2011 Record: 7-9
Key Additions: Stanford Routt, Peyton Hillis, Eric Winston, Kevin Boss, Brady Quinn
Key Losses: Brandon Carr, Le’Ron McClain, Kyle Orton, Kelly Gregg, Casey Wiegmann, Thomas Jones
Offense: There’s promising signs here when you consider that this is essentially the same unit as 2010 but slightly improved. Matt Cassel may not be the flashiest quarterback in the league but he has shown in the past that he has the ability to get the job done and if the preseason is anything to go by he could prove to be an asset to his team. There’s some decent receiving options on this team that should help the quarterback play. Dwayne Bowe appears to have finally broken out and while he regressed somewhat in 2011 that may have been due to the tough schedule. Jon Baldwin is a very talented young wideout and while he’s still raw he has all the measurables to be a capable #2 receiver. Then there is tight end Tony Moeaki who showed great maturity in the 2010 campaign and looked like being well on his way in 2011 until he tore his ACL. Throw in maverick part-timer Dexter McCluster as well as veterans Steve Breaston and Kevin Boss and you have a complete receiving corps who can compete with the best in the league.
The strength of this offense is in the running game. Jamaal Charles is coming off an ACL tear but considering how early in the 2011 season it happened it shouldn’t be a problem and he appears to have come back as good as ever. The most interesting part here however is what Charles needs to be successful. In 2010 when he had his best season, Thomas Jones was alongside to take away carries and provide the team with a 1-2 punch. This year the Chiefs have acquired a runner who should provide a similar effect – Peyton Hillis formerly of the Cleveland Browns. Hillis is also coming off injury but also appears to be one who requires a partner to help balance his workload. With Charles and Hillis working together, they should offset each other’s weaknesses while maximising their strengths.
The Chiefs offensive line has some very strong pieces on it but some very notable weaknesses also. Brandon Albert and Eric Winston are elite linemen although Albert would be better suited to playing guard than left tackle. The team sought to address this by drafting Donald Stephenson in the third round but that will take time. For now, Ryan Lilja mans the left guard position and is one of the worst starting guards in the league so getting Albert in that spot will be a priority in the future. As a whole however this unit is pretty good and Winston’s addition should improve their ability to hold a stable pocket.
Defense: This team’s defense as a whole is a solid unit and together tends to play well while lacking players that play at an elite level. The defensive line is a wall of first round picks that have yet to pan out. Dontari Poe was drafted this year to take the team’s vacant nose tackle position but it is unclear if he is ready yet leaving a gaping need. Outside him, Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson have shown glimpses of what made them first round picks a couple of years back but on the whole have failed to live up to the buzz surrounding them when they were drafted.
Linebacker is where this defense is strongest as there are players here who have emerged as top if unspectacular talents in recent year. Inside linebacker Derrick Johnson is perhaps the most underrated player at his position in the NFL and is someone who will put up consistently high numbers every week. Belcher and Siler are likely to form a rotation next to him on the inside although both have shown capability. On the outside, Tamba Hali is starting to show himself as a top pass rusher although he will miss the first game due to a doping violation. Last year the Chiefs finally got some additional assistance opposite Hali in Justin Houston who the team acquired in the third round last year. I expect this pair to become one of the more potent outside linebacker combos in the league before long.
Unlike most secondaries in the league, the Chiefs have a very strong corps of players. This was illustrated most when the team chose to part with Brandon Carr to free agency. They haven’t lost too much however as 2008 second rounder Brandon Flowers has come along in the past year or two to the point where opposing quarterbacks actively avoid him. On the other side is former Raider Stanford Routt who despite being dumped by his former team is still a formidable talent and is only a year removed from the terrific 2010 campaign that earned him big money in the 2011 offseason. He could be one of the sneakier good adds the Chiefs have made.
Out to the safeties and here we have the biggest concern on this defense following the recent injury to free safety Kendrick Lewis who is out indefinitely. Backup Abram Elam may be a veteran but he’s by no means a quality starter and thus this is a weakpoint in the aggressive Chiefs defense. At strong safety there are yet more question marks – 2010 first round pick Eric Berry is a phenomenal athlete and should be one of the best safeties in the NFL before long but he’s coming off an ACL tear and it’s uncertain what effect the missed time had on his personal development.
Coaching: Romeo Crennel has already shown himself to be a player’s coach and while this is always a nice thing to have, Crennel still has plenty to prove as being as NFL caliber head coach. As a defensive mind, Crennel is one of the top thinkers in the league and this is shown in part by his also taking the duties of defensive coordinator. However, Crennel is said to largely rely on others when it comes to offense. Brian Daboll is a very good addition as the team’s new offensive coordinator with former OC Todd Haley now in Pittsburgh but Crennel himself needs to round out his NFL knowledge and become more involved with the offensive side of the game. If he doesn’t, one has to feel he will eventually end up back as a defensive coordinator within a few years as a good head coach needs to have a thorough understanding of both sides of the ball.
Breakout Player: Jon Baldwin is one of those wide receivers that appears to have all the tools. At 6 foot 4 and weighing 230 lbs he has the size to be an aggressive receiver and it appears that this year he is finally maturing as a player also. Reports out of Chiefs camp have suggested that the problems Baldwin had last year in terms of controlling himself are well in the past. With Dwayne Bowe having held out, Baldwin was given the opportunity to get a high number of first team reps and he has taken full advantage of this making a number of spectacular plays and growing a strong relationship with Matt Cassel in the process. Baldwin finally looks like a professional football player and I expect him to rise up and take his place as an integral part of the offense this season. I have a feeling that someone else agrees with me – with Baldwin showing so much in practice, Dwayne Bowe made sure to come back and take his job back. Kinda suggests Baldwin is a threat for more than the #2 job.
2012 Prediction: This team has all the makings of another playoff run. Only problem for me is that their division opponents keep getting tougher and I feel they may just miss out on the postseason this year. Still, they should be solid and create a few upsets so I’ll give them a respectable 9-7.
Overview: This team will not leaving you ooooing and aaahing at their big names and elite talent. That’s not the Kansas City style. What you have here is a solid, dependable unit of solid, dependable professional football players who shouldn’t be underestimated against any opponent and have strength all over the park. This is a team that is still growing and will continue to grow as the 2012 season commences. Be prepared for this team to surprise you and to be sure they’ll make both themselves and their loyal fan-base proud.