Thursday, May 15, 2014

2014 chiefs: part uno

"The next Friday night?
We were sitting out,
Under the stars.

You should have seen
Her smile,
When I broke out my guitar ...

She was like,
Oh my God!
This is my song!

I've been listening
To the radio,
All night long!

Sittin' 'round waiting
For it to come on?
And here it is!

She was like,
"Come here boy --
 I want to dance!"

Before I 
Said a word?
She was taking my hand,

And spinning in the headlights,
She gave me,
A good night kiss.

And I said,
"Play it again!
Play it again!
Play it again!"

I said,
"Play it again!
Play it again!
Play it again!" ...

-- "Play It Again" by Luke Bryan.

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In any relationship, there are three questions that you have to constantly ask, if the relationship is going to continue.  Once you stop asking those three questions, and once you stop answering those three questions?  The relationship will collapse.

And those three questions are:

1. Where the hell are we?
2. How the hell did we get here?  And
3. Where the hell do we go from here?

So, with the initial wave of free agency over, with the draft behind us, it’s time to answer those three questions for the Chiefs.

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I’m going to answer all three questions, as best I can.  But first, let me make a clarification up front, given what my answer to at least two of the questions, is going to be.  And that clarification is this:

I refuse to concede a season before it starts. 

If only because the 2001 Patriots proved that anything can happen.  That was a Pats team coming off a 5-11 season, that lost its’ Pro Bowl quarterback in a week two loss to the Jets, when Mo Lewis damned near decapitated Drew Bledsoe (and did succeed in collapsing his lung).  They had a brutal schedule – every team in the division had made the playoffs at least once in the previous three seasons (Colts ‘99, ‘00; Jets ‘98; Dolphins ‘98, ‘99, ‘00; Bills ‘98, ‘99), and the years those four teams missed the playoffs?

The Colts were in year one of satan manning.  The Jets went 8-8 in 1999 (after opening 0-3), and went 9-7 in 2000, missing the playoffs by a game.  The Bills went 7-9 in 2000.  (The Dolphins made it all three years, and won their wildcard round game each time (1998 vs Bills; 1999 at Seahawks, 2000 vs Colts), before crapping out in blowout fashion in the divisional round (1998 at broncos, 1999 at Jaguars (62-3, the largest margin of victory in a NFL postseason game), 2000 at raiders).)

Not only did the Patriots enter 2001 as the probable worst team in the division, but consider their competition, just to get one of the three wildcards – and not just inside the division (which saw the Patriots, Jets, and Dolphins all make the playoffs in 2001).

The raiders were the dominant team in the AFC West (yes, kids, it’s true – Jon Gruden really is that good of a coach).  The Steelers owned the AFC Central.  But the Jaguars, Titans, Seahawks, and Chiefs were perennial contenders, and the Browns were on the rise (yes, kids, it’s true – your 2002 Cleveland Browns actually not only posted a winning record, but made the playoffs, and damned near upset the Steelers in Pittsburgh in the wildcard round).

If the 2001 Patriots can win a Lombardi?  Anyone can, if the breaks fall right.  So no, I’m not writing off 2014 in May.  And I’m not insinuating anyone at One Arrowhead Drive is, either.

But I keep coming back to those three questions.  And if we’re being honest, isn’t the correct way to approach 2014, is to hope for the best … but be ok with the worst?

Let’s deal with this, one question at a time*.

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(*: and definitely NOT "One Day At A Time".)

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1. Where the hell are we? 

My answer: In “no man’s land”.

I have enough things in my life that have the proverbial “elephant in the room” status, so let’s address the elephant in the room here.

The Chiefs schedule is brutal on paper.  Seven of our sixteen games, are against fellow 2013 postseason participants.  (Two each against satan’s squad and the Chargers; one each against the Seahawks, 49ers, and Patriots).  In addition, we face a team that won ten but didn’t get in (Cardinals), controlled its own destiny in week seventeen before crapping it away (Dolphins), the first team out in the AFC (Steelers) and two other .500 squads that are well-coached franchises on the rise (Jets, Rams).

Of those twelve games?  At least it’s a six / six split home and road … but even the four remaining games, don’t leave much breathing room.  The Titans are decent, “The Ralph” is our house of horrors (the Chiefs have won at Buffalo exactly once since 1986 … and it took a 102 yard interception return for a touchdown last year, for that to happen), and when it’s the raiders, anything can happen.  Anything can happen.

(Case in point?  Until last year, the Chiefs hadn’t beaten the raiders at Arrowhead since 2006.  And the inverse is also true – the raiders have beaten us by the Bay exactly once, in the last ten years (2012).)

So on paper, this is bad.  This is really bad. 

The last time I’d argue the Chiefs schedule, on paper, was this bad four months out?  Was 2006.

In 2006, this is what awaited:

* the Super Bowl champion (Steelers).
* the Super Bowl runner up (Seahawks).
* the AFC Championship runner up (broncos).
* a team that won fourteen games (Chargers).
* a team that won thirteen games (Ravens).
* the AFC North Champion (Bengals).
* five opponents that finished with seven to nine wins in 2005 (49ers, Rams, Dolphins, Cardinals, and the Jaguars – in what became the de-facto AFC Wild Card Qualification game).

Our only “breathers”?  We barely beat oakland twice (goalline stand at Arrowhead, a field goal slugfest on a rainy Saturday night in oakland), and an embarrassing collapse in Cleveland that should have cost us the playoffs (Chiefs blew a 28-14 lead, losing in overtime).

If the Chiefs take a step back in 2014?  It won’t be stunning.

But it doesn’t have to be fatal.

The 2006 Chiefs took a step back from 2005 – they won one fewer game, and needed the “Immaculate Fourfecta”*, to reach the playoffs.

But they did reach them.  Something the 2005 team, did not.

Furthermore, consider the personnel losses.  Three fifths of our offensive line is gone-zo – and we haven’t exactly done anything to replace them.  (Partly due to our salary cap issues, but mostly, I’d guess, because this is the “Packers Way” – wait for the bargains, to fall to you.)  Apparently we’re satisfied with gambling the passing game on AJ Jenkins and Donnie “Hands of Stevo” Avery as credible targets.

I’m in the minority, in believing the secondary can fix itself.  The dirty little secret from that meltdown at Indy?  Is that the Chiefs led by three touchdowns, when Brandon Flowers was done for the day with an injury.  Flowers’ departure opened up the entire field (which is why I think the notion of trading him is retarded with a capital R) for Andrew Luck.  A corner rotation of Flowers, Sean Smith, Marcus Cooper, and third round pick Phillip Gaines, along with Husain Abdullah (highly underrated) and Sanders Commings (properly rated), doesn’t worry me.  A safety rotation of Eric Berry and … uuh … gee … uuh … yeah, cover corners don’t worry me.

(I ask this in all seriousness: will the Chiefs use a 5-2-3-1 at some point this season?  A front five of (in some lined up order, ideally left to right) Tamba Hali, first round pick Dee Ford, Dontari Poe, Allen Bailey, and Justin Houston; with a pair of Johnsons – Nico and Derrick – at linebacker, and some combo of three of Flowers / Smith / Gaines / Commings / Abdullah / Commings at corner, with Berry as the safety help / quick blitz if you send the house?  That has potential.)

So let me answer question uno by saying this.

The 2014 Chiefs are likely to take a step back.  Where we’re at?  Is currently the third best team in the division, and among the three or four squads, likely to enter the clusterf*ck I so love at 9-7, or 8-8, to determine which barely decent team, gets to get rolled 44-13 on the road at Indy or New England, to open the playoffs.

And I’m OK with that.  If only because the answer to the third question any successful relationship has to continuously ask?

Is that damned positive.

Because for the first time in sixteen years**, the Chiefs not only have asked and answered the question to number one?

They’ve asked and answered the question, to number two.

Which means they’re finally ready, to answer question number three.

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(*: The Immaculate Fourfecta – four exact outcomes had to occur in week seventeen (after three exact outcomes had to occur in week sixteen), for the Chiefs to reach the playoffs.  All four occurred.  Chiefs beat the Jaguars; Steelers beat the Bengals in overtime, the Vinny Testaverde-quarterbacked Patriots demolished the Titans in Nashville, and the Alex Smith-led 49ers beat the donkeys in overtime, in denver, after spotting the donkeys a 13-0 lead.  Best 30th Birthday present any Chiefs fan has ever received, believe you me.)

(**: technically, this is unfair.  Carl Peterson did finally answer, and attempt to deal with, question two in 2008.  Unfortunately, he’d so thoroughly refused to actually account for question two the previous ten years, that he wasn’t given the chance, to see the answer through.)

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2. How did we get here? 

My answer: January 4, 1998.

Bill Simmons has an absolutely awesome column up at Grantland right now, and while I understand (and somewhat agree) with his assessment of the Thunder’s current situation (note to my readers: if you despite the NBA, don’t click on the link.  You’re welcome, “Hot Carl”)?

It’s the flashback to the 2002 Kings?  That matters here.

We had our shot, Chiefs fans.  We had it.

January 4, 1998.

And we failed.

Everything for nine years, built to that day.  The slow, methodical building of this team through ridiculously shrewd draft picks***, savvy, creative free agent signings****, and the support of seeing this through to its conclusion by all involved – owner, GM, and coach*****.

Then came January 4, 1998.

The moment the chips got pushed in, to the center of the table.

Eight straight winning seasons, finally culminating with the best team in the AFC (and the best in the league), arriving at Arrowhead, to battle the second best team in the AFC (and the second best in the league), the day after my 21st birthday.

To this day, I still have the “power towel”.  I brought it every game this season to Arrowhead, if only to have something to chew on, on that crucial 3rd and 7******.  I’ll never let go of it.

Joe Posnanski has noted many times, that the single most depressing event he’s ever covered, was Marty Schottenheimer’s post-season presser, after the 10-14 defeat to denver on that frigid Sunday in January.  When Marty looked out at the room, and simply asked “what more could we have done”?

Every decision this franchise has made (with the aforementioned outlier of 2008), has been made to build on the 1997 squad, in some way, shape, or form.

And it’s been one gigantic, colossal mistake.

The Chiefs loaded up in free agency in the 1997 offseason.  Signed Chester McGlockton to a cap-crippling contract.  Signed Wayne Simien (who lasted 11 games, before getting cut in the aftermath of “The Monday Night Meltdown” – and hang on, we’re coming back to that game, to answer the third question). 

We let the QB debacle enter year two, refusing to make a decision on Gannon or Grbac.  Signed Derrick Alexander to take the pressure off of Andre Rison (which acutally was one of about three moves this team made in the late 1990s, that not only made sense, but was the right call) … but kicked the Kevin Lockett’s, the Lake Dawson’s, the Kimble Anders’, the Greg Manusky’s – the guys you HAVE to have, to win it all, to the curb, to pay for it.

1999 – more of the same.  Just keep trying to “make the tournament”.  It didn’t happen.

After the 2000 season ended so horrifically (losing 6 of 8 to miss the playoffs for the third straight year), the word “rebuild” wasn’t even used, when the coaching staff was overhauled.  And in fairness to Mr. Peterson, how could it be mentioned?  He was in year 12 of the so-called “5 Year Plan”. 

We didn’t draft our quarterback of the future in that draft; we traded the 12th overall pick to St. Louis for Trent Green.  (In fairness to Mr. Green, who is the best quarterback we’ve had since Len Dawson?  Drew Brees went 32nd, in that 2001 draft … and there wasn’t another quarterback in that draft, save for possibly Michael Vick, worth drafting.  They all crapped out.)

(And yes, I’m focusing on QB somewhat, because it’s why I loved the Chiefs draft as I did.)

The next four, five, six years?  Carl must have thought his name was Indiana Jones, because the strategory was to sign or trade, for any veteran, that might be the Holy Grail, of getting Lamar’s Trophy home.  “cut” glen cadrez, Ty Law, Eddie Kennison, Priest Holmes, Pat Surtain, Willie Roaf, Casey Weigmann, Kendall Gammon, Damon Huard, Todd Collins, Kendrick Bell, Shawn Barber*******, Johnnie Morton, even Morten Anderson for God’s sake, and he was not only pushing 50 years old, anything outside of 35 was a coin flip for a field goal attempt!

It didn’t matter to this team.  The “win now” mentality had not only completely taken over every element of the organization, up to and including the coaching staff? 

One Arrowhead Drive was now Crony Central … although in fairness to the cronyism, it was all in pursuit of an impossible to attain dream, given how the team was being built.  Dick Vermeil, Mike White, bringing back Gunther. Somehow employing Bob Karmelowitz year after year, when every damned defensive lineman he ever coached here not named Eric Hicks, was atrocious.

Finally, ten years after the abortion that was January 4, 1998, a grown-up stepped up to the plate, and put an end to the charade.  For exactly ten months.

And that grown-up, in his final decent act (and he had many) to the football fans in this town?

Was Carl Peterson.

Because he realized, after the 4-3 stunning start in 2007, dissolved into an 0-9 finish?

That January 4, 1998, was when our window closed.

Carl finally realized, after ten years of wandering the desert, that it wasn’t going to happen, how he planned it to happen.

In Carl’s defense?

It took Moses thirty years longer, to wrap his brain around that fact.

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(***: some of these savvy draft picks?  Tim Grunhard in round two (1990), Dave Szott in round seven (1990), Dale Carter in round one (1992) Will Shields in round three (1993 – our first pick that year),  Danan “It’s” Hughes in round seven (1993), Donnell Bennett in round two (1994 – led the Chiefs in rushing in 1999), Lake Dawson in round three (1994), Bracy Walker in round five (1994 – and yes, I know it’s Bracy Walker, but at least two regular readers of this site, as well as me, will understand why he’s in this list), Tamarick Vanover in round three (1995) … and then, the best draft in franchise history, 1996.  Jerome Woods (round one), Reggie Tongue (round two), John Browning (round three), “59S BOY”, aka Donnie Edwards (round four), Joe Horn (round five), and Jeff Smith (round seven).  Good God, were Carl and former draft guru Terry Bradway dialed in, in 1996!)

(****: some of these savvy signings?  Right off the bat, Mike Webster and Steve DeBerg.  Joe Phillips, Dan Saleaumua and Dave Kreig via Plan B free agency.  Marcus Allen as the second major free agent in NFL history (behind Reggie White – sorry Jets fans, a broken down Ronnie Lott, doesn’t count.)  A backup quarterback five other franchises said “no thanks” to, some dude known “affectionately” on this site as Dick Gannon.  Mark Collins and James Hasty from the Giants and Jets, respectively, to create the 1995 defense that remains the benchmark, by which every Chiefs defense must be judged.  Hell, even “Mighty Mouse”, Mark MacMillan, had his moments.)

(*****: every coach the Chiefs employed from January 4, 1998, to January 9, 2006, was utterly clueless as to how to answer question two.  And even Herm caused many of us to rethink the true, honest answer, to question two, at times in his first year and a half at the helm.)

(******: technically, it’s the 4th and 7 against denver that killed us – trailing 10-14, I’ll never forget the visual of Paul Hackett literally about to fall out of the coaching booth, trying to get the play communicated to Elvis Grbac, because the headsets weren’t working.  Some will say that was due to the brutal cold (it was -9 at kickoff … and this was almost four hours later, for a 3:30 kickoff).  You will never convince me shanarat didn’t somehow f*ck with the communications systems that day.)

(*******: nobody fell harder for this signing, than this (not even remotely) humble blogger.  I still have the Shawn Barber jersey hanging in the closet.  (Pause).  Should I go there?  (Pause).  Yeah, you’re right – (fidelity ad guy voice) why not? 

There’s a reason I don’t wear jerseys to games anymore, and I haven’t since 2005, when I sported the Derrick Johnson jersey.  That reason?  Because every Chiefs players’ jersey I’d wear?  Something disasterous would happen.

I wore Christian Okoye’s in the early to mid 1990’s.  Out of the league by 1994.  I wore Neil Smith’s after that; he left for satan’s squad in free agency.  I wore Elvis Grbac’s after that.  Let’s just let that one go.

Finally, in 1999, “The Voice of Reason” and I were out getting stuff for our apartment one day, stopped in at the old JC Penney at Bannister Mall (which, (brantley gilbert voice) back in the day, was THE most underrated Chiefs apparel facility in the metropolitan area), and we both agreed – I could not go wrong with the Derrick Thomas jersey.  What could possibly go wrong?

Less than eight months later, Mr. Thomas passed away from injuries from a car wreck.

Still, I didn’t learn my lesson.

Next up was Eric Hicks – cut after the season.  Then Marc Boerighter – yikes.  Finally, Shawn Barber, then Derrick Johnson.  Never again, Chiefs fans.  Never again. 

And in case you don’t believe me?  When us season ticket holders got our free jersey a few years ago for simply being season ticket holders?  I gave mine to Russ as an early birthday gift, with “Russ the Bus Man” emblazoned as the name.

Even my 1B franchise isn’t exempt from the Stevo Jersey Curse – my dad got me a Chad Pennington jersey for Christmas in 2002.  Mr. Pennington never finished a season for the Jets again, in anything approaching play-ready health.

The next time you ask “why don’t you ever wear a jersey to a game”? 

You now have your answer.)

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Former GM Scott Pioli I think tried to address the core issue (that this organization, for whatever reason, believed for years on end, they were one lucky break away, from being those 2001 Patriots), but too many of his choices, bombed out.  He crapped out at the quarterback position.  He overpaid Dwayne Bowe.  He blew the Tyson Jackson pick (although in fairness, he had little choice).  I’ll go to my grave arguing he botched the 2011 first rounder.  I guaran-gosh-darn-tee you, Houston is going to trade for Ryan Mallett, and prove me right.

But give Scott Pioli credit (and I realize, I’m ducking multiple rotten tomatoes, for saying that).  He wasn’t afraid, to build for two years from now.  The trade back in 2011, landed us Justin Houston.  (And at 21, Cleveland picked Phil Taylor, DT, Baylor, who hasn’t exactly lit the world on fire.)  Mr. Pioli also gambled his first second rounder on a quarterback he had confidence in (trading our second rounder to the Patriots in 2009 for Matt Cassel and LB Mike Vrabel) – if anything?  He made out better than John Dorsey did (sending two second rounders to the 49ers, for Alex Smith).

He also, knowing it might cost him his job, sacrificed said job, with his 2012 draft, which definitely helped make 2013 possible … because he was willing to sacrifice 2012.  He took a longer-term project in round one in Dontari Poe (that paid nothing in 2012, looked decent last year, and every Chiefs fan should be geeked about, entering 2014).  He drafted a rock solid guard in Jeff Allen in round two – someone who should be a stalwart for the next five years.  He drafted tackle Donald Stephenson in round three – the one lineman we have, who can play every position (and started seven games last year, and right now, is slated to start at right tackle, in 2014).

As my buddy Pickell would say, put it this way: 99 out of 100 general managers, with their job on the line, wouldn’t draft three linemen, on either side of the ball, in their final draft.  They’d reach for a QB, a WR, something, anything, to ensure a year of job security.

Scott Pioli didn’t.

(For those of you who have ever wondered why I wouldn’t have fired him?  That’s a huge chunk, of your answer.  He fell on his own sword.  As someone being demanded to do that on a daily basis in my current job?  I respect the hell out of people, willing to do that, willing to do what’s in the best long-term interest of the company, even if it’s in your own personal worst short-term interests.)

And John Dorsey has picked up, where Scott Pioli left off.  Draft for the future.  Never more so than with Aaron Murray.

Because, and this is my opinion, just like Scott Pioli before him?  Just like Carl Peterson finally grasped ten years too late?

When your shot at greatness bombs out?

You have to rebuild, from the ground up … not the top down.

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3. Where do we go from here? 

My answer: keep the course.

This team is building towards greatness. 

And they’re doing it, in a way proven to work.

Even if I am 100% wrong, and Aaron Murray is the latest in a long line of horrific Chiefs draft picks at quarterback*?

You forget who’s coaching him.

“Fat” Andy Reid.

A man who turned a washed-up Donovan McNabb, into a first rounder.  A worthless AJ Feeley, into a second rounder.  Ditto a worthless Kevin Kolb.  A man who won the NFC East with Jeff Garcia under center, made the playoffs with Ty Detmer under center, won games with Coy Detmer under center, and resurrected Michael Vick’s career.  The man smart enough to draft Nick Foles.

The man who was the quarterbacks coach for (hang on, this is gonna take awhile …) Joe Montana, Steve Bono, Steve Young, Elvis Grbac, Don Majkowski, Brett Favre, Mark Brunell, Matt Hasselbeck. 

Read the list of the last two paragraphs, folks.  Yes, there are some flame-outs in there.  But they didn’t flame out UNDER “Fat” Andy’s tutelage.  They flamed out AFTER his tutelage.

“Fat” Andy learned from the best.  He coached under Bill Walsh, under Mike Holmgren.  He was smart enough to employ the late, great Jim Johnson as his defensive coordinator every time he got the chance.

It’s why I not just renewed, I added a ticket this year**.

Because I believe, in what “Fat” Andy, John Dorsey, and the Hunt family, are selling.

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(*: really?  Do I have to go through the roll call?  I’ll just hit the lowlights.  Matt Blundin, Alex Van Pelt (hey, he knows the system!), Steve Stenstrom, Steve Matthews, Brodie Croyle, Ricki Stanzi, Tyler Bray, and I refuse to type any more, that I no doubt missed.)

(**: my wedding gift to Anthony and Jaimmie, was to sit by me this year, and not have to worry about scraping together $100 a week, to enjoy this team.  (Pause).  Like them?  I’m not sure that’s a “gift”.)

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So, here we are.

The 2014 Chiefs, are worse right now, than the 2013 Chiefs were, in this spot.

Less talent, worse schedule, tougher challenges.

But 2014?  Isn’t what this team is building to.

It’s 2015, and beyond.

This team has finally learned from its mistakes, since Elvis Grbac’s 4th and 7 pass fell incomplete with :13 left, on that horrific Sunday early evening in January 1998.

And now, we’re rebuilding from them.

If 2014 turns out like 2006?  Wonderful, short term.

If 2014 turns out like 1989?  Perfect, long term.

And if 2014 turns out like 2009?  1999?  1987?  1983?  1979?  1977?  1976?  1973?


Well, we’re Chiefs fans for a reason …

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

When the eff are we getting a pick by pick draft review? I need your Zach Fulton analysis.