Week Eight - Issues Surrounding The Chiefs

This week Michael Ash talks about the stubborn coaching staff in Kansas City and if Tyler Thigpen is for real.

In Sunday's near-win over the Jets, the Chiefs' normally stubborn coaching staff finally displayed some flexibility. Unfortunately, by the end of the game it was their continued stubbornness that echoed loudest.

When the Jets took the field in the game's opening possession, the CBS announce crew noted that Tamba Hali had shifted back to left defensive end. In a remarkable coincidence, Hali had his best game of the season from his old spot, finally notching a sack and knocking Brett Favre to the turf on several other plays. On more than one of Favre's interceptions, it was Hali forcing the issue, by bringing pressure in the pocket.

This creative, outside-the-box, forward-thinking on the part of the Chiefs' coaches only came – let me check my figures – about a month after the rest of the world realized that Hali wasn't working out on the right side of the line.

But, hey, better late than never, right?

An even bigger adjustment occurred later in the game, when Kansas City's offense suddenly began to show signs of life. Behind second-year quarterback Tyler Thigpen, the Chiefs' attack almost resembled a college squad as they dropped back into the shotgun, spread the field, and went with a faster-paced, no-huddle game plan.

Sitting back in the gun allowed Thigpen to make quicker reads and get rid of the ball faster, which meant the offensive line didn't have to protect as long. While KC's line still allowed four sacks, two of them came in the first quarter before the Chiefs had committed to the spread.

One of the reasons cited for the use of this new style is the fact that Thigpen ran a similar system in college. Indeed, it seemed in the preseason that Thigpen did his best work during two-minute drills, which followed the same spread-out, no-huddle formula.

So if this is the style of offense Thigpen is most comfortable in, why didn't the Chiefs adopt this strategy for his first start in Atlanta? A better question, though, considering the woes on the offensive line, is why didn't Kansas City adopt this strategy from the beginning? The offensive style we saw Sunday works much better to mask the weaknesses of Kansas City's line than what we saw in the six prior games this season. Keeping the opposing defense spread out should also help to open up the run game.

While Chan Gailey and the rest of KC's coaches deserve praise for finally coming up with something that works, much like the situation with Hali, we have to wonder what took them so long.

Or do we?

It's no secret how stubborn the Chiefs have been about various issues this year. It stretches back to the offseason, when they held so firm to their new mission statement of "young and modestly priced free agents only" that a player like Jake Scott – a 27 year-old right guard whose physical stats are nearly identical to those of Adrian Jones – hardly drew a sniff from Kansas City. The Titans, by the way, have the league's fourth-best run game and have only given up two sacks this year. Scott's reported four-year, $19.5 million contract didn't exactly break the bank.

Right along those same lines, one only needed to look at the offensive line the Chiefs lined up with Sunday to see their continued stubbornness in action. While they may have finally bit the bullet and admitted that moving Hali was a mistake, Damion McIntosh is still plugging away as the starter at right tackle.

So it came as no real surprise when, late in the fourth quarter and clinging to a three-point lead, the coaching staff decided to crawl into a shell and run the ball on three consecutive plays. They didn't get a first down, they gave the ball back to Favre, and the final result was another loss.

Gailey has taken responsibility for the play-calling, but he's not the head coach. If Edwards disagreed – and there's been nothing said to suggest that he did – he should have overruled his coordinator.

Despite the many frustrating losses that both men have suffered as a direct result of their conservative philosophies, and despite the fact that three straight runs went against everything that had been working for the Chiefs on Sunday, Gailey and Edwards stubbornly dug in their heels when it was crunch time. That, above anything positive accomplished by the coaches, will be the lasting memory of Sunday's game.

The Chiefs are a one-win team with nothing at stake this season but their draft position. If Edwards can't bring himself to be a little bit flexible with the way things are right now, under what circumstances would he ever feel comfortable leaving his shell and running something more unpredictable than three straight runs and a punt?

Let's hope Clark Hunt has similar questions in mind when the season ends.

Incidentally, as a reminder to everyone still hoping to see Bill Cowher as KC's next coach, going conservative and "playing not to lose" late in games was easily his biggest criticism during his time in Pittsburgh.

Was Tyler Thigpen's performance against New York the quarterback version of Larry Johnson's game against Denver?

With both teams sitting at 4-3, the Jets and Broncos could have quite a battle over the title of "league's biggest fraud."

After Johnson tore up the Broncos for nearly 200 yards, he was held to just two the next week against the Panthers. Whatever the quarterback equivalent of a two-yard rushing performance is, here's hoping we don't see it against Tampa Bay this week.

Not only do the Buccaneers present a much stiffer test, they will have had a week to adjust to Kansas City's spread offense. Expecting Thigpen to repeat his performance from last week isn't realistic.

The key, even if he struggles, is for Thigpen not to completely collapse. As long as he can still keep the offense moving, it won't be the end of the world if he makes some mistakes and gets tricked into throwing a few interceptions.

But if he reverts back to his form from the Atlanta game – inaccurate, looking like he shouldn't even be on the field, making the Jets game look like a fluke – that would be a tough pill to swallow.

Even if it doesn't translate into wins, if the Chiefs can keep playing like they did on Sunday, with young players starting to step up and emerge, the rest of the season could still be fun to watch. Thigpen continuing his maturation would go a long way towards making that happen.

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