Against the Jags, the Chiefs competed with a decent team and didn't benefit from unforced errors keeping them in the game. A loss is a loss, but Sunday's was KC's best thus far.
Matt Cassel had his best game in a Chiefs uniform. Much of his production came in Sunday's last four minutes, but he finally showed what made Scott Pioli think he might be worth $63 million. In fact, if the referees had set the ball faster in the waning minutes of the opening half and the Chiefs had run an extra play before the two-minute warning, perhaps Ryan Succop hits a closer field goal attempt, and we see Cassel's first fourth-quarter comeback as a Chief.
Another promising sign was KC's running game. Though Jamaal Charles, Dantrell Savage and Kolby Smith only accounted for a total of 57 yards, they averaged 4.75 yards per carry, a much-needed improvement over Larry Johnson's 2.7. All three showed the ability to accelerate faster than Johnson. Todd Haley has reiterated the Chiefs need to eliminate negative plays, and keeping LJ on the bench might go a long way in doing so.
Haley also incorporated a two-back shotgun set that worked well. It gives the Chiefs options. They can shift Charles out into the slot, run a double screen, run a play-action screen, keep two backs in to block, and even run the option if they want. This set, with the state of KC's offensive line, could become a staple the rest of the season.
Some credit for the success of the rushing attack goes towards the offensive line, and more specifically right guard Andy Alleman, who was briefly spelled by Mike Goff. Was Goff too beaten up to be counted on consistently, but healthy enough to spell Alleman? Possibly, but don't be surprised to see Alleman steal the position altogether.
The most encouraging unit for the Chiefs Sunday was their pass rush. While the Jaguars start rookie tackles in Eugene Monroe and Eben Britton, they're first- and second-round picks, respectively.
Tamba Hali had his best game as a linebacker. For someone who has played on the defensive line his entire career, including a season as a defensive tackle in college, Hali showed impressive agility. Even when he played with his hand on the ground as an end, Hali wasn't well-known for his run stopping abilities. Sunday, he harassed Garrard often and proved to be a disruptive force against run. If the referees throw a couple more flags Monroe's way for holding, Hali has a multiple-sack game.
Hali's been a player all year. In the Kansas City media's weekly conference call with the upcoming opposing coach, he's been a constant topic of conversation. Almost every coach, and several opposing players, say he's a player to watch out for.
Tyson Jackson had his best game as a pro, Wallace Gilberry showed the pass-rush ability that made him Alabama's second all-time leading tackler in school history, behind Derrick Thomas. Another unsung defensive end who popped off the screen against the Jags was Alex Magee, who chased Garrard around numerous times. Throw in Glenn Dorsey's near sack, and the Chiefs appear to have the makings of a formidable four-man rotation at defensive end.
We can't forget Chris Chambers, who even at 31, is now Kansas City's best downfield threat. Chambers had several steps on a defender when he caught his first touchdown pass, allowing Cassel to throw an imperfect ball that still resulted in a score. No other Chiefs' receiver, short of Dwayne Bowe, has provided Cassel that margin for error this season.
Todd Haley consistently talks about making progress. Ask him about a certain person or personnel group, and chances are he'll say they're making progress. Until Sunday's loss against the Jags, that progress was not visible. The Chiefs lost again, but finally they appear to be improving.
Chiefs Show Progress In Loss
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