Was Sunday a Success?

From the Chiefs perspective, there were positive signs from Sunday's loss in New England. The rookie class played well, including a particularly good performance from left tackle Branden Albert. No matter the circumstances, it was exciting to see a young team come so close to defeating the mighty Patriots.

But in Saturday's column I identified key areas where, even in a loss, the Chiefs could come away from the game and still view it as a success. Unfortunately, things didn't turn out how as hoped.

Issue #1: Sunday can be successful if Kansas City's offense in no way resembles the attack Washington displayed Thursday.

Grade: Fail


If not for the injury to Brodie Croyle, the offensive playcalling would undoubtedly be the biggest disappointment coming out of the season opener. It's only one game, but the offense looked so eerily similar to last year's attack that one has to wonder if Mike Solari is owed an apology.

Larry Johnson carried the ball 22 times for 74 yards on Sunday. His longest run, coming at the end of the third quarter, went for 22 yards. That run was an anomaly considering Johnson's second-longest carry went for just six yards. As it is, Johnson had a mediocre 3.36 yards per carry average, but remove the one big run and it drops to 2.48.

The Chiefs had no running game, yet Johnson carried the ball over 20 times – usually right between the tackles and smack into a wall, which must have felt like deja vu. Despite the fact there was no room to run, Kansas City spent most of the game throwing short passes. A graphic shown by CBS just before halftime pointed out that Croyle had attempted just one throw over 15 yards, and this was against a team that came into the game with big question marks in its secondary.

If for absolutely no other reason, wouldn't it make sense to launch some throws downfield just to back the defenders up a little bit? How is the running game going to get going when the defense can stay within 10 yards of the line of scrimmage and stop every play the Chiefs run?

Is it possible the Chiefs have hired back-to-back coordinators who think they can keep running Johnson into a brick wall and eventually things will just magically open up? Solari certainly had his faults as coordinator, but how can two completely different play callers – one with no experience, the other having a solid record of success in the league – produce such identical results on the field?

I can't think of anything, except that the constant factor in both equations is Herm Edwards. Exactly how much say does the head coach have over the offense each week?


Issue #2: Sunday can be successful if the Chiefs let Croyle take his training wheels off.

Grade: Fail


It's incredibly unfortunate, but the fact Croyle is hurt again – that's three significant injuries in seven NFL starts – puts his future as KC's starting quarterback in doubt. Even if Croyle comes back in a few weeks, overcomes his playcalling and lights it up for the rest of the season, how can the Chiefs not invest in another quarterback when they have to cross their fingers every time Croyle takes a hit?

The fact that Croyle has been knocked around so much just makes it all the more frustrating to watch the overly conservative, protective game plans the Chiefs constantly force on him. It would be one thing if this babysitter-style offense was protecting Croyle, but it's not.

If the Chiefs want to figure out if Croyle is the real deal, they have to let him sink or swim on his own merits. Instead, even as he opens the season as the unquestioned starter, the plan for Croyle Sunday was to put him in a life jacket, attach floaties to his arms, and have Dick Curl paddling around in a nearby rowboat.

Clearly, the coaching staff either has no confidence in their young quarterback or no confidence in the offensive line's ability to protect him. It's hard to imagine the Chiefs don't have confidence in Croyle, given the commitment they made to him this offseason, so it stands to reason that their doubts fall squarely on his blockers.

Of course, that might be less of an issue if the Chiefs had done more this offseason to address the line, but I wrote about that topic way back in March. For now, with the Chiefs so determined to hold Croyle's hand, I can't help but wonder why they don't use an attack similar to the one they defended this week.

Tom Brady has spent most of the last few seasons receiving snaps in the shotgun – last year, 74 percent of New England's pass attempts came from that formation. Sunday, the Chiefs only appeared to put Croyle in the shotgun on third down. New England's highly successful offense utilizes plenty of short drops and quick throws. I'm talking about vertical throws with purpose, not a stream of checkdown routes two or three yards into the flat.

Let's go back to that earlier stat of Croyle and his lack of pass attempts over 15 yards. Compare that to the Patriots, who let struggling backup Matt Cassel rear back and throw a 50-yard bomb out of his own endzone on his first pass attempt.

It's quite a contrast, isn't it?


Issue #3: Sunday can be successful if KC's defense shows up against the run.

Grade: Fail


Kansas City's defense had a few nice stops in short yardage situations, but allowed over five yards per carry to both Laurence Maroney and third-string back Sammy Morris. There's no positive way to spin that.


Issue #4: Sunday can be successful if, come Monday, fans aren't storming Arrowhead with torches and pitchforks.

Grade: Pass


Thankfully, the calls for mass firings and resignations seemed to be at a minimum after Sunday's game - at least compared to the reaction after the loss to Miami. Perhaps it was because the Chiefs came so close to doing the unthinkable, but the level-headed reactions from Chiefs Nation were impressive.

Of course, this passing grade is for the fans, not for the team. But considering the rest of the grades, we'll take what we can get.

As for the failing grades given here, a rough outing from KC's run defense in the first game doesn't mean it will be that way all season. But a look at the upcoming schedule – against the Raiders and Darren McFadden, Atlanta and Michael Turner, and the Denver Broncos – means things might get worse before they get better.

The other two issues are far more troubling. Those offensive decisions are holdovers from last year's failed season, decisions most of us thought we'd seen the last of. Considering the Chiefs were taking a young team into the lion's den, and they were matched up against the sort of 3-4 scheme they struggled against in Miami, it's understandable to think they may have been playing things rather close to the vest this week.

But next week, at home, with Damon "too old for a babysitter" Huard back in the lineup, there won't be any excuses if the offense looks like another Solari rerun.

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