Tuesday, June 26, 2012

What Will It Take: Chiefs Playoff Hopes

In 2010, the Chiefs made the playoffs due to a number and variety of reasons. A few of these reasons include: an improved offense lead by the league's best rushing offense and an efficient Matt Cassel behind center; a surprisingly stingy defense that included two rookie safeties - Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis - as well as a resurgent Derrick Johnson and ever-present Tamba Hali, Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr.

The team had been on the threshold of figuring things out towards the end of 2009, and due to a combination of hard work and good luck, the Chiefs found themselves in the playoffs for the first time since the 2007 season.

But things can change in a hurry in the NFL.

The constant that helped lead the team to the playoffs was the constant that kept the team out of the playoffs in 2011: injuries. In 2010, the Chiefs were one of the luckiest teams as far as injuries were concerned. A year later, the Chiefs regressed towards the mean, in perhaps the cruelest of fashions. Losing Charles, Berry and Moeaki in consecutive weeks would handicap any team, but the Chiefs weren't eliminated from the playoff race until week 16.

Resiliency is something you cannot accuse the Chiefs of not possessing. But 2012 is a new season, and new keys to success exist. Not all of these will need to be reached, but if the majority are not, the team cannot hope to rebound back to the postseason.

Matt Cassel

Everything will start and end with the play of Cassel this season. He is the quarterback, and he will dictate how the offense performs. In 2010, Cassel played in 15 games completing 58.2% of his passes for 3,116 yards, 27 TDs and 7 INTs. In 2011, Cassel only appeared in 9 games before being lost for the season, completing 59.5% of his passes for 1,713 yards, 10 TDs and 9 INTs. Let's hope 2011 is not the Cassel Chiefs fans will see in 2012.

Jamaal Charles, Eric Berry, Tony Moeaki

Two years ago, Charles and Berry were Pro Bowlers and Moeaki was a tight end on the rise. Now, all three players are returning from ACL tears and subsequent surgeries. While we would love for them to all return to their pre-injury levels, there is no guarantee that will happen. The season will greatly depend on how well they perform after missing the majority of last season.

Stanford Routt

Routt is replacing a fan favorite and vastly underrated Brandon Carr on the right side of the defense this season. I say underrated because he was never talked about much outside of Kansas City until free agency hit. He was then given a massive contract by the Dallas Cowboys. Routt, brought in as a free agent from the Oakland Raiders, will be asked to fill that void. Chiefs fans knew what to expect out of Carr, but Routt still has to prove he can fill Carr's shows after his disappointing performance last season as the number one cornerback on the Raiders defense.

Brain Daboll

It will be Daboll's responsibility to figure out what our offense will look like. Bill Muir, the offensive coordinator from last season, never seemed to figure that out, and Todd Haley is no longer here to have his blue print on the offense. The Chiefs have a lot of parts to their offense: a good and now deep wide receiver corps including Dwayne Bowe (assuming he signs his franchise tender) and Jonathan Baldwin, both former first round draft picks. He also has Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis in the backfield. Accompanied by a solid offensive line, Daboll has a lot of weapons at his disposal, and it will ultimately come down to Cassel (Above) to determine the success.

Romeo Crennel

Many people don't think about there being a lot of pressure on Crennel, but there is. Crennel was hired as the safe choice and to offer continuity to a team on the verge of being a perennial playoff contender. But I have kept it no secret that Crennel's individual coaching performance throughout the last three games left a lot to be desired. Even in wins, decisions were made that reminded us all that he hadn't done this for a while. The defense performed very well under Crennel, and that is perhaps the reason Pioli had enough confidence to let Crennel remain defensive coordinator, but game situations seemed to give Crennel trouble. Hopefully that was just the rust of not being a head coach for a couple of years and Crennel has a better grasp on those scenarios this season. But Crennel has a lot of talent, and he will be held ultimately responsible for the outcome of this season.

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