Eric Hartz: Before the season began, I sensed a shake-up in the AFC West and picked Oakland as the surprise division winner, based on a few close losses in 2009 and a more stable quarterback situation. That hasn't panned out so far, as the Chiefs look like the surprise of the division and the league. It's early, but what has been the single biggest difference between this year and last year?
Nick Athan: I'm not sure the Raiders upgraded the quarterback position. Why they thought Jason Campbell was any better than JeMarcus Russell shows how inept that organization continues to be. That's to the benefit of the Chiefs. This division is down from a year ago and the sudden rise of the Chiefs isn't that big of a surprise to those that followed the team all offseason. The biggest reason they stand perfect on the season is one simple item; the players believe in the coaching staff.
And the assistant coaches like Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis get most of the credit. But Head Coach Todd Haley has changed so much since the season ended last January, that he's a more confident coach and it's rubbing off on his players. There hasn't been a team in recent memory in Kansas City that's played this well in all three phases of the game. That's a direct testament to Haley, who has made his players believe that if they work together, continue to be willing to learn, and execute the simple things during a game, that they're going to be successful.
But to be honest, this rebuilding plan in Kansas City is a year ahead of schedule. So it's anyone's guess if the winning will continue. But based on a soft schedule in games six through sixteen for the Chiefs, they could even run away with the division by December.
Hartz: I've felt the Chiefs have done well in the past several NFL Drafts. Do you agree, and why or why not? Is this year's 3-0 start the beginning of a cumulative effect? Who are some of the young, up-and-coming players fans outside of Kansas City might not know?
Athan: General manager Scott Pioli's first draft back in 2009 didn't yield many happy returns. In fact, only kicker Ryan Succup, Mr. Irrelevant, did anything worthy on the field. First-round pick Tyson Jackson has played better in his second year, but went down with a knee injury in week one. But last season he was a big fish out of water. After that players like defensive end Alex Magee and safety/corner Donald Washington did very little to show they were even worthy draft picks in any round.
But in 2010, Pioli had a game plan. The year before he relied on the leftovers from the Carl Peterson era. This time around he had his own guys in place and they made an effort to draft football players who were leaders on their college teams. In addition, he wanted to increase the overall speed of his team and he did that with guys like Safety Eric Berry, Cornerback Javier Arenas, Tight End Tony Moeaki and wide receiver Dexter McCluster. Each has made an immediate impact for the Chiefs and Colts fans shouldn't be surprised to see all of them have success against the Colts on Sunday.
It is surprising that the young kids are playing so well at this point. But Todd Haley made it clear to each of the Chiefs draftees that they need to contribute right away. In past years, Chiefs head coaches like Herm Edwards, Dick Vermeil and Gunther Cunningham refused to play the young draft picks. In the case for those coaches, they never had a first day pick develop into a consistent starter.
Hartz: They both struggled as head coaches, but Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel have had tremendous success against the Colts, beating them regularly during the Patriots' dominant run in the last decade. Crennel even held the Colts without an offensive touchdown as coach of the Browns in 2008, only the third time that's been done in the past seven years to Peyton Manning. What is it about the two coaches' schemes give the Colts — and others — so much trouble?
Athan: I don't think the Colts are going to like the outcome of Sunday's game. You hit the nail right on the head. Both Romeo Crennel and Charlie Weis have owned the Colts. And I expect that to continue on Sunday based on past history plus the fact the Chiefs have had two weeks to prepare for Peyton Manning and company.
Crennel, in my view, is the best defensive mind in football. All you need to do is look at the fact this Chiefs defense outside of two rookie safeties are the same players ranked near the bottom of every NFL category defensively the las three years. He has them flying to the ball and he's already elevated the game of the aforementioned Jackson, Glenn Dorsey, Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson.
There is no question that Crennel has what it takes to defeat the Colts on Sunday. He nearly did it in Cleveland with far less talent than he has in Kansas City. Some coaches just have the number of certain players. And I'm afraid Manning is going to be very frustrated at what the Chiefs defense will throw at him Sunday.
Offensively, Charlie Weis has worked very hard to get Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassel to play mistake-free football. Yes, he's thrown a few interceptions, but he's putting the ball into the hands of his playmakers. All he has to do is manage the offense, and so far that's what he's done. He's not likely going to win a game for the Chiefs on his own this season but when he's in the spread formation he's proven to be a solid quarterback. When he thinks too much, he struggles. And that's what Weis has done thus far. He has Cassel thinking less.
But what's impressed me about Weis is his ability to find enough carries for running backs Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles. Against the 49ers, they nearly ran for 200 yards. Against the Colts, that number could reach 300 yards. That's how confident Weis is in his running game. But all that's possible because he's been able to stabilize the offensive line with the additions of Casey Wiegmann at center and former Colt Ryan Lilja at right guard. Without them, the Chiefs would not be 3-0.
Both failed miserably at head coaches. But they were handicapped. At Notre Dame, it's impossible to recruit enough talent with the academic restrictions mandated by the University. In Cleveland, Crennel worked for arguably the worst owner in the NFL, Randy Lerner and the worst general manager, Phil Savage. Had they not messed things up for Crennel after the Browns went 10-6 in 2007, he might still be there as head coach.
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