The Chiefs are in the early stages of a massive rebuilding program, and it shows – at 1-9, they’re firmly in the running for next April’s No. 1 overall draft pick. There are signs of hope for the future, though; three of their last four losses have come by four points or less.
OFFENSE (#26 total yardage, #16 rushing, #26 passing, #29 scoring):
Second-year quarterback Tyler Thigpen was flat-out awful in his first NFL start, completing just 14 of 36 passes for 128 yards with one touchdown and three interceptions in a Week 2 blowout loss at Atlanta. But both opening-day starter Brodie Croyle and veteran backup Damon Huard were lost for the season against the Titans in Week 7, leaving Thigpen the last man standing at the position. With no depth – and no running game to speak of, minus the suspended Larry Johnson – coordinator Chan Gailey decided he had to do something radical, installing a college-style spread offense similar to the one Thigpen ran at Coastal Carolina. The win total hasn’t increased since the change, but the former Vikings practice-squadder has shown vast improvement in the new system, throwing eight touchdown passes and just one interception in the last four games.
“It’s developing as we go,” head coach Herm Edwards said recently. “Every week we try to put a new wrinkle in it and try to see what else we can do out of it. So it’s new. It’s two or three weeks old for us. Last week we were able to run the ball out of the shotgun more than we had in the past. So I just think every week we try to do different things with it and try to develop it because we’ve been successful moving the ball and scoring some points. We’ve got to score more. But I think Tyler feels very comfortable. And I think the players are starting to feel comfortable with it, too.”
Dwayne Bowe, who topped all rookie receivers last year with 70 catches and 995 yards, should be even better in a wide-open attack. He’s tied with Tony Gonzalez for the team lead in catches and touchdowns, and could be the first Chiefs wideout to lead the team in receptions since 1997, Gonzalez’s rookie season. Former Bears second-round pick Mark Bradley starts on the other side; despite missing some practice time this week, he should be ready to play. No other Chiefs receiver or tight end has more than seven catches.
Johnson resumed getting the bulk of the carries upon his return to the lineup last week, but one wonders how much longer the troubled running back, who just turned 29 this week, will be in Kansas City. His replacement may already be on the roster; third-round pick Jamaal Charles (Texas) is averaging 5.5 yards per carry, and recently ran for 106 yards on just 18 carries against a decent Tampa Bay defense.
Not all that long ago, a veteran line stocked with All-Pros led the way for Johnson’s record-setting performances ... but most of those players are gone, with left guard Brian Waters the only one still on the roster. The Chiefs began the rebuilding process at the top of the 2008 draft, using the 15th overall pick to select guard Branden Albert from Virginia and immediately moving him to left tackle. They’ve still got some work to do, though; while they like the potential shown by first-year starter Rudy Niswanger at center, the right side is populated by journeymen Damion McIntosh and Wade Smith (who will fill in at guard for Adrian Jones).
DEFENSE (#32 total yardage, #31 rushing, #27 passing, #28 scoring):
General manager Carl Peterson was ecstatic to see LSU defensive tackle Glenn Dorsey slip to the Chiefs, who had the fifth overall pick in last April’s draft. Combined with 2007 third-rounder Tank Tyler, the middle of the Kansas City line should be solid for some time to come. The situation isn’t nearly as settled at end, though; instead of paying Jared Allen the franchise-tag price and putting up with his off-the-field issues, Peterson traded last year’s team sack leader to Minnesota and went into the season with Tamba Hali and Turk McBride as the starters. Bad call. The two have combined for exactly one of the team’s league-worst six sacks, and McBride is now on injured reserve, forcing them to shift tackle Alfonso Boone to left end and leaving old friend Ron Edwards as the only backup on the inside.
Outside linebacker Derrick Johnson returns after sitting out the last two weeks, but Donnie Edwards (hamstring, knee) and Patrick Thomas (thigh) will both miss the game. Johnson could end up in the middle, flanked by backups Rocky Boiman and Demorrio Williams. The Chiefs were already bad against the run, allowing over five yards per carry and 16 touchdowns; further upheaval in the front seven won’t help.
With Patrick Surtain also missing another game, the Chiefs are left with rookies Brandon Flowers (Virginia Tech) and Brandon Carr (Grand Valley State) starting at cornerback and journeyman Ricardo Colclough playing the nickel. Flowers has been one of the few bright spots in an increasingly dark season, but Carr has had his struggles. Bernard Pollard – best known for ending Tom Brady’s season – and Jarrad Page, who leads the team with three interceptions, start at safety.
Nick Novak won a training-camp battle against Connor Barth to open the season as the Chiefs’ kicker, but after Novak missed his second sub-40-yard field goal attempt of the season, he was released and Barth brought back. The undrafted rookie from North Carolina has been a perfect 5-for-5 so far, but has yet to try a kick of over 39 yards.
Lefty punter Dustin Colquitt is having a good season, currently averaging 40.4 net yards on his kicks and placing 20 out of 47 inside the opponents’ 20-yard line. This, despite a bad coverage team that allows over 10 yards per return.
Backup running back Dantrell Savage was average on kick returns and horrible on punts; the undrafted free agent was bounced off the active roster earlier in the week, then re-signed to the practice squad. Fellow rookie Kevin Robinson, who holds the Utah State records for return yardage and touchdowns, takes over both jobs.
A month ago, I would have chalked this up as an easy win for Buffalo. My, how times have changed. The Chiefs would seem to present an enticing matchup ... but that’s what we thought about the Browns, too. Until Trent Edwards gets his head straight, I’m not sure this team can beat anybody, much less on the road. We’ll see.
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