Chiefs Still Running The Treadmill

Eight games into the 2009 season, the Jacksonville Jaguars are 4-4, making them the definition of an average NFL team.

When you consider who they've played to get that record, however, you might conclude that calling them "average" is kind. To earn three of their four wins, the Jaguars defeated the then-winless Tennessee Titans in Week 4, barely squeaked past the then-winless St. Louis Rams in Week 6, and then knocked off the one-win Chiefs Sunday.

Along the way Jacksonville has turned in some real stinkers, losing at home by double digits to Arizona and getting hammered 41-0 on the road by a poor Seahawks team. Just one week ago they were steamrolled 30-13 by the Titans, Tennessee's first win.

Taking all of that into account, Jacksonville might actually be closer to bad than average. Their performances after eight games suggest a mediocre team that has managed to stay afloat by virtue of a cupcake schedule.

But for 55 minutes against Kansas City, the Jaguars were the best team on the field.

Sure, the score stayed relatively close for most of the game, and the Chiefs managed to make it interesting in the end. But after the Jaguars responded to an early field goal by marching down the field and taking the lead, Kansas City's hapless offense deflated any sense of optimism like air slowly leaking from a balloon.

As the game progressed, it became clear to Chiefs fans that any chance of victory involved crossing their fingers and hoping that a big play – a blocked punt, a defensive touchdown, a shocking home run on offense – would suddenly bubble up out of nowhere.

In many ways, the Jacksonville game was a perfect summation of the 2009 Chiefs. Even against a below-average opponent that had been struggling against inferior foes, it took largely mistake-free football and late miracles for the final score to even be close.

To put it in simpler terms: the Chiefs are a bad team. We already knew that, of course, but watching them struggle to keep up while the unimpressive Jaguars pulled away was another stark reminder of how devoid of talent this roster truly is.

Those reminders are now becoming alarming as we realize just how little has actually been accomplished this year.

If you think back to free agency – and, really, right up through training camp – many rationalized the Chiefs' lack of notable talent acquisitions with the logic that new general manager Scott Pioli couldn't be expected to fix the entire team in one offseason. That was undoubtedly true, of course, considering the sorry state of the roster. In fact, it was probably unrealistic to expect any single thing to be fixed. To fix something implies that the problem has been solved.

But we weren't expecting solutions right off the bat. Simple improvement would have sufficed. Here at the halfway point of the 2009 campaign, we have to stop and ask ourselves: has anything really improved?

Before the season started, if Pioli had handed out a survey to random people on the street and asked them to identify the Chiefs' two biggest areas of need, the two most popular answers surely would have been the non-existent pass rush and poor offensive line.

Let's start there.

The Chiefs notched their 10th sack of the season Sunday, putting them on pace to double last year's horrendous output. Had David Garrard not wriggled away, a few more sacks would have been added. But even taking Sunday into account, Kansas City is still ranked 31st out of 32 teams in sacks. Only Tamba Hali is coming anywhere close to putting frequent pressure on the quarterback, and it hasn't been nearly enough.

Ironically, the NFL team with the least amount of sacks is the Jacksonville Jaguars, who entered Sunday with only five. Such a low total this far into the season actually had them in a position to challenge the sack futility record the Chiefs set in 2008.

Thankfully, though, Hali, Turk McBride, Alfonso Boone, Tim Krumrie, Gunther Cunningham, Herm Edwards and everyone else who contributed to last year's record-setting performance can probably go ahead and pop the champagne corks.

The Chiefs' offensive line surrendered three sacks to Jacksonville's woeful pass rush, bringing the Jags' sack tally to eight. With another half-season still to play, it all but guarantees the Chiefs' record of 10 will stand for another season.

As for the offensive line, they also rank 31st in sacks – sacks allowed, that is – with only Green Bay allowing more.

With a pass rush that still can't get to the quarterback and an offensive line that still can't protect one, the Chiefs will enter the 2010 offseason needing to fix the same problems they suffered from in 2008. This frustrating lack of progress isn't likely to sit well with a fanbase that's suffering through another dismal season.

It's even harder to rally the fans when - looking at the big picture - it's hard to identify any real, tangible accomplishments the team has made. The new staff installed their preferred schemes on offense and defense this year and inserted Matt Cassel into the lineup at quarterback.

But by themselves, do those things get anyone pumped up for the future?

Fans know about the switch to a 3-4, but no one can say if that move will eventually result in a good defense. The same holds true on the other side of the ball. As for Cassel, the jury is out on him until he can drop back without defenders in his face.

In a season that was supposed to represent a fresh start and a step forward, it feels like the Chiefs are on a treadmill to nowhere. The same problems exist, there are still no obvious fixes in the pipeline, and – once again – we're stuck waiting for the offseason in the hopes that the team will make smarter and more frequent talent additions than they did the year before.

Who knows, maybe in a few years, when wins are more frequent than losses, we'll look back at this stationary, low-progress season as a necessary evil, a placeholder while the foundation for bigger and better things was built.

Perhaps we'll remember this season as the point where Cassel and Dwayne Bowe learned the offense that would become one of the NFL's best. Or the year when Branden Albert dropped weight, began relying on technique, and took steps towards becoming one of the league's best left tackles. Or when Hali, Tyson Jackson, Glenn Dorsey and others adjusted to the defensive scheme they would ultimately excel in.

But for the time being, it just feels like the Chiefs are running in place. And when you aren't moving forward, the light at the end of the tunnel never gets any closer.

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