As the NFL preseason kicks off, and the regular season waits in the on deck circle, and fans of every team that missed the playoffs wonders if this is the year they turn it around. For the Kansas City Chiefs they are staring down an AFC West that is full of changes and questions, and to me looks ripe for the picking. But some things need to happen for it all to work.
1-The team must stay healthy- Last season the Chiefs were in essentially the same spot. Lots of promise and optimism, and plenty of talent all over the field.
But the injuries started coming. And coming. And coming.
And pretty soon the best of their season was standing on the sidelines in street clothes. I realize that there is little more than dumb luck when it comes to injuries, but this team is deeper now, and especially for a guy like running back Jamaal Charles, having some players behind him, such as free agent pickup Peyton Hillis should keep some tread on his tires and every snap they don’t have to have him on the field is one more snap where he can’t be injured.
Along those same lines, assuming there will be some injuries, the players who are 2 and 3 on the depth chart have to be ready to step in and play more so than last year.
2-Run the football- This seems obvious, but this team appears to be built to run the football. Jamaal Charles is returning from a torn ACL, but there is depth here. Peyton Hillis was brought in, but has some of his own issues to deal with. Assuming both are at full speed in the first month of the season they make for a great tandem. But they aren’t all. Dexter McCluster is a Swiss Army knife of a player who can gobble up yards running or receiving so I expect him to get 8 to 10 touches a game, even more until both Charles and Hillis are at full speed. I think that with McCluster being able to double up roster spots, they Chiefs will carry a 4th back and I expect that back to be Cyrus Gray, a rookie from Texas A&M. Gray fell in the draft because he didn’t time well, but make no mistake the kid can run the football. He’s a solid built back and will be a great 3rd or 4th option this season. Along those same lines, the offensive line is going through some transition and we all know that a young offensive line would rather run block than pass protect. Running the football keeps their defense off the field and opposing defenses on their heels. If they want to win, they must establish the run.
3-Get pressure on the quarterback- Last season the Chiefs were only able to sack the quarterback 29 times. This put them at 27th in the league. This must improve. I’m a huge fan of LB Tamba Hali, but the next closest was LB Justin Houston but only with 5.5. No other player had more than 2. If the Chiefs want to win, they have to get creative in the pressure. That means using their 2 best athletes on defense, Eric Berry and Derrick Johnson more as blitzers, and the front 3, especially rookie Dontari Poe must do a better job if not getting pressure up front, forcing double teams and making life easier on the guys getting paid to rush the quarterback.
4-Matt Cassel has to play big- Cassel was part of that group of players who lost time to injuries but even when he was on the field, he wasn’t as effective as the team would have liked. He needs to return to his 2010 form, and he’s got the weapons to do so. In 2010 he had nearly 4 to 1 TD to INT ratio but still a completion percentage was still below 60 percent. Good quarterbacks can win games. Really good ones can even get a team to the playoffs. But only great quarterbacks can win Super Bowls. The Chiefs need Cassel to be a great quarterback. He has the tools and he has the weapons. It’s time for him to step up and be the guy the Chiefs paid all that money to, or it might be time to look elsewhere.
I have a ton of confidence in the Chiefs this year. Denver is in a state of transition at the quarterback position, the Chargers always seem to find a way to crumble and the Raiders are still a year away from contention. The Chiefs must strike while the iron is hot and win the AFC West this season.
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