Powering Down The Chiefs

There is optimism for the first time in a long time in and around Arrowhead Stadium. People are excited about Scott Pioli, curious to see what Todd Haley has up his sleeve, and downright giddy about the prospect of Matt Cassel as a potential franchise quarterback.

But have you considered that despite all of that, the Chiefs might be a terrible, awful football team this year?

Have you considered the Chiefs might be – gasp – the worst team in the league?

There's at least one person who considers them just that. It comes as no surprises that he's not an Arrowhead Stadium season-ticket holder. Adam Caplan, Senior NFL reporter here on Scout.com, recently ranked the Chiefs 32nd in his first official power ranking of 2009.

Per Caplan:

32) Kansas City Chiefs: They made upgrades at quarterback, guard, defensive end, and linebacker. But no team had more needs coming into the draft. New team czar Scott Pioli has this team on the right track, but it's going to take a while for them to be very competitive again.

Needs Still to be Filled: WR, OLB (pass rusher)


Ouch.

Even if we don't want to, we can respect Caplan's take. It's not like he has an axe to grind with Clark Hunt, Pioli, Haley or anyone else running the show in Kansas City these days. He's a respected name in NFL media, not only on Scout.com but also on Sirius NFL Radio, where he serves as national NFL reporter.

Here's the scary part. At the beginning of the 2008 NFL season, after just one game had been played, Caplan had the Chiefs ranked 30th. It was a sign of things to come, despite a decent showing from Kansas City in New England.

Does Caplan's early opinion of 2009 have merit? Can the Chiefs, right now, in May, really be considered the worst team in not only the AFC, but the entire NFL?

To find out, we'll compare Kansas City's roster/coaching staff to the rest of the league and see how they stack up. We'll use five criteria, in a specific order – quarterback, pass rush, running game, secondary, and coaching. Arguably, those are the five most important elements on an NFL team.

1. Quarterback – the single-most important position.

2. Pass rush – the most effective way to neutralize the most important position.

3. Running game – supports the quarterback and your defense.

4. Secondary – the second-most effective way to neutralize the most important position.

5. Coaching – what separates the good teams from the great teams, and the mediocre from the bad.

QUARTERBACK

Where does Matt Cassel rank among NFL quarterbacks? While he threw for 3,693 yards and 21 touchdowns last season, we shouldn't be impressed. Elvis Grbac once threw for over 4,000 yards. So did Jake Plummer. If Cassel is in their league, the Chiefs are in trouble.

We can't consider Cassel a franchise passer yet. There's simply not enough evidence that says he can carry a team. Because quarterback is our first, most important criteria, that dumps the Chiefs down the power rankings below every team with a bona fide franchise quarterback: New Orleans, Arizona, San Diego, Indianapolis, Philadelphia, Dallas, Pittsburgh, New York, New England.

If all else is equal, can we really feel confident that Cassel can outgun Drew Brees, Kurt Warner, Philip Rivers, Peyton Manning, Donovan McNabb, Tony Romo, Ben Roethlisberger or Eli Manning? Not if we're trying to make an objective assessment.

This leaves the Chiefs competing with 23 other teams in the power rankings. We're glossing over some talented quarterbacks – Jay Cutler, Aaron Rodgers, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, JaMarcus Russell – but none have accomplished so much that we can truly separate them from Cassel at the moment.

PASS RUSH

We know the Chiefs had an abysmal, league-worst pass rush last year, logging only 10 sacks as a team. What have they done to improve it? The additions of Mike Vrabel (55 career sacks) and Tyson Jackson may help. Tamba Hali's move to outside linebacker could yield additional dividends. Glenn Dorsey, should he remain a Chief, might have a major role as an interior penetrator in passing situations.

But we can't identify a single dominant pass rusher on the Chiefs' defense. There's no one who deserves special attention. Really, we can't even identify someone who might bring a consistent, if unspectacular rush (mostly because of the scheme change – Hali was clearly a complementary pass rusher in the 4-3, but we have no way of knowing if he'll be effective in a 3-4). Vrabel was such a player in his prime, but clearly is now past that stage of his career.

The Chiefs have no one like San Diego's Shaun Philips, and certainly no one like Jared Allen. But few teams have both a dominant pass rusher and a complementary one, so Kansas City isn't alone in that regard. Almost half the league recorded fewer than 30 sacks last season.

Let's automatically put the teams with dominant pass rushers (inside or outside, and in some cases both), players who deserve special attention, ahead of the Chiefs: Dallas, Miami, Atlanta, Pittsburgh, Minnesota, Carolina (We'll assume Julius Peppers will remain a Panther), Houston, Indianapolis, Green Bay, Washington, Baltimore, New England. A few of these teams also have franchise quarterbacks, further solidifying their place above the Chiefs.

This leaves Kansas City competing with 15 other teams in the power rankings. We're less than halfway through our process of elimination, but the Chiefs are already settling in the bottom half of the league. Not a good sign.

Saturday we'll go through our final three criteria and see if the Chiefs can avoid that dreaded final spot in the power ranking.

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