For two weeks now, the Chiefs have been in a position to win. But at some point, the players have to take over the game. The NFL is not about coaching. It's about players.
Right now, the Chiefs do not have the players.
That fact was quite obvious against the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead this past Sunday. Time and again, Haley kept putting his rag-tag collection of under-talented, inexperienced or over-the-hill Chiefs in a position to succeed. Play after play, the opportunities presented themselves, but were not taken advantage of.
It started early. After a reverse to Quinten Lawrence (a brilliant first-snap play call), the Chiefs had a first down at the 32-yard line. The play Haley called worked. The three-step drop rendered Oakland's pass rush meaningless, tight end Jake O'Connell was open and the pass was thrown accurately and on time.
But it fell incomplete. Why? O'Connell didn't get his head around in time, and the pass bounced off his helmet.
O'Connell failed to execute. Right now, he's just not good enough. He didn't take advantage of the opportunity to convert a play that should have gone for a positive gain.
One play later, more sloppy execution doomed the Chiefs. Left tackle Branden Albert gave up a pressure almost immediately after the snap. Matt Cassel held up his end of the bargain, finding an open receiver quickly and throwing the ball accurately, despite taking a big hit. But Dantrell Savage, with room to run, dropped the pass, blowing a chance to pick up a first down.
Another failure to execute. Haley can't block for Albert, and he can't catch for Savage.
A few minutes later, O'Connell ruined another play. The rookie didn't even know where to line up. It cost the Chiefs a time out. It's not Haley's responsibility to tell O'Connell where to be on every snap. Maybe if the tight end had studied his playbook a little harder, spent a little more time with his position coach, Bob Bicknell, he wouldn't make that mistake.
But the poor start didn't ruin the drive. With Haley calling the plays, mixing the run and pass, the Chiefs moved right down the field to Oakland's 13-yard line. There, another good play call presented an opportunity for a player to make a play. After a play action fake, O'Connell was open in the back of the end zone for a touchdown.
But the Chiefs didn't score. Cassel failed to execute the throw correctly, and overthrew his tight end, giving him no chance to catch a ball that was thrown too high and too hard. Haley can't make the throw for Cassel, only draw up a play that gets the receiver open.
The Chiefs settled for a field goal because of their poor execution on the drive but Haley, bucking the conservative, play-not-to-lose style that Herm Edwards brought to the table and so many Chiefs fans loathed, decided to give them another chance, immediately. He called for an onside kick, the Raiders were caught off guard and the ball bounced perfectly into the hands of Maurice Leggett.
Haley's aggressive call would have paid off had Leggett secured the football. Instead, he failed to execute, dropping it as he fell to the ground. Haley can't hold on to the football for Leggett.
Haley can't hold on to the football for Brandon Flowers, either. With just under three minutes to go before halftime, Flowers dropped an interception that he could have walked right into the end zone for a touchdown.
The Chiefs missed out on another score just before halftime when Cassel checked the ball down to Savage, who failed to get out of bounds, letting the clock run out. Haley explained in his post-game press conference that the situation called for the quarterback to throw the ball in the end zone, or get it out of bounds.
Cassel did neither. He failed to execute.
Cassel should know better, and it goes back to something Haley said weeks ago, during training camp.
"The game is made up of a lot of situations," he said. "In order to be a smart team you have to know what's going on, you have to understand the situation and you almost have to do it without coaching."
And that says it all. Cassel either didn't understand the situation – that the ball could not be completed in bounds – or he misjudged it, believing Savage could get out of bounds or the offense could line up again and stop the clock. Either way, he was wrong, and that's why Haley was fuming when his quarterback came off the field.
The Chiefs continued to make errors in execution all game long. Penalties, dropped passes, another interception from Cassel. On one play, Monty Beisel had a perfect opportunity to down the ball inside the five-yard line. Inexplicably, he decided to run into the end zone and let the ball bounce in for a touchback. Is that Haley's fault?
After Haley's offense was finally executed without error, resulting in a touchdown, the Chiefs took the lead. The Raiders took it back with a drive of their own, which illustrated, again, that Haley simply does not have the players.
As it had most of the game, KC's pass rush put little heat on JaMarcus Russell. This time he hit the open receivers who, incidentally, had also been open most of the game prior. On Oakland's game-winning touchdown, safety Mike Brown couldn't catch Darren McFadden. He's just not fast enough. He had a chance to make the play, but only he can make it. Haley can't do it for him.
Some fans believe being so hard on Kansas City's players is unfair and mean-spirited. But it serves an important purpose. When you realize how terrible the Chiefs really are – they lack talent and mental errors only serve to magnify their lack of talent – it illustrates what a gargantuan task lies in front of Haley.
The only coaching staff that could lead these Chiefs to the playoffs – yes, some fans actually thought the Chiefs could sneak into the playoffs as a wild-card this year - would be comprised of Albus Dumbledore, Gandalf the Grey and Merlin the Magnificent. It would literally take magic.
The Chiefs have been awful this year and are going to continue to be awful. They could possibly begin a stretch Sunday, in Philadelphia, that carries them to a record of 0-7. If you think Russell exploited KC's defense on that last drive, watch what Eli Manning, Tony Romo, Jason Campbell (off to a great start this year) and Philip Rivers do.
At the end of this stretch, people aren't going to be happy. The pressure on Haley is only going to get worse. But if you call for his head now or impugn him as the source of Kansas City's failures, you're way out of line. He's overmatched every Sunday with this roster.
Despite that, the Chiefs have been in a position to win, two Sundays in a row. Credit Haley, not the players who struggled to snap the ball and pick up a first down in Baltimore, who couldn't finish drives despite moving up and down the field all day against Oakland.
So, yes, there are, bitter, agenda-driven, barbecue enthusiasts in Kansas City who believe Haley embarrassed the Chiefs Sunday with his coaching performance. I say the Chiefs embarrassed Haley. They had their chances, and they let them slip away.
Chiefs' Players Are Embarrassing Haley
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