Behind Enemy Lines: Part I

Our Scout.com experts, John Crist of BearReport.com and Nick Athan of WarpaintIllustrated.com, break down Sunday's game between the Bears and Chiefs at Soldier Field in Chicago. Let's begin this three-part series with five questions from John to Nick.

John Crist: It was assumed all along that Brodie Croyle would win the starting quarterback job in Kansas City – he's on the cover of the latest issue of Warpaint Illustrated, as a matter of fact. Why did head coach Herm Edwards ultimately decide to go with Damon Huard instead, and could we see a season of rotating QBs in KC this season?

Nick Athan:
The decision to start Huard over Croyle boiled down to one thing, and it was not the Warpaint Illustrated cover jinx. Ultimately, it was the fact that the young gunslinger from Alabama just wasn't ready to fire with the first team. Now with that said, it could have been different had running back Larry Johnson been in camp and not sitting in Arizona due to his contract squabbles with Chiefs brass. It also didn't help that rookie receiver Dwayne Bowe was doing the same – holding out for what amounted to a few hundred thousand dollars – nor the fact that starting left tackle Damion McIntosh didn't take one snap in the preseason. Edwards just didn't give Croyle enough to work with, and he was not experienced enough to overcome all those obstacles especially when you consider the vanilla offense the team ran in four winless exhibition games.

There is no doubt based on last Sunday's performance by Huard that it's only a matter of time before Croyle gets his chance. Because if Huard can't get the ball into the end zone, Edwards will have no choice to put Croyle in as relief. And when that happens, he'll be the starter for the next several years.

JC: Johnson has been incredible running the football from the very first day he took over for Priest Holmes, but he's racked up some serious mileage since becoming the starter. Edwards has talked about giving him some help in the backfield especially after that gigantic contract extension, so was there any evidence of that in Week 1 against Houston?

NA:
Edwards was far too conservative in his approach to using Johnson Sunday against the Texans. On the first drive they had the ball inside the 15-yard line, yet they put the rock in Huard's hands and he could not get the job done. This week they'll use Johnson far more in this offense, and I expect him to carry a significantly larger load against the Bears than he did versus the Texans. Michael Bennett, the former Viking, had a brilliant training camp, and he's about as good as you get as a relief pitcher at that position in the NFL. Johnson wasn't happy with his performance, and he seems to play better going up against the best defenses in the NFL. The Bears are all that and more.

With this team in a must-win situation on Sunday, I doubt Edwards is going to be conservative with Johnson this week. The Chiefs needs a win, and the only way they can get one is on the legs and back of their star running back.

JC: The Chiefs have lacked a true playmaker at wide receiver seemingly forever, and most of their efforts to find one in recent years – Marvin Minnis, Sylvester Morris, Samie Parker – have been fruitless. What gives you any reason to believe that Bowe, their first-round pick this year, will be any different?

NA:
Fruitless is a perfect word describing the Chiefs' inability to draft a solid playmaking wide receiver. Even under Dick Vermeil, he never thought it was important to have a Terrell Owens or Randy Moss-type of receiver. He liked the little-engines-that-could and hoped they'd be solid enough to get the job done. Edwards likes the big, physical receiver who can make a short gain into a long gain. Eddie Kennison, who will be out this game due to a pulled hamstring, fits that bill. But Bowe is the type of receiver who can be both physical and use a burst of speed to get separation from any cornerback in the NFL. The problem is that he's a rookie, and when pressed into service last Sunday against the Texans he dropped a few balls. He's yet to get the complete grasp of the offense, but he'll get a crash course this week as he could start against the Bears in place of the injured Kennison.


WR Eddie Kennison (Mark Duncan/AP Images)

If he can step up along with Parker, who was brilliant last week holding onto the ball which has been an issue his first three years in the NFL, that combination could be fruitful enough to give the Chiefs offense some balance on Sunday. But the key is Bowe and how fast he develops, which might be the potion that helps Huard and Co. get into the end zone.

JC: The running game had been anchored by a road-grading offensive line considered by many to be the best in the business this millenium. Now Will Shields is gone and the rest of the unit doesn't quite seem up to snuff all of a sudden, but is there something more to this group's dizzying fall from the league's elite?

NA:
Earlier this decade, the Kansas City offensive line was probably in a class by itself. With Willie Roaf, Brian Waters, Casey Wiegmann, Shields and former Chief John Tait, this unit was arguably the most dominating in team history. It's never easy to replace future Hall-of-Famers, but that's the task at hand for offensive coordinator Mike Solari. The five assembled now are all veterans who have experience in the NFL, but not with each other. Last week against the Texans, they did a solid job but wore down a bit in the second half. They are solid run blockers but not as gifted when they go into pass-protection mode. The team has not been able to find gems in the draft. Players like Tre' Stallings, Jordan Black and Will Svitek have not yet made an impact at the NFL level. Of this group, only Svitek is still with the team.

There is some hope at the guard and center position. Sixth-round draft pick Herbert Taylor has moved from tackle to guard, and he was stellar at TCU only giving up one sack in four college seasons. And center Rudy Niswanger, who can play both center and guard, might be a steal as an undrafted free agent from LSU back in 2006. Still, this group has a long way to go to be considered in the aforementioned class that was part of the greatest offense on grass when Vermeil ran the show in K.C.

JC: Kansas City features one of the more highly-decorated cornerback combination in the NFL with veterans Ty Law and Patrick Surtain. Law took a step back last season after making the Pro Bowl in 2005 with the Jets and Surtain injured a shoulder in Week 1, so can these two still get the job done or is the writing on the wall?

NA:
This offseason, both Law and Surtain came into training camp motivated to show that their age wasn't going to be a factor in 2007. Each All-Pro shed 15 pounds of girth and came into camp in the best shape of their careers. They are the perfect duo to work with the team's young safeties, Bernard Pollard and Jarrad Page, who each made their first NFL start last Sunday in Houston. Law made a point in the offseason to declare the Broncos' Champ Bailey the league's best cornerback, but he wants to dethrone him this year. Surtain, who was injured last Sunday, should be able to play this week.

For me, Surtain is really the key to the defensive secondary. He can play outside or in the slot, and that versatility allows the Chiefs to take advantage of the speed of their young safeties that can close fast and make plays. I'm not sure how long these two guys will play, but they're far from calling it a career.

To read Part II of Behind Enemy Lines, where John answers five questions from Nick, Click Here.

John Crist is the Editor in Chief of BearReport.com. Nick Athan is the Publisher of WarpaintIllustrated.com.

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