Chiefs Round Table: The Croyle Impact?

In this edition of the Warpaint Illustrated Round Table, our experts break down Brodie Croyle, the possibility Josh McDaniels could coach in KC next season and more banter about Barry Richardson.

How big of a disaster is the Matt Cassel situation? Are the Chiefs doomed?

Nick Athan: We all may differ on this, but can you tell me right now that of the six quarterbacks that have beat the Chargers this season, Croyle isn't as good as half of them? Matt Cassel, Matt Hasselback, Jason Campbell (twice), Sam Bradford, and Tom Brady all have wins against the Chargers.

I'd put Croyle in the middle of that pack based on one thing – the Chiefs have a balanced offense where their quarterback just has to manage the game. With a running game that has the potential to run 200-plus yards a game, as well as solid receivers, Croyle can more than handle things on Sunday.

But the Chiefs are not doomed. Sure, they might lose this game on Sunday against the Chargers. However, it shouldn't happen because Croyle stunk up the joint. Instead, it'll be the Chargers stopping the Chiefs running game and the K.C. defense being unable to put pressure on Phillip Rivers.

Josh Scotten: Losing your starting quarterback can never be a good thing. Croyle is more than capable of making tough throws and probably gives the Chiefs more of a down field threat. Not to mention, how are the Chargers going to game plan for this one? They are dealing with a plethora of injuries on the defensive side of the ball. Not to mention that San Diego will be scratching the bottom of the barrel to find game tape on the Chiefs' backup.

Cassel has done a lot for the Chiefs this year. But Croyle is still on the Chiefs roster for a reason. He's smart, works extremely hard, and has an arm that nobody on the roster can rival. The best-case scenario is that Croyle is lights out Sunday. That could stir the pot in the offseason when he becomes an unrestricted free agent.

Much like the Chiefs thought of Cassel two years ago, NFL teams value veteran arms in their lineup. Don't get me wrong, the last thing this team needs is a any controversy at the quarterback position. But if Croyle can prove he's more than just an injury prone quarterback, it will pay dividends in 2011 – wherever he plays.

C.E. Wendler: The Chiefs aren't doomed. It's looking more and more likely that Brodie Croyle will start this Sunday's game against the Chargers – at least it looks that way to me as Cassel hasn't practiced all week. Most likely the Chiefs were going to lose this game anyway, so I don't see the sudden appendix surgery panic as a significant event.

The only way this truly puts the Chiefs' season in danger is if Cassel misses the entire month. I'm not sure the Chiefs can beat the Raiders with Croyle at quarterback, and even the Titans game would seem questionable. The Rams shouldn't scare anyone. Bottom line – if Cassel misses two weeks and the Chiefs win one of them, everything should be OK. Past that, I'd start to worry.

Conor Crawford: If San Diego didn't lose to Oakland this past week, I think there would be much more to worry about. The Chiefs have a two-game cushion in the AFC West, and if they had lost to San Diego in the season opener or were just one game ahead, I think this would have been much more to worry about. I have enough confidence in Brodie Croyle to start at least one game in the absence of Matt Cassel, because he now has a running game that can carry the load in case he struggles.

Back in 2007 when Croyle was expected to be the main guy, he had a declining Larry Johnson to rely on – only one guy in the running game. Now Croyle has both Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles, who lead the NFL's best running game. Not to mention, the Chiefs' defense is much more improved than in year's past, and while Phillip Rivers and the Chargers are still always a force to reckon with, the Chiefs have shown that they can stand toe-to-toe with the best.

The Chiefs shut down San Diego in the season opener, and it proved not only to be one of the biggest games in franchise history (because of the New Arrowhead's grand opening), but it's done wonders for a Chiefs team hoping to clinch their first playoff berth since 2006. The best thing Cassel can do is take a week off and get ready for the homestretch, beginning with the game in St. Louis. The Chiefs need Cassel ready for the playoffs, because now that the team has a two-game lead over San Diego and can easily drop one to them to split the series, the Chiefs have enough leeway to let Cassel take a breather.

Michael Ash: I'd say whether or not this is a disaster boils down to three specific questions. One: how much time will Cassel actually miss? Two: will his performance suffer at all when he returns? Three: how will Croyle play in his absence?

We won't really know how badly this will impact the Chiefs until we know some of those answers. But from everything we're hearing, it sounds like Cassel should only miss this one game – and frankly, I wasn't too wild about the Chiefs' chances on Sunday anyway. It's basically a playoff game for the Chargers. They can't afford to lose. Given the circumstances they're facing, I fully anticipated that they would bring their "A" game. And on the rare occasions when the Chargers play up to the level they're capable of, they can beat just about anybody.

As long as Cassel is out, I fully expect teams to stack the box, sell out against the Chiefs' run game, and force Brodie to beat them. And given that Croyle has never won a game as a pro, I'd say the advantage in that scenario lies with the Chiefs' opponents.

But hey, remember when Damon Huard made his first start in Denver, and the Chiefs lost a squeaker in overtime when everyone thought they'd get crushed? Sometimes these games turn out better than you'd expect. Croyle is capable of playing a solid game. Then we have to take into account that these are the types of situations where other players step up because they know the team needs them. And maybe the Chargers will have a letdown, thinking they have an easy game on their hands.

If we can get a combination of all of those things, and the planets align a certain way, who knows what could happen?

Now that Josh McDaniels has been fired, what do you think the chances are that he ends up on KC's coaching staff? He has a lot of history with Scott Pioli, Charlie Weis, and Romeo Crennel, and most importantly, he's worked very closely with Matt Cassel. Nick Athan: I think that's a possibility. But my guess is that he'll return to the Patriots and work for Bill Belichick again. However, even with ‘Snub Gate' I would not be opposed to hiring him to coach the quarterbacks. He has a strong relationship with Cassel and I honestly think it would be a good hire.

Can these two coaches get past the feud?
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However, should the Chiefs make a run in the playoffs and Cassel can come back from his surgery this week, he might not need much fixing. If that's the case, what would McDaniels offer that Cassel isn't already getting from Haley and Weis?

Josh Scotten: My first reaction is absolutely not. McDaniels is a great football mind and Haley knows it. His arrogance was his demise in Denver, but the guy will be most likely humbled by the firing and could fit right in here in K.C.

As much as Coach Haley apparently despises McDaniels, the head coach is a professional who I believe can coexist with anyone. If McDaniels can check his ego at the door, this story may have some legs.

The only problem I see with this idea is that Weis was brought in specifically to make Cassel a Pro Bowler and he's well on his way to accomplishing that. At this point in the "process", do you really want to take the chance of derailing Cassel's progress or risk extending the learning curve?

If it's not broke don't fix it. If Weis is lured by another coaching job during the offseason, however, that's a different story.

C.E. Wendler: Virtually zero. Todd Haley and McDaniels don't like each other very much, or at least Haley dislikes McDaniels, according to a report from ESPN's Ed Werder. Considering the job that McDaniels has done as an offensive coordinator in the past, and the great job Charlie Weis is doing at that position in Kansas City now, there's no room for McDaniels. Some team will hire him as an offensive coordinator.

Conor Crawford: Absolutely no chance. One thing that Chiefs fans need to remember is that this is not New England. This is Kansas City, Missouri, and the Kansas City Chiefs are not the New England Patriots. There's still talk about "The Patriot Way" but now that this Chiefs team is fully established, there is a new framework being built here in the Midwest.

It's clear that McDaniels and Haley are not the best of buddies, and as long as Haley as in charge, McDaniels won't be around here. If anything, McDaniels will probably head back to New England before he were to even get a glimpse here in Kansas City. I fully understand that the Chiefs are practically run by Pioli, who would give McDaniels the benefit of the doubt, but I think the Chiefs will be just fine without him.

There's a chance that Weis and/or Crennel may not last for long in Kansas City, but the Chiefs will likely find suitable replacements in-house before they look to guys like Josh McDaniels to join the cast.

Michael Ash: I think the chances are probably slim and none. For starters, unless Weis leaves the Chiefs, I don't know where McDaniels would fit on the staff. They're grooming Nick Sirianni in the QB coach/coordinator-in-waiting role – although just like with players, if you have a chance to land a more talented coach than one you currently have, sometimes you have to make those moves.

Still, I get the impression that Haley's dislike of McDaniels is pretty genuine. He "apologized" for the handshake snub through the media, freely admitting that he never called McDaniels to say it personally. I also wonder, especially given some of the stories coming out of Denver about how difficult he was to work with, how McDaniels is viewed by Pioli, Weis, and Crennel. Because if he was someone they held in high regard, I kinda doubt Haley would have publicly disrespected him like he did.

What are your thoughts on what happened with Barry Richardson? How badly should the team punish him for putting his hands on a coach like that?

Nick Athan: I can tell you he was disciplined internally. As far as the Chiefs are considered, it's over. And as I pointed out earlier in the week, the relationship between Todd Haley and special teams coach Steve Hoffman isn't that good.

The Chiefs dealt with the Barry Richardson situation in-house.
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That aside, Richardson is one of those players that have overcome the most to become an impact player for this football team. I'm not condoning his actions, they were wrong. But I've been around this game long enough to tell you in the heat of battle, tempers flare. And I've seen much worse. I'm not all that concerned about the outburst. Case closed.

Josh Scotten: This has turned into a very interesting story as it has developed. I've heard a lot of different opinions on this one and a significant portion of them are calling for Richardson's head. I witnessed the event firsthand, and even from the perched view of the press box, it was pretty violent and accentuated by his 6'6" 320lb frame.

It's never acceptable to lose your cool in any environment, but it's not as if this is something we can't all relate to. People always want to relate the job of football players to their own jobs and careers, but this is not the military, working for Sprint, or a weekend job at the local Waffle House. This is the NFL. Although heavily glamorized, professional football is a sport. If people want to compare Richardson's outburst to their lives, compare it to your experiences in sports, not the workplace.

Haley pulled Richardson with the intention of simply lighting a fire in the guy, and that's exactly what he got. The smirk on Haley's face during the post game press conference was not because he was happy he almost got his special teams coordinators head knocked off, but rather he was reveling in a job well done.

C.E. Wendler: Richardson definitely crossed a line with his behavior, and it's not just the physical part of it. In a critical situation, he screwed up on the field and then came off the field and put himself ahead of the entire team. It was embarrassing, and the Chiefs should make an example of him.

I'd sit him down for the opening series this week against the Chargers. How Richardson responds to this incident could determine his future with the Chiefs. If he doesn't lock down that right tackle spot over the last month I wouldn't be surprised to see Scott Pioli draft a right tackle in the middle rounds next April.

Conor Crawford: I honestly think this is nothing to overreact about. Richardson didn't mean to shove Steve Hoffman out of anger and flip out on his nearby teammates, and I'm sure if you ask him now, he would show enormous regret. From firsthand experience in talking with him after practices and games, he is one of the quietest and most humble guys on the roster.

He's a guy on a team in the driver's seat towards the playoffs, and he's going to explode when he gets caught in a mistake. The guy has plenty of passion, and I think the Chiefs need that most in the homestretch. On the sidelines, Haley approached Richardson during the game and gave him a nice pep talk. The key is, Richardson didn't flip out on Haley. That's the key. He regained his composure in the presence of his mentor, and that's all that matters.

Richardson is fully committed to Haley and this Chiefs team, and his passion is just an appetizer of what else is present on this team.

Michael Ash: Here's a blurb from a scouting report on Richardson when he came out of college: "He is known for not playing with the passion to live up to his ability. You want a tackle to play with a certain tenacity, and he seems to lack that at times."

Given that a supposed lack of passion was the big knock on Barry a few years ago, I imagine the Chiefs coaches liked seeing him get so fired up. But even so, you can't put your hands on a coach like that. And what he did was no accident – he clearly saw it was Hoffman before he shoved him. Haley didn't seem bothered by it on Sunday, but his tune changed when he spoke on Monday, and it was clear that he hadn't been aware of the physical nature of the altercation.

We'll probably never know how Richardson was disciplined, but I imagine they made it clear that such behavior can't be tolerated. Hopefully that will be that.

Should the Chiefs think about moving Mike Vrabel inside and starting Andy Studebaker in his spot?

Nick Athan: I think you make an excellent point. I like Vrabel as a leader and a teacher for the young linebackers. I also think next season that Studebaker is going to start. The Chiefs signed him to a three-year contract extension early in the season.

Ultimately Vrabel has been a far better leader than a player in 2010 for KC this year.
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He's already playing a lot in passing situations, plus he can get to opposing quarterbacks. And he's a Romeo Crennel type of player. I think over the next four games you're going to see a lot of Studebaker. As far as Vrable going inside, I think the Chiefs are content using Jevon Belcher and Derrick Johnson.

Josh Scotten: There is no question the Chiefs could use some production from that left side inside linebacker position, but I'm not sure if Vrabel is the solution. I've liked the idea of having both D.J. and Demorrio Williams out there together since training camp and I still don't buy Haley's explanation that the positions are just too different and are not interchangeable. This coaching staff is too talented and paid too much not to find a way to get their best players on the field.

In this case that means Hali, Johnson, Williams, and Studebaker. No knock to the experience factor that Vrabel brings to the table, but these guys are the best linebackers on the roster. It falls on the coaches to try to find a way to get it done.

With that being said I'm pretty disappointed with Belcher thus far. I was a big fan of this guy back in training camp and he has been virtually silent since then. The Chiefs will most likely give Belcher the opportunity to finish strong as they did with D.J. last season.

I still believe the guy has what it takes and let's not forget this was an undrafted guy that is starting in just his second season. The coaches are not giving up on him, yet which gives me faith that this guy has a much bigger upside than we are seeing at this point.

C.E. Wendler: Why would you want to take Jovan Belcher off the field? Certainly he's proven to be a better player than Studebaker at this point, who has talent but hasn't made much progress as a pass rusher this season.

Vrabel played inside with the Patriots at times, but at age 35 I'm not sure I want to see him taking on 330-pound guards on every play. It's also worthwhile to note that Vrabel does a consistently effective job at taking on blockers on the edge of Kansas City's defense, and I'm not sure Studebaker would be his equal in that regard.

Conor Crawford: I think they really should start planning for the future. I don't foresee Vrabel lasting in Kansas City past 2012. He may very well be back with the team in 2011, but he isn't a long-term solution at linebacker. The Chiefs need to plan for the future at linebacker, and now that Derrick Johnson is locked-in with a long-term contract, they'll need to start adding playmakers alongside him.

While Tamba Hali's long-term future in Kansas City is a whole other topic, the Chiefs should focus on Studebaker, whom has shown some unbelievable promise in the past two seasons for this team. His spectacular game against the defending Super Bowl champion Pittsburgh Steelers in 2009 was just a preview of his potential, and his work on special teams and occasional appearances as a linebacker in 2010 is a preview of what may come beginning next season.

Michael Ash: I have no problem with Studebaker taking over as the starter. But if I were making that decision, it would be more because I wanted to know what we had in him before next year as opposed to any other reason. Going into this season, I expected Studebaker to take a big step forward and be such an obvious improvement over Vrabel that it would be impossible not to notice. And maybe it's just me, but I'm still waiting to see it happen.

I mentioned this a week or two back, but I'd actually like to see Demorrio Williams getting some more playing time in that outside spot. On the few occasions they've sent him after the passer, he's looked a lot faster off the edge than either Vrabel or Studebaker.

We're three quarters through the season. Who is the Chiefs' Most Valuable Player?

Nick Athan: That's easy. Matt Cassel. Statistically speaking, he's the second best quarterback behind Tom Brady. And should he play on Sunday and defeat the Chargers, there isn't a person in this town that's ever going to doubt him again.

Without Jamaal Charles, the Chiefs offense simply wouldn't be as good.
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Without Cassel's maturity, leadership and toughness, there isn't any way that Kansas City, even with the best rushing attack in the NFL, would be leading this division by two games.

Josh Scotten: The fact that this is such a tough question to answer says a lot about how this team is winning. Each week it seems to be a different guy that is getting the love.

Most analysts in the preseason had the Chiefs success measured alongside Matt Cassel's. With this as your criteria, you would have to say the QB deserves the MVP award. But Dwayne Bowe is playing lights out, so how much should be credited to Cassel and how much goes to Bowe?

For this reason I have to go with the unsung hero Jamaal Charles. Its remarkable how little attention is being given to the Chiefs "backup" running back. This guy is averaging nearly 95 yards per game with just a 15 touch per game average. Dude is simply outstanding and deserves to not only be the Chiefs MVP but also should be in the talks for the league's award.

Don't buy it? Just take a look at last Sunday's victory against Denver. There is no way the Chiefs win that game without him, and how many more games could you say the same about? A player that instrumental to a team's success is the epitome of what the MVP award stands for.

C.E. Wendler: Jamaal Charles. Without him, the Chiefs' offense is dead. Thomas Jones is a consistent, solid player, but he needs more help from his offensive line than Charles does, and when he gets one on one with defenders most of the time it's not a difficult play.

Charles has made something out of nothing several times this year, and when he's on the field defenses key on him like you wouldn't believe. All those long runs he ripped off last year sent a message. I honestly believe the Chiefs would be in the bottom 20 on offense without Charles. He's gained 34 percent of KC's yards from scrimmage. That's roughly equivalent to Tony Moeaki, Dwayne Bowe and Dexter McCluster's combined output.

Conor Crawford: I think the Chiefs' most valuable player this season is a guy who not that many folks have paid attention to besides Cassel, Bowe, and Charles on offense. I think Tamba Hali is the most valuable player for this team and is the most deserving of any of the Chiefs (yes, I said it point-blank) of a spot on the AFC's Pro Bowl roster.

So far in 2010, he's achieved a career-high in quarterback sacks and has tied a career-high in pass deflections. He's abused quarterbacks in just about every game, and has become a turnover machine as well. For instance, I think the single most impressive defensive play from this season was when Hali sacked Denver Broncos quarterback Kyle Orton late in this past week's game, and not only registered his 10th sack on the year, but also forced a fumble and recovered it himself.

It just showed how powerful a motor he has, and how crucial it is for the Chiefs to lock him up to a new deal in the off-season. It took several years for Hali to shake the label of "first-round reach" and "draft bust" in the wake of Jared Allen's departure, but I think now that he has moved to a traditional linebacker role in the 3-4 defense, Hali has blossomed into one of the top-five best pass rushers in the entire NFL.

Michael Ash: You can make legitimate arguments for a few different guys, which speaks to the whole "team" concept that's being built here. Against teams like Cleveland, Buffalo, and Denver, the Chiefs won largely on the back of their defense with guys like Flowers and Hali making key plays. Other times, it was the offense that drove the way. We can even give a big dose of credit to special teams for the win on opening night.

Ultimately, though, I think it has to go to Jamaal Charles. He's the main reason the Chiefs have the league's best run game. He has a chance to be the NFL's leading rusher, despite currently having less than 50% of his team's total carries. His yards-per-carry average has him being mentioned in the same breath as Jim Brown and Barry Sanders.

He's the guy that everything flows through. He's the straw that stirs the drink, as Reggie Jackson would say.

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