To answer those questions, we'll have to look back on Saunders' tenure in Kansas City and see what we can learn. Since this will be Saunders' 1st year in D.C., the focus will be on the adjustments Saunders made to the Chiefs' offense early in his tenure. We'll also look at the constant rushing successes Saunders' offenses have had and a potentially troubling comparision between Antwaan Randle El and Dante Hall.
Anyways, lets get started:
Kansas City Chiefs - 2000 Season - Before Al Saunders Arrival
The number that really stands out above is the feeble rushing attack the Chiefs had before Saunders (and Dick Vermeil) came aboard. They went with a running back by committee approach, featuring current fullback Tony Richardson and Kimble Anders. On the other hand, the Chiefs has a devastating 1-2 combination catching the ball. Tony Gonzalez had a stellar season with 93 catches, 1203 yards and 9 touchdowns and Derrick Alexander had a career year with 78 catches, 1391 yards and 10 touchdowns. Despite the strong performances from those two players, only one of the four main receiving threats averaged over 15.0 yards per catch (Alexander). Elvis Grbac had a solid year with 28 touchdowns against 14 interceptions. One Redskin note, ex-Skin Kevin Lockett was the 3rd receiver for the 2000 Chiefs.
Kansas City Chiefs - 2001 Season - Al Saunders 1st year
As Redskins fans know, new coaches means lots of turnover and the 2001 Chiefs were no exception. Although Saunders wasn't the main man behind these moves, I'm sure he signed off on all of them. The quarterback change was forced when Elvis Grbac refused to renegotiate his contract leading to his release (he would have had a Lavar Arrington-esque hit of over 16 million dollars without a new deal). The Chiefs traded a 1st round pick to St. Louis for Trent Green. The move looks good in retrospect, but its worth remembering at the time it was questionable. Here's SI.com's Don Banks take on the move: "Make no mistake, Green is no savior. He's 30 years old, has a questionable left knee, has started just 19 games in seven NFL seasons, and is about to suit up with his fourth different team." The other key move was signing Priest Holmes. Holmes came over from Ravens and it wasn't certain if he could handle the load of being a full time NFL running back. We all know how that turned out.
The running game improved immediately with Saunders leading the offense. Holmes had over 2000 yards in total offense (1555 rushing and 614 receiving). Perhaps the only questionable element of Saunders' run game was that he didn't see Holmes as a short yardage back in his 1st year. Most of the goal line runs came from Richardson, who actually led the team with 8 rushing touchdowns. Given the future success Holmes had scoring record numbers of touchdowns, this was a mistake by Saunders. Lets hope Saunders can find the best short yardage back for the Redskins no matter if its Rock Cartwright or Clinton Portis.
The passing game wasn't as successful. In fact the numbers were well down from the 2000 Chiefs. However the main issue wasn't Saunders offense or play calling, it was the below average play of Trent Green. Remember this was Green's 1st chance to play since he suffered a career threatening knee injury back with the Rams. He was rusty and didn't player very well. Green finished with 24 interceptions against only 17 touchdowns. The turnovers also explain the lack of scoring by the Chiefs. Mark Brunell isn't going to put up a TD/INT ratio like that, so these numbers really don't concern me, although it may be a preview of what we could expect should Jason Campbell play this year.
The Chiefs receivers continued to be led by tight end Tony Gonzalez who had another great season with 73 catches for 917 yards and 6 touchdowns. The receivers were a big disappointment with Snoop Minnis leading the group with 33 catches. Derrick Alexander dropped to only 27 catches. One positive for the passing game was the introduction of the big play. 3 of the 4 main targets averaged over 15.0 yards a catch and the mid-season signing of Eddie Kennision looked good as he averaged over 20 yards per catch.
Kansas City Chiefs - 2002-05: The Unstoppable Running Game
Running Game (All backs with 50+ carries in a season)
2001 - Holmes: 327-1555, 4.8 ypc, 7 TD; Richardson 66-191, 2.9 ypc, 8 TD
2002 - Holmes: 313-1615, 5.2 ypc, 21 TD
2003 - Holmes: 320-1420, 4.4 ypc, 27 TD
2004 - Holmes: 196-892, 4.6 ypc, 14 TD; Johnson 120-581, 4.8 ypc, 9 TD; Blaylock 118-539, 4.6 ypc, 8 TD
2005 - Johnson: 336-1750, 5.2 ypc, 20 TD; Holmes 119-451, 3.8 ypc, 6 TD
With all due respect to Holmes and Johnson, Clinton Portis is the most physically talent running back Saunders has ever worked with. Both Holmes and Johnson have put up breath-taking numbers, but at times during their careers both backs could have been acquired for nearly nothing. Holmes was never drafted and while he put up some decent games with Baltimore, he wasn't highly sought after when he became a free agent. In Johnson's case, it was forgotten over the hoopla of his breakout year, but early in 2004 the Chiefs were actively looking to move him.
The type of numbers put up by Blaylock also points to the success of the system. Don't get me wrong, Johnson and Holmes are great players, but Clinton Portis is a more talented player than either of them. The combination of Saunders system and Portis skills could lead to some incredible numbers. Blaylock's numbers should also help Redskin fans rest easy if Portis goes down with an injury. Ladell Betts and even Rock Cartwright would put up good numbers in this offense.
Dante Hall = Antwaan Randle El?
Dante Hall and Antwaan Randle El are very similar players. Both are exceptional return men, while their receiving stats leave a lot to be desired. If we use Hall's numbers to forecast Randle El's production with the Redskins in 2006, expect to be disappointed. Hall has averaged less than 30 receptions a season in the 4 years he's been used as a wide-out. His yardage totals aren't very impressive and he's averaged just 11.9 yards per catch. You may think that Hall just can't get open or drops a lot of balls, but that is not the case. Hall has consistently put up some of the highest catch percentages in the league. The fact that Saunders was unable to exploit the unique talents of Hall, doesn't bode well for Randle El.
Redskins' fans have a lot to be excited about in 2006. Even if Al Saunders can only slightly improve the offense, this team has championship potential. Looking back at Saunders track record, this improvment seems inevitable. Now if the defense can continue to carry their end of the bargain, 2006 could be a very special year in Washington.
This material originally appeared in The Redskin Report.