Chiefs

2010 NFL Preview: Kansas City Chiefs

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Between now and the September 9th season kick-off, Hank Koebler, IV will be previewing all the NFL teams with new teams being released daily.

2009 Season Breakdown

2009 final record (overall, division): 4-12, 2-4
Division finish: 4th AFC West
Offensive rank (Points, Total Yards, Passing Yards, Rushing Yards): 23rd, 25th, 25th, 11th
Defensive rank (Points, Total Yards, Passing Yards, Rushing Yards): 29th, 30th, 22nd, 31st

2009 Individual Statistical Leaders

Rushing: Jamaal Charles, 1,120 yards, 7 TD; Larry Johnson, 377 yards, 0 TD; Matt Cassell, 189 yards, 0 TD
Passing: Matt Cassell, 2,924 yards, 16 TD, 16 INT
Receiving: Chris Chambers, 608 yards, 4 TD; Dwayne Bowe, 589 yards, 4 TD; Bobby Wade, 367 yards, 2 TD; Jamaal Charles, 297 yards, 1 TD; Lance Long, 178 yards, 0 TD
Tackles: Demorrio Williams, 95 total tackles; Mike Brown, 79 total tackles, Corey Mays, 66 total tackles
Sacks: Tamba Hali, 8.5 sacks; Wallace Gilberry, 4.5 sacks
Interceptions: Brandon Flowers, 5 INT, 0 TD; Derrick Johnson, 3 INT, 2 TD

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2010 Season Outlook

Schedule
(* denotes division game)lt;/em>

Key Matchups

September 13 vs. San Diego: The Chargers aren't as intimidating as they used to be, and their AFC West divisional rivals will smell blood in the water. The Chiefs hope that their draft class and coaching staff changes will help close the gap between them and the reigning divisional champions. Meanwhile, the Chargers hope that the prolonged holdout of Vincent Jackson doesn't impede their transition to a pass-first team. The Chiefs' passing game looks likely to improve a little bit, while the Chargers' defensive backfield suffered the loss of Antonio Cromartie over the offseason. This will hurt the Chargers most on play-action passes by the Chiefs, as their front seven will be forced to bite on run fakes so they don't run the risk of letting Jamaal Charles run wild over them.

September 26 vs. San Francisco: This is probably the most stout run defense the Chiefs will face all year. If the 49ers' linebacking corps can take Jamaal Charles out of the game, the burden will be on Kansas City's upgraded passing attack to keep the chains moving.

Key Losses

Wade Smith, C; Mike Goff, G

Key Returning Players

 

Key Draft Picks

Eric Berry, SS; Dexter McCluster, WR; John Asamoah, G; Tony Moeaki, TE; Javer Arenas, CB

Key Free Agent Signings

Thomas Jones, RB; Jerheme Urban, WR

Key Acquisitions via Trade

Anquan Boldin, WR

Offensive Overview

The offensive line had its struggles from time to time, but they should see some mild improvement this year and won't be a terrible unit. Left tackle Branden Albert isn't very athletic, but he's a capable pass-blocker who can hold his block for long enough to let the quarterback get the ball out of his hand. Left guard Brian Waters was on the lower end of average, and Darryl Harris appears as if he will replace Waters in the starting lineup this year. Center Wade Smith was pretty good, but he is no longer with the team and free-agent addition Casey Weigmann will be unspectacular, but decent. Weigmann isn't the best, but he can hold the point of attack for long enough to keep his defender from getting to the ball. Right guard was a gaping hole on the offensive line last year, and rookie John Asamoah looks as if he will make the push to start at that position this year. Former Colt Ryan Lilja was signed to add another guard into the mix, the 290-pound Lilja isn't going to be seen blowing anyone off of the ball, and his impact will likely be minimal. Right tackle Ryan O'Callaghan was my personal favorite of the bunch. Although right tackles are usually primarily run-blockers, he also holds up well when protecting the quarterback. As a whole, this line isn't filled with athletic guys who can move the pocket, but they are very capable of opening holes for their running game. Once those holes are open, running back Jamaal Charles can really hurt defenses with his speed and vision. Charles came on very strongly at the end of last season, and will drastically improve this year as the full-time starter. The Chiefs' offense had only 8 touchdowns on the ground last year, and seven of those came from Charles. Additionally, the Chiefs signed Thomas Jones, who played for the Jets last year, to bolster their backfield and provide a hard-hitting running back to complement with Charles's speed and quickness.

Possibly the most intriguing offseason addition for the Chiefs was Dexter McCluster, who they drafted out of Ole Miss in the second round. He is built very similarly to New England's Wes Welker, and can be extremely explosive from the slot once he gets the ball in open space. Although he played running back in his final season at Ole Miss, he started his career there as a receiver, and it is likely he will end up back at his old position for the Chiefs: with Jones and Charles in the backfield, there simply won't be as many carries available for McCluster as there will be passes if he plays as the team's slot receiver. Given the way in which general manager Scott Pioli is trying to build this team into a model of the New England Patriots, his former team, it is not hard to imagine McCluster being Pioli's version of Welker. McCluster and other Chiefs running backs took direct snaps in Kansas City's version of the Wildcat on the first day of training camp, so that adds another dimension to the Chiefs' offense, which could be especially dangerous with McCluster and Charles running the Wildcat together.

Along with McCluster, the Chiefs have 2007 first-round pick Dwayne Bowe at receiver. Bowe has the size and speed to be a great receiver, but he struggled last year. The word coming out of training camp is that Bowe's looking better than ever, and may be ready to take the next step and become a legitimate number one wideout. An interesting signing that took place this offseason at receiver was that of Jerheme Urban, who played for the Arizona Cardinals when Chiefs head coach Todd Haley was the Cardinals' offensive coordinator. Haley is familiar with his talent, and knows how to best utilize him, and make him a major contributor. Under Haley in 2008, Urban caught four touchdowns despite starting only two games. His signing may have been under-the-radar, but he may very well prove to be a nice complement to Bowe. While the Chiefs don't have huge names at receiving corps, their receivers are talented enough to keep the offense moving if they have a quarterback who can efficiently manage the offense.

 

Defensive Overview

Cornerback Brandon Flowers is the best player in the defensive backfield, and though his tackling was weak last year, that stemmed from a shoulder injury he played with most of last season. With his shoulder healed, he should become as helpful in the run game as he was against the pass. Brandon Carr is expected to man the cornerback position opposite of Flowers. He is an extremely physical corner who started developing into a major playmaker at the end of the season. His growth should continue into 2010, making cornerback an area where the Chiefs don't have to worry. Alabama standout Javier Arenas is expected to instantly start in nickel packages, and should help add depth to the Chiefs' secondary. At strong safety, number five overall pick Eric Berry will be the surefire starter, and new defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel will use him the same way he used Rodney Harrison, the only player to ever record both 30 sacks and 30 interceptions in his career, when Crennel was the Patriots' defensive coordinator. Free safety is a minor question mark. Last year's starter Jarrad Page ended his season on injured reserve in November, and is asking for a trade after refusing to sign his restricted free-agent tender. Veteran Jon McGraw, who played in his stead, will compete with rookie Kendrick Lewis for playing time.

At inside linebacker, the Chiefs liked to use a rotation last year. Derrick Johnson was exceptional in pass coverage, intercepting three passes and returning two for touchdowns. He looks like a lock to earn one of the starting inside linebacker jobs. Jovan Belcher was the other starting inside linebacker during OTAs, but Demorrio Williams will likely see lots of rotation into Belcher's spot during games. Outside linebacker Tamba Hali is a very promising 26-year-old who led the team in sacks last year, and he will have an eye on recording double-digit sacks this year. On the other side is outside linebacker Mike Vrabel, who isn't necessarily the fastest pass rusher, but he is able to use his strength to blow past lineman and get good penetration.

The success of this defense hinges on the play they get from the nose tackle position. Their defensive ends, Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey, had statistically disappointing seasons last year, but that was mainly because nose tackle Ron Edwards wasn't clogging up the middle like a 3-4 tackle is supposed to do. This allowed offensive lineman to take Dorsey and Jackson out of the game. While Jackson was pretty good at collapsing the pocket from his side, Dorsey, who was a defensive tackle in college, didn't look comfortable at end. Coach Haley has said that he's open to sliding Dorsey inside from time to time. Wallace Gilberry played strictly in a reserve role last year, and still led the team's defensive linemen in sacks. Given Gilberry's talent that is too good to keep on the bench, and Dorsey's comfort at DT, the Chiefs' line might get the most penetration with the small (for a 3-4 tackle) Dorsey in the middle with Gilberry and Jackson on either side of him.

Special Teams Overview

Kickoff return coverage is a major weakness in Kansas City. Despite the 12th-best average kickoff distance, the Chiefs allowed the ninth-highest average yards per kickoff return. However, they were fine in punt coverage, punting for the eighth-best average punt distance, and allowing the seventh-lowest average yards per punt return.

Jamaal Charles had an average of 25.7 yards per kickoff return, and should continue to help the Chiefs get good field position this year. However, their punt return game could use some improvement, as their best punt returner averaged only 7.6 yards per return in 2009. It is hard not to envision rookie receiver Dexter McCluster being successful as a punt returner for the Chiefs this year given his explosiveness in the open field.

The Chiefs may have struck gold with the final pick of the 2009 draft when they selected South Carolina kicker Ryan Succop to be their “Mr. Irrelevant”. Succop hit 25 of 29 field goal attempts in his rookie season, including an impressive 13 out of 14 within the 50-yard line.

Head Coach: Todd Haley

Haley had a fairly busy first season, but it fell short of expectations. The former offensive coordinator for the Cardinals' Super Bowl team was expected to mentor Matt Cassel and make the Chiefs' offense more explosive, freeing up more room for their running backs, but they had a moribund passing attack and a running game that didn't do a single thing until Jamaal Charles became the starter. Honestly, Haley's decision to stick with troubled running back Larry Johnson over Charles worries me. Johnson averaged 2.9 yards per carry during the seven-game span he spent starting for the Chiefs in 2009. During that same span, Charles averaged 5.3 yards per carry. Despite this, he was kept on the bench until management decided to cut ties with Johnson. For someone whose claim to fame is his work as an offensive coordinator, a personnel mismanagement of that scale is just unacceptable. With Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel as coordinators, it's not impossible to see Haley being shown the door in favor of one of those two if the Chiefs take a step backwards in 2010.

Top 2011 Free Agents

Ron Edwards, NT; Tamba Hali, LB; Mike Vrabel, LB

Season Prediction

4th AFC West

The good news for Chiefs fans is that this team has improved over the offseason. The bad news for Chiefs fans is that Oakland and Denver improved more than Kansas City did over the offseason. It'll take another solid draft and free agency for this team to be in position to win the weak AFC West, and another year or two for them to have a shot at making some serious noise in the playoffs. While the Chiefs are headed upwards, they still have quite a way to go before they get where they want to be. - Hank Koebler, IV

Hank is a sports journalist attending the University of Missouri's school of journalism.

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