Week 11 - Issues Surrounding The Chiefs

This week Michael Ash talks about the Chiefs' progression, and Herm Edwards' commitment to punting to great quarterbacks.

After three straight games that went down to the wire, the general consensus is that Sunday's 30-20 loss to New Orleans was a slight step backwards.

I didn't see it that way. It's true that the game wasn't decided in the final moments, but that's more the result of a few unfortunate circumstances than a sign of the Chiefs regressing.

Take, for example, the embarrassingly bad call that negated a Larry Johnson touchdown. Although the ball wasn't visible on the replay, Johnson's upper body clearly crossed the goal line. The referee might not have seen the position of the ball on the replay, but since the replay also didn't show Johnson taking the handoff and then stuffing the ball into his hip pocket, isn't it safe to assume he scored?

The four points the Chiefs lost on that play alone would have narrowed the final margin of defeat down to a one-possession game. Then consider another play, the 47-yard touchdown pass Drew Brees threw to Lance Moore early in the third quarter.

It wasn't Brandon Flowers or Brandon Carr who got beat. It wasn't even Patrick Surtain or Maurice Leggett. The culprit on the play was Ricardo Colclough, a corner the Chiefs signed just two weeks ago to add depth to their injury-riddled secondary.

Much like mid-season free agent pickup Mark Bradley, Colclough came into the league a few years ago as a second-round draft pick. While Bradley appears to be a steal, lightning doesn't appear to have struck twice with Colclough's addition.

As an injury replacement, Colclough may well be out of a job once Flowers and Surtain return. Are you viewing this team's overall progress any differently this week because a player who wasn't on the team when the month started, and who may not be on the team when the month ends, surrendered a long touchdown pass? You shouldn't be.

Granted, even if Colclough's coverage on Moore had been Deion Sanders-like, the Saints still could have driven down the field and scored on that possession. But we'll never know. The 11 points from those two plays alone make up the difference between a 10-point loss and a tightly contested game that, just like the previous three weeks, goes down to the final minute.

There are obvious issues to address coming out of the game – the redzone offense immediately leaps to mind. But I wasn't discouraged. The Chiefs have now put together a full month of solid football. Who knows, maybe they'll even squeak out another win one of these days.

Sadly, even if Sunday's game had come down to a final possession, Herm Edwards' decision-making would have guaranteed another loss.

Does Herm daydream on the sideline? Does he stand there and imagine himself as the coach of the 1970's Steelers or the ‘85 Bears? Does he drift away into a fantasy world where he's back with Tony Dungy in Tampa Bay, and that stout Bucs' defense is at his disposal?

How else can you explain his decision – with the Chiefs trailing by seven in the fourth quarter – to punt on fourth and two and give the ball back to the league's best offense?

Playing against the Saints, that call would defy explanation when the Chiefs' 32nd ranked defense is at full strength. But to do it when the defense looks like a MASH unit, with replacement players all over the field, you honestly have to wonder if Herm knows what team he's coaching.

This certainly isn't the first time Edwards has made such a decision, however. Let's take a look at three specific examples.

• • •

WEEK 11, 2007

On the road against the Colts, with the score tied at 10 with over 13 minutes remaining, the Chiefs faced a fourth and one on their own 46. They punted. The Colts ran six plays, gained about 20 yards, and punted the ball back.

Kansas City's offense moved the ball to their 45-yard line, but a negative rush and a sack left them with third and 18 with seven minutes remaining. Waiving the white flag, they ran the ball for two yards on third down, sending the ball back to Indianapolis.

Future Hall of Fame quarterback Peyton Manning drove his team down the field, called a timeout with six seconds on the clock, and the Colts kicked the game-winning field goal.

WEEK 8, 2008

On the road against the Jets, the Chiefs were winning 24-21 and had the ball with five minutes remaining. They called three consecutive runs, punted on fourth and one, and watched as future Hall of Fame quarterback Brett Favre guided his team to the end zone for the game-winning touchdown.

WEEK 11, 2008

Mere weeks after the Jets game, down 27-20 against New Orleans, the Chiefs punted on fourth and two with 10 minutes remaining. This punt came despite the fact that the team was already 10 yards deep into Saints' territory, and despite the fact that they'd already gone for – and converted – a fourth and one play much earlier in the game.

Led by Drew Brees – a two-time Pro Bowl quarterback on pace to break the single-season passing record – the Saints took seven minutes off the clock and drove down for a field goal that effectively clinched the game.

• • •

Those certainly aren't the only times this strategy has been employed. To be fair, there's at least one example – last year's loss to the Raiders – where the Chiefs did attempt a late fourth down and failed to convert.

But I wanted to highlight those particular incidents because they represent all three possibilities a team could face: being tied, being ahead, and being behind. On three occasions, facing three different scenarios, the same general decision was made. Each time it led to the exact same outcome.

My problem with those examples isn't the final score. It's that nothing has been learned from those decisions.

Let's take the game in Indianapolis. One might agree with the initial punt, because there was still nearly a full quarter left to play. One might agree with the decision not to try anything risky on third and 18, which was surely made in part because that game was the first start of Brodie Croyle's career.

But the general theme – playing it safe before watching helplessly as the other team marches down the field for victory – is something that should stick in your mind. It should be a lesson you store away for next time. Especially, I would think, if you're the person who made the decisions that led to that scenario unfolding.

But that just doesn't seem to be the case with Herm Edwards. No matter how many times he gets burned, he keeps touching the stove.

Another key item to note is that every one of those examples came against one of the top quarterbacks in the game. It's not like the Chiefs were giving the ball back to JaMarcus Russell and challenging him to drive the length of the field. They were playing against players who, time and time again, have proven they can lead their teams down the field for game-winning scores.

That's significant because it shows how the head coach's mind works. To Edwards, allowing his offense an attempt at a first down is more of a risk than forcing his defense to stop the likes of Manning and Favre. If he'll give the ball back to quarterbacks of that caliber when the game is on the line, who wouldn't he punt it to? Which quarterback has to be under center before Edwards thinks, "Boy, I don't know if we can stop these guys?"

A week after attempting a two-point conversion with the game on the line, Edwards made it clear that he hasn't changed his stripes. If he's not willing to "gamble" in that situation against the Saints, with his one-win team needing a touchdown, it should be obvious to everyone he'll never be willing to do it when the Chiefs are actually playing in a game that means something.

Worse yet, once the Chiefs are playing better, he has a ready-made excuse to ignore all the times his strategy failed in the past.

"We're a better team than we used to be," Edwards might say in a post-loss press conference. "It's frustrating. I really thought we'd be able to stop ‘em this time."

Going back to those two key plays against the Saints, even if things had gone differently and the score had been closer, it's safe to say the decision-making wouldn't have changed. Whether the Chiefs were ahead or behind, there's no reason to believe Edwards would have made a different call in that same situation.

He'll do the same thing next time. And the time after. And the time after that, too.

If a player on the field kept making the same decision, and that decision repeatedly got him burned, he'd either have to do something different or he'd find himself on the bench.

We know Herm's not going to try anything new. So when does he start riding the pine?

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