On Sunday afternoon, two things became abundantly clear; Linebacker Justin Houston has earned a mighty big paycheck from the Kansas City Chiefs. Secondly, the team proved it could win a football game that has some meaning.
Despite the win Sunday the Chiefs whiffed on their attempt to secure a playoff spot for the second straight season. As a consolation prize, they only have themselves to blame for their failure to get into the Wild Card round next week. The three game slide that began their escalator ride downward was kick started with a lackluster effort against the formerly winless Oakland Raiders. That was followed by an embarrassing home loss to the Denver Broncos and mistake-riddled effort a week later against the Arizona Cardinals.
Some losses stick but that Raiders loss cost Kansas City a playoff birth and reminded those players, that lived through a 2014 season ending meltdown, it could happen again. In two seasons, Andy Reid’s football teams have gone 4-8 over the final six games of November and December.
This years collapse was surprising. The Chiefs were rolling with a 7-3 record after ten games and stood atop the AFC West standings with the Denver Broncos. However, they fell apart when each win became more critical than the next and nobody stepped up to stop that losing streak. It’s fair to say the Chiefs should have won two of those three games.
Instead, this team simply could not take charge of the opportunity they earned before the Raiders loss. Instead, like a year ago, the Chiefs could not finish.
That was Reid’s moniker all off-season and deep into training camp but he’ll have to come up with a fresh word next Summer, and make some changes, that won’t be pleasant.
To his credit, Reid is an accomplished head coach, teacher and offensive mind but he needs help. His clock management continues to make little sense but how can the man run his offense without the personnel his brilliant offensive mind can create.
Still his offensive coaching staff was a detriment this season. After all, it’s there job to get the players ready to find ways to win but this franchise doesn’t have a clear direction on offense.
To change that into a positive in 2015, Reid must promote, Brad Childress, to offensive coordinator. If they don’t, they are going to lose him to another team in January. Doug Pederson showed for the second year in a row that he and Reid think too much alike. With Pederson taking on another position within the staff, Childress and Reid probably would be a better Martin and Lewis combination that could create greater results for this offense next season.
However the key will be in Reid’s ability to re-tool his offense. Outside of Center Rodney Hudson and Guard Zach Fulton, everyone else is expendable. That includes Left Tackle, Eric Fisher, who doesn’t appear to breathe the fire you need to play the position.
If the Chiefs don’t move Fisher to right tackle where he belongs, they better bring in a better offensive line coach. Andy Heck has to be the scapegoat for this teams poor play in 2014. His offensive line actually got worse as the season progressed. If the Chiefs are serious about fixing that offensive line, they should hire Tony Sparano after he’s canned as head coach of the Oakland Raiders to fix their line woes.
That brings us to Quarterback, Alex Smith. Despite the fact the Chiefs signed him to a long-term extension in September, it’s a mute point unless they give him weapons to win NFL games. The fact Smith lasted upright though 15 regular season games was better than any magic trick Harry Houdini ever performed while he was alive.
With his lacerated spleen taking center stage on Friday, the Chiefs have to protect their investment. If not, perhaps its time for Kansas City to start grooming Tyler Bray or Aaron Murray for a real run in 2016.
Let’s assume the Chiefs won’t part ways with Smith, and they manage to find three new starters for their offensive line, the must spend wildly in free agency landing a pair of wide receivers that can stretch the field.
This unit will change dramatically as both, Dwayne Bowe and Donnie Avery, could be cap casualties. If Reid has any recruiting cache left in his bag of trickery, he needs to hope the Philadelphia Eagles don’t place the franchise tag on Wide Receiver, Jeremy Maclin.
On the other side of the ball, Defensive Coordinator, Bob Sutton, needs to exit this franchise. Not that he’s a bad coach but this defense needs a leader that can adapt within a game. The fact Sutton kept trying to fit square pegs in round holes knowing he didn’t have the personnel to run the same style defense he’s run for decades, tells me a change in philosophy is long overdue.
If not the Chiefs will have to rely on General Manager, John Dorsey, who has yet to hit a stud draft pick in two seasons in Kansas City. Don’t get me wrong he’s drafted some good players but he’s also the man who has been unable to get Houston under contract.
Houston recorded 22 sacks this season and he’s the best pass rusher the NFL has seen at Outside Linebacker, since the late Derrick Thomas. Kansas City must pay him or they’ll be perceived as pretenders going forward. Dorsey in my view has one more season to show me he can sign prized free agents, keep all his homegrown stars and draft some game changing players.
The bottom line is the Chiefs have won 20 games in two seasons and finished twice as division runner-ups to the Denver Broncos. But those are modest gains for a franchise that hasn’t won a playoff game since Joe Montana was the starting quarterback.
So until Reid pushes the envelope by dismissing some on his own staff, Dorsey signs the right players, drafts better playmakers; this franchise will remain average for the conceivable future.
Photo Credit: Chiefs LB Justin Houston (Justin Olson Warpaint Illustrated)