Week Five – Issues Surrounding the Chiefs

This week Michael Ash discusses Herm Edwards, KC's offensive line, Tamba Hali and the quarterback situation.

It's hard to find words that accurately convey the disappointment of Sunday's game.

I'm not talking about the fact that the Chiefs lost. On the road against the 3-1 Panthers, a win would have been stunning. After awful performances against Oakland and Atlanta, the Chiefs righting the ship and knocking off two first-place teams in back-to-back weeks would have been nothing short of astounding.

But after last week's performance against Denver, the way the team came out and played against Carolina was an enormous step backwards.

"We had to stop the run and we had to try to run the ball and try and protect our quarterback. We didn't get any of those things accomplished. They came out and knocked us off the ball and ran the ball down our throat. We're a much better team than that. We didn't do it today. I don't know why, but we'd better get it fixed in a hurry."

Those remarks from Herm Edwards sound similar to his post-game speech from Sunday afternoon. Unfortunately, he actually made those comments three weeks ago after a loss to the Raiders. Needless to say, it's not a good sign that Edwards gave the same general speech – the team played badly, he doesn't know why, they need to get it fixed – twice in such a short span.

If nothing else, one would at least expect the Chiefs to show up and play hard every week. After all, the key coaching attribute credited to Edwards is his ability to motivate. You've heard the description a hundred times: "He may not be the best X's and O's coach out there, but he can get his guys to play harder than just about anyone else".

So when the Chiefs have only appeared motivated in two of their five games, it's a significant issue that falls directly at the feet of the head coach.

While I'm discussing the failures of KC's coaching staff, the bye week seems like a good time to examine the state of the offensive line.

I wrote back in March (Croyle deserves more from Chiefs) that the Chiefs were gambling this season. Instead of banking on aging, washed-up veterans along the offensive line as they did last season, they were counting on young, unproven players to step in and fix the problems.

In hindsight, that take wasn't entirely accurate. The Chiefs changed four of their five starters along the line, but as it turned out, only two of the four – Branden Albert and Rudy Niswanger – are actually young and inexperienced. The other two – Damion McIntosh and Adrian Jones – have been around long enough to have a sense of their ability.

So how is the line doing so far?

Chiefs quarterbacks have been sacked 15 times this year, three times a game, which ranks near the bottom of the league. So the offensive line is on pace to allow 48 sacks, a minimal improvement over the 55 allowed last season.

And aside from six quarters – two against an Atlanta team with a huge lead and four against Denver's dreadful defense – Kansas City's run game has continued to struggle.

Perhaps something magical will occur over the bye week, and the offensive line will operate like a finely-tuned machine against Tennessee. But barring that sort of miracle, it would certainly appear the Chiefs' gamble has failed to pay off, with no hope of improvement in sight.

It's really quite stunning when you think about it. The foundation of a Herm Edwards team is the running game, which can't succeed with a poor offensive line. The key to Kansas City's rebuilding process was Brodie Croyle, who – injuries aside – can't be evaluated if he has no protection.

How could this have happened again?

Worse yet, the poorest play has come from the right side of the line, where McIntosh and Jones are holding down the fort. Given their experience relative to the other players, those are the two linemen KC's coaches should have had the best read on.

Coming out of the bye, a change absolutely must be made. Could any combination of Herb Taylor, Wade Smith and Barry Richardson look as bad as McIntosh and Jones did when Carolina's Tyler Brayton slipped past them untouched to sack Damon Huard in the first quarter on Sunday?

Beyond that, the Chiefs simply have to invest in someone with the proven ability to identify and develop offensive linemen. While they're at it, a coach who can do the same with quarterbacks would also be a good idea.

How about the defensive line? How are things on that side of the ball?

It's tough to rank all the disappointments coming out of Sunday's game. But the fact that the Panthers started backups at both tackle positions, yet the Chiefs' defensive ends barely even breathed on Jake Delhomme, has to rank right up near the top.

I'm willing to give a pass to Turk McBride, who was a tackle/end tweener coming out of college. McBride acknowledged the day he was drafted that it would probably take some time for him to develop into a steady defensive end, and this is his first year of significant action at the position.

But Tamba Hali is another issue altogether. Yes, Hali is batting injuries again, which never truly paints a fair picture. But as his pass rush has become almost non-existent, it seems safe to say his play on the field is regressing in key areas.

When Hali was drafted in 2006, it wasn't a big secret that the New York Giants – who picked five spots after the Chiefs – were incredibly high on him. Former Giants general manager Ernie Accorsi raved about Hali after the combine, and with Michael Strahan in the waning years of his career, the team was in the market for a pass rusher. With Hali off the board when the Giants went on the clock, they ultimately traded down a few spots and grabbed Mathias Kiwanuka with the final pick of the first round.

From names like Kiwanuka to Osi Umenyiora to Justin Tuck, the Giants have been a pass rushing factory in recent years. Even with Strahan's retirement and Umenyiora's season-ending injury, New York currently ranks third in the league with 15 sacks. The Chiefs, on the other hand, have just three sacks and rank 31st.

Don't you get the feeling that if Hali had actually been drafted by New York, he'd be a much better player today? Year after year, the Giants have consistently shown the ability to develop young players into top-flight pass rushers, while the Chiefs – to put it mildly – have not.

Hali is not a bust. He's the same player who came into the league as a rookie and recorded more sacks than Jared Allen, not to mention six forced fumbles. He has talent. He's shown it.

The question on my mind centers on how that talent is being groomed. Is Hali being given the necessary tools to continue growing and improving, or was the ability he showed as a rookie supposed to sustain him for the rest of his career?

Just having to ask those questions is troubling when you consider Hali was the initial first-round draft pick of the Herm Edwards era. He should be the crown jewel of the franchise at this point, the first player the Chiefs point to in order to say, "See, look, we're on the right track."

Nearly halfway through his third season, Hali is most likely an expert in Tim Krumrie's hand-fighting drill. But it's not helping him get to the quarterback.

Much like the offensive line, there should be nothing stopping the Chiefs from making a change along the defensive front. What do they have to lose at this point?

Specifically, they should consider moving Hali back to the left side of the defense, where he's actually shown the ability to generate pressure. True, they might not get anything at all with McBride on the other side, but they aren't getting much of anything from that spot now, anyway.

Hali pressuring the quarterback from his old position would at least give the team something that occasionally resembles a pass rush.

So did anything good come out of Sunday's game?

Yes, in a way. Damon Huard's performance erased any quarterback controversy and effectively gave the keys back to Brodie Croyle for the rest of the season. In my mind, the issue never should have been in question, but it was nice of Huard to make the decision so easy.

I'll have a lot more to say about Croyle's return to the lineup next week. Hopefully he can make it through two weeks of practice without breaking anything.

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