I left for vacation a mere 10 days ago. At that time the Chiefs were looking like legitimate playoff and possible Super Bowl contenders. Their dismantling of the Cardinals defense made their offense look very special and their own defense, while having some problems, still looked more than adequate. When I returned from my voyage into the mountains, chaos had broken out.
As I slowly got myself back into my daily groove last week I had to catch up piecemeal with all the happenings around the Chiefs. They looked very poor in getting dismantled by the Rams, a team many think could be the worse in the league.
Brandon Flowers remained hurt. The Chiefs had basically thrown up their hands saying they have no clue why he is still injured. Kendrick Lewis hurt his shoulder and had his arm in a sling. And the consummate team player and individual Tamba Hali received a one game suspension for violating the league substance abuse policy, which both he and the team were intentionally and suspiciously vague about.
Like I said: chaos.
A team that many were starting to think could be a force, all of the sudden seemed very vulnerable. With the explosive Atlanta Falcons offense coming to Arrowhead on September 9th, the Chiefs will be without their top pass rusher and possibly without their top two defensive backs (who at the very least will not be 100%). No matter which way you slice it, that’s not good news.
My return to normal life and Kansas City after my vacation has not been as triumphant as I originally envisioned.
Yet, the approach I took after the first preseason game will hold true even after two bad ones: don’t read too much into it. Now is not the time to panic in Kansas City. While Flowers’ injury is disconcerting at best, he will most likely play against the Falcons. Even a Flowers at 100% is better than most. Whether he will be able to shut down Roddy White remains to be seen, but I’d take him out there with a shot of cortisone over most other options.
The loss of Hali hurts, but let’s not forget that it’s only one game and Justin Houston really started to come into his own in the second half of last year. Of his 5.5 sacks and 53 tackles, all sacks and 34 of his tackles came in the second half of the season. Many people also forget about Cam Sheffield who was a fifth round pick in 2010 but was derailed with a neck injury that season and had to work his way back last season. This is their chance to prove themselves as viable second and third options as pass rushers and the early returns are solid.
Last year the Chiefs ranked 12th in points allowed and 11th in yards on defense. This was without Eric Berry, no viable nose tackle, and 89 points and 775 yards in the first two games alone. The defense has a chance to be elite and if Flowers is in the game should be able to overcome this adversity.
Possibly the most important thing to remember here is that the offense is still intact. While many thought the strength of this team would be the defense, there was never any question as to the weapons the offense had planted around much maligned QB Matt Cassel.
With the emergence of Dexter McCluster, Jonathan Baldwin, the return of Dwayne Bowe, and Tony Moeaki and the addition of Kevin Boss and Peyton Hillis, this offense could be as explosive as we saw in the mid 2000’s.
Perhaps the most interesting aspect of this season relates to exact reason why last year went down the tubes so quickly. The first drive of the season the Buffalo Bills moved down the field and scored a touchdown. Before anybody knew what was happening, the Chiefs were trailing 20-0 in their first halftime. This then fed on itself leading to at 41-7 loss at home, followed by a 48-3 debacle the next week and then eventually snowballing into a 0-3 start. This cannot happen this season.
The first game, and even more importantly the first series could determine whether this teams shoots for the playoffs or jockeys for a draft position. A quick and methodical offensive touchdown on the first drive or a quick three-and-out for the defense could set the tone for the first game very nicely. Such an event would turn the opening day crowd raucous and possibly lead the team to victory. As Lewis and Flowers get healthier and Hali returns, this could snowball itself into a 3-0 start instead of the opposite.
Of course, there are a lot of ifs in that statement. The Chiefs could find themselves deep in a hole just like they did last year. It could build on itself and the first month of the season could be filled with more soul searching than victories. Then again, the Chiefs could lose 20-17 and the outcome many thought would happen anyway would hold true. After all, you’d be hard pressed to find many who would rank the Chiefs higher than the Falcons.
The point here is that there is a lot left to be decided. While many things can build off seemingly small events like the first drive of the season, that drive hasn’t happened yet. Preseason can mean a lot of weird things happening. Defenses and offenses don’t show their true selves. Many don’t operate to their full capacity to not show other teams what they’re capable of. The Detroit Lions in 2008 went 4-0 in the preseason only to go 0-16 in the regular season. The Indianapolis Colts often went 0-4 or 1-3 in the preseason only to be Super Bowl contenders with Peyton Manning.
The book isn’t written on the Chiefs yet. While some happenings are slightly discouraging, nothing has counted to this point. There is still time to right the ship and become the team many thought they would be. I don’t think we will see the team we saw the past two weeks, but I’m also not sure we will see the team we saw in preseason game number one either. This is a pivotal season for this regime and if the Chiefs do well they will be revered. If they don’t, I’ll need another vacation and hopefully my return will be better served after that one.