It’s not coincidence. It’s a trend, and the fear expressed in March, when Pendergast was hired, has become reality in December.
Perhaps KC’s defenders aren’t that talented, but it’s apparent that lack of talent extends to the sideline. Scott Pioli and Todd Haley most likely aren’t going anywhere, but Pendergast should be shipped out on the same train Robinson left on six years ago. Repeating the same mistake would be a disaster.