Week Nine - Issues Surrounding The Chiefs

This week Michael Ash talks about who's to blame, and why we can be nice to Herm Edwards, at least until Sunday!

There isn't one particular person to blame for Kansas City's overtime loss to Tampa Bay.

After the game, it seemed like there was a contest in some circles to see who could identify the person most responsible for the defeat. Was it Jon McGraw and his missed tackle on special teams? Was it Turk McBride, who after a key third down stop, was flagged for what seems like his 30th roughing the passer penalty?

How about Jamaal Charles for his fumble? Or Brandon Flowers, for having the gall to get injured and leave the secondary vulnerable?

Maybe it was the referee who called a phantom pass interference penalty on Tony Gonzalez, wiping out a third-down conversion that should have sealed the win. Or, rather than any one person, it could have been the quirk that saw Tampa Bay essentially benefit from their own penalty, as a false start wiped out a missed field goal attempt.

The bottom line is that those issues, combined with Tampa Bay stiffening up and looking more like the 6-3 playoff contender they are, all combined to stick the Chiefs with another loss. From the moment they went down 24-3, the Bucs started clawing back into the game. They made things happen, took advantage of mistakes, and fought to overcome their own. They were simply the better team.

But that isn't to say the loss wasn't disappointing. It was crushing, a bitter pill to swallow for the players, and Herm Edwards' post-game press conference sounded more like a speech at a wake.

But for outside observers who are just hoping to see progress, trying to assess blame for the loss ignores the bigger issue from Sunday's game. For the second straight week, the Chiefs have fought right down to the wire, against a pair of winning teams, no less.

At the halfway point of the season, things aren't too pretty when you look at the numbers. The Chiefs are 1-7 and they're ranked near the bottom of the league in nearly every offensive and defensive category. One of the few statistical bright spots is the fact that they're actually tied for second in takeaways and have a turnover margin of +7, good for third in the league.

A statistic that won't show up in box scores is how competitive the Chiefs have been. With eight games under their belt and another eight still to go, I have the breakdown at 4-4.

Against Oakland, Atlanta, Carolina, and Tennessee, the Chiefs either didn't show up or didn't start playing until the game was already out of reach. Against New England, Denver, New York, and Tampa Bay, they played hard and were always in the game. Granted, the fact they were in it the whole way against the Patriots had a lot to do with Tom Brady's injury, but a larger margin of defeat wouldn't have changed the fact that the young Chiefs showed up to play that day.

Competing in only 50 percent of games isn't exactly the sort of thing you start a parade over. But the positive thing to take away from that statistic is the fact that half of those strong performances came in the team's two most recent outings.

With half a season left to play, we could finally be reaching the point we've been hoping to see all season, that point when a light starts to come on and business begins to pick up. That doesn't mean we'll see a lengthy winning streak, but rather a series of games where improvement is evident, individual players start to emerge, and fans start to have a reason for optimism.

When running down the list of possible goats from Sunday's game, I purposely didn't include Herm Edwards.

Blame has been heaped upon the head coach, with people citing the two late time-outs the Chiefs took, as well as the offensive playcalling in the second half. I've made no secret of my disagreements with Edwards' decision-making and playcalling in recent weeks, but I find both of those charges pretty flimsy.

The timeouts aren't a big deal. It seems most of this criticism arose from the comments of Fox announcer Tony Boselli, who – after the Bucs were whistled for a false start with 35 seconds left in the fourth quarter – commented that the Chiefs had stopped the clock by taking a timeout.

That wasn't actually true, though. After Tampa Bay was penalized with a 10-second runoff, two seconds mistakenly came off the clock, and that might be why Boselli thought time was running down. I'm honestly not sure when the clock would have started again after the penalty – prior to the next play or after the snap – but Boselli's comment made it seem like the clock had been running all along until the Chiefs stopped it with a timeout.

That wasn't the case, however, and those two seconds that ticked down were even put back on. So, no, Edwards didn't stop the clock for the Bucs.

Others say the timeouts were mistakes because they gave Tampa Bay more time to regroup. That's an entirely valid point, but it has to be kept in mind that we don't know the reasoning behind the timeouts. If, for example, the Chiefs saw how Tampa Bay was lining up and didn't think they had the right defense on the field, wouldn't that justify their decision to call a timeout? Should they have conceded a score rather than give the Bucs an extra 30 seconds? Without knowing why they did it, it's hard to be critical of the decision.

As for the second-half playcalling, I was critical over what happened in New York last week, but had no objections over how the last game was called after halftime. As evidence that they went conservative, it's been pointed out that the team ran more than they passed in the second half. But considering the run game was actually effective on Sunday, is that really such a big deal?

The announcers even remarked during the broadcast that they thought the Chiefs were still aggressive in their playcalling. Late in the game as the team was trying to hang on to the lead, we all know they didn't run the ball three straight times again this week – it was the pass on third down when the now-infamous flag on Gonzalez was thrown.

But let's not forget an earlier example from the fourth quarter, when on a crucial 3rd and 1 in the redzone, Chan Gailey dialed up a screen pass instead of plowing ahead to get that one yard. The screen attempt was blown up, Tyler Thigpen threw the ball away, and the Chiefs had to settle for a field goal.

While the playcalling wasn't as exciting as the first-half trick play that led to Thigpen catching a touchdown pass, it wasn't as if Edwards and Gailey crawled back into their shells. We know what it looks like when they get conservative – calling running plays when there's no blocking, forcing the team into multiple third-and-long situations.

That didn't happen Sunday. When they weren't penalized, every third down the Chiefs faced in the second half was short yardage. The offense just failed to convert most of them, and a lot of that had to do with Tampa Bay's defense.

The point is that there's a trend developing. As everyone surely knows, many people have already decided Edwards can't possibly return as head coach next year.

But that doesn't mean he doesn't deserve credit when the team plays well, as if he's just some bystander who happens to be on the sideline.

Nothing the Chiefs do over the next eight games is going to change my mind about how terribly they handled Brodie Croyle. No strategy Edwards employs on the field will convince me that, when a game actually matters, he won't go conservative and rely on his punter and defense to save the day. Short of an 8-8 or 9-7 finish, there's nothing that would convince me Herm Edwards is the best man to coach the Chiefs next year.

But when he deserves credit for something, he should get it. It's obvious that many of the people who've written Edwards off have no plans to credit him for anything at this point. Unless you count coming up with ways to blame him for losses as giving him credit.

Acknowledging the team's improvement, or admitting that Edwards may have been right about something, doesn't necessarily mean you're endorsing his continued employment. It just means you're fair and objective. There's nothing wrong with that.

While it's way too early for Edwards' supporters to start saying, "I told you so" about anything, we'll be forced to revisit some issues if the Chiefs continue playing as they have for two weeks now.

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