With suspensions to Dwayne Bowe and Donald Stephenson, injuries to Eric Berry, Jamaal Charles and others, this franchise is losing bodies too rapidly. Even worse now, contract talks between Justin Houston and Alex Smith have reached the off stage, only a win Saturday night against the Minnesota Vikings can stop some of the bleeding.
So who will be a factor in tonight’s exhibition game?
1. QB Matt Cassel - When Reid took over the Chiefs he made it very clear he was searching for the next Len Dawson. Of course, he wasn’t referring to incumbent starter, Matt Cassel. After the team traded for Alex Smith, they cut Cassel. It didn’t take long for him to get work though. He landed in Minnesota and became a solid quarterback for their franchise.
This summer he’s in a battle with rookie quarterback, Teddy Bridgewater, but thus far he’s winning it. I’m sure he will have some extra motivation to beat his old team. I always thought Cassel received a bad wrap in Kansas City. He took a lot of heat, put the team on his shoulder and was by far the best solider the Pioli era every trotted out on the field. For that, Chiefs fans need to show him some respect upon his return.
2. Alex Smith - Cassel’s counterpart on Saturday night isn’t worried about his job, at least not this season, but he hasn’t played well in two exhibition games. Part of the reason for his failures is the fact his offensive line has betrayed him. Now with Stephenson shelled for the first quarter of the season, Smith has to be wondering what’s in store for his body in 2014.
To that point, Reid has to alter his offensive strategy beginning tonight against the Vikings. This offense is going to have to become heavily dependent on screen passes and slants because (barring trades) his offensive line won’t be able to pass protect Smith enough for any real pass plays to develop.
LB Justin Houston Like Smith he’s not real happy with the organization for failing to get a long-term extension in hand. Even worse, the lack of contract movement is affecting his play on the field. Last week against the Panthers, Houston wasn’t putting up maximum effort. Now that’s still better than most NFL players but he can’t let the contract failures of the team’s hierarchy and his agent to stand in the way of his defensive play on the field.
Houston is the most important player on the Chiefs defense. The hard line stance General Manager, John Dorsey, is taking with he and Smith, are probably solid and prudent. But it’s affecting team morale and two of the teams’ best players so that stance might need to soften in short order. Either way let’s hope in Houston’s case, he puts Cassel on his back a few times to remove some doubt.
3. CB Marcus Cooper - If I had to rank the Chiefs defensive secondary to this point, Cooper would be atop my list. He’s been dynamite all off-season and in two exhibition games. To his credit, he’s pretty much shut down his side of the field. Cooper was much maligned a year ago when he hit the rookie wall.
However, his sophomore campaign Cooper appears to be different. His play this year will be magnified if Sean Smith can’t regain his form on the other side of the field. In facing, some of the top offenses in the league to begin the season, the Chiefs secondary will be tested on virtually every pass play. Cooper appears to be ready but the others to this point, not so much I’m afraid.
4. LT Eric Fisher - I already spoke about him earlier this week but its worth repeating. Even though he’s not 100% healthy, and he probably shouldn’t start the regular season at left tackle, he has to find the inner strength to get the job done.
With Stephenson gone on the other side for a month, Fisher has to become something he’s not proven he can do at this stage of his NFL career, he has to become the leader of the Chiefs offensive line. If he’s ever going to become a premier left tackle, he has take hold of whatever five man unit Reid puts on the field and show them the path to salvation. In other words, it’s time to stand up and deliver.
Photos (1) Matt Cassel (Bruce Kluckcohn) & Justin Houston (Jeremy Brevard) USA Today Sports.
WARPAINT ILLUSTRATED MESSAGE BOARDS:
Who will play better Saturday night Cassel or Smith?
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