Predicting The 2009 Chiefs

There's a lot of uncertainty surrounding the Chiefs these days. No one quite knows what to expect as they head to Baltimore to take on the Ravens.

It would be foolish to try and predict Matt Cassel's stat line or how well KC's revamped defense will play. Too many unknowns enter into those equations. But we can certainly take a stab at a few other, more specific areas of the team.

Here are five things I'm 99.9 percent certain we'll see from the 2009 Chiefs.


Jamaal Charles will emerge as a major offensive weapon.

If you're a regular reader, you're probably quite aware of my rather biased opinions in favor of Larry Johnson, so this might shock you. Based on preseason, Charles may be the better player and might deserve just as many touches.

I loved what the Chiefs did with Charles in August. He was out in the pattern as a receiver all the time, and Kansas City didn't hesitate to feed him carries from a variety of formations. We even saw a dual-threat backfield with Charles and Johnson a few times.

Can Charles be a poor man's Clinton Portis? He made something out of nothing on more than a couple of snaps. He moves so fast, however, sometimes it's difficult to catch just how foolish he can make defenders look. On a 31-yard run against the Seahawks in the third week of the preseason, he made Pro Bowler Lofa Tatupu and safety Brian Russell collide with only the slightest hop.

The Chiefs don't have many offensive weapons, obviously, so they're going to have to find ways to utilize Charles. Todd Haley's offense saw Kurt Warner throw the ball to running backs over 70 times last season with the Cardinals. I see Charles getting the bulk of those touches in Kansas City.

Johnson will probably still score the majority of the touchdowns (he's still the superior fantasy option), but I don't think 1,000 total yards is out of the question from Charles if he quits fumbling the ball as he has in the past. He'll also have to stay healthy – so far, so good.

He may not be a consistent producer in KC's offense, however. We could see him explode one week before doing nothing the next. But if everything goes perfectly, Charles might be KC's version of Kevin Faulk, who caught 58 passes from Matt Cassel in New England last season and tacked on 507 rushing yards to boot.


Tamba Hali and Mike Vrabel will shock everyone.

It's unclear why Hali suddenly began beating left tackles this preseason after spending half of 2008 being swallowed up by even the most inexperienced blindside protectors. But there's no denying he was getting upfield, ducking under blocks and putting pressure on quarterbacks. At one point, I was shocked to see Hali shove Minnesota's Bryant McKinnie, who has about 100 pounds on him, right back into Brett Favre.


Will Hali get to the quarterback?
Al Bello - Getty

Hali's resurgence probably has as much to do with his own play as Vrabel's. He didn't have a sack this preseason, but was right there with Hali half the time. They met at the quarterback quite a bit. If Favre wasn't so good at getting rid of the football, both would probably at least one more sack to their names.

We won't confuse Hali and Vrabel with Derrick Thomas and Neil Smith. But for the first time since Jared Allen left, Hali has a player opposite who can beat a tackle clean and get to the quarterback. Vrabel has clearly lost some of his physical attributes but he's great at engaging a blocker and using his hands to beat the protection.

Hali and Vrabel won't be impact, turnover-forcing pass rushers like Allen, but they'll flirt with 15 or 20 combined sacks. Clancy Pendergast's blitz schemes will tack on another 10 to that. The Chiefs may actually hit 30 sacks in 2009, which isn't great, but after 10 a year ago Chiefs fans may believe they're watching the '85 Bears inside Arrowhead Stadium.


• The Chiefs will have one of the worst defensive lines in football.

What, did you think this was all going to be positive? Sorry, but the Chiefs may be just as bad against the run as they were a year ago. Everyone wants to think happy thoughts where Glenn Dorsey and Tank Tyler are concerned, but it doesn't look good based on preseason.

I'd love to know if Dorsey actually made a play in the backfield this August. I don't recall one. Supposedly, if the Chiefs are playing Pendergast's 4-3 Under scheme, at times Dorsey's job is to get on a guard's shoulder, get up the field and penetrate. This preseason, most of the time he appeared to be anchored to the line of scrimmage.

Earlier this offseason I wrote that Dorsey would have to be a major player on the line if the Chiefs were going to improve on defense. You'd have to be a close friend or family member to be more impressed with Dorsey than this year's first-round pick, Tyson Jackson. Heck, at least he got to the quarterback.

I wonder how injuries have affected Dorsey's play. He entered OTAs and training camp this year trying to get into shape. During games, Dorsey has so much armor (tape, braces, etc) strapped to his legs it's not really surprising he doesn't look particularly explosive coming off the snap.

Tyler was elevated to the starting nose tackle position this past week, "beating out" Ron Edwards. But why did it take so long? Tank spent preseason fighting with second and third-string offensive lines for the most part, while Edwards was unimpressive with the starters. The Seahawks blew both of them right off the ball in the third preseason game, and Seattle's offensive line isn't exactly comparable to the 2003 Chiefs. If I had to guess, Kansas City's future nose tackle is still in college.

If the Chiefs don't get better play out of Dorsey and Tyler, it's going to be a long season. We can't count on Alex Magee and Jackson, a pair of rookies, to make much of an impact, though I expect Magee to steal a good chunk of Dorsey's snaps by season's end.

But hey, at least Mike Brown will make the tackles Bernard Pollard missed last season. Maybe the Chiefs' defense can sniff the top 25?


Dwayne Bowe will struggle immensely, but won't drop the ball.

When the Chiefs traded Tony Gonzalez, I wondered how Tyler Thigpen would play. The results weren't pretty. Now, I wonder how Dwayne Bowe will fare without Gonzalez drawing coverage. Bowe has never been the primary target before. He'll draw the opposition's best corner, week in and week out.

Champ Bailey used to cover Gonzalez when the Chiefs played the Broncos. The Raiders occasionally used their Pro Bowl corner, Nmadi Asomugha, on Gonzalez. Bowe caught 22 passes against Oakland and Denver last year. Can he do that with Bailey and Asomugha shadowing him on nearly every play in four games this season? I don't even want to think about double coverage.


Will Bowe struggle?
Al Bello - Getty

There's no question Todd Haley is creative enough to find ways to get Bowe the football, but it's going to be a struggle every week. We know the Chiefs will have difficulties in pass protection, but will the running game sustain enough drives to give Bowe opportunities to rack up catches?

Check out the list of corners Bowe will face this season: Nnamdi Asomugha, Asante Samuel, Terence Newman, Carlos Rogers, Rashean Mathis, Champ Bailey. That's half of KC's schedule. We'll find out pretty quickly if Bowe can beat top corners consistently.

If he can't, Bowe's numbers might not look much different than they did last season. But it's pretty clear he won't struggle to catch the football. He didn't drop a pass in preseason. Maybe Haley knew what he was doing, throwing Bowe in the doghouse, now that we've considered the immense pressure Bowe will be under this season. His regular season figures to be much tougher than his training camp and preseason.


• The Chiefs will stumble out of the gate to vicious criticism.

Admit it - it's going to be ugly early. The Chiefs face the Ravens, Eagles, Redskins, Cowboys, Giants and Chargers in the first half of the season. If they beat more than one or two of those teams, it will be a complete shock. How will people react to a 2-5 Chiefs team?

Probably poorly. The media has already been harsh on Scott Pioli and Todd Haley. If Jason Whitlock has praise for either through the wasteland of the first seven weeks, it will be a first. As silly as it sounds, someone on Kansas City radio will inevitably compare Haley to Herm Edwards and Pioli to Carl Peterson. And I don't even want to think about what our own Nick Athan will write.

The brutal opening stretch is going to test everyone – Pioli, Haley, Matt Cassel, the media, and yes, the fans. I expect the Chiefs to weather the test quite well – it's their job. I expect the media to have a feeding frenzy over all the negativity – it's their job. I expect the fans to have a little more tolerance.

Some of you had the patience of Job with Herm Edwards. You can give the 2009 Chiefs at least a whole year before you decide Pioli and Haley are overpaid bums, Cassel is Scott Mitchell 2.0, and the new Arrowhead Stadium is a waste of your time.

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