The offensive attack looked much more determined. Quarterback Matt Cassel bounced back from a dismal effort in Atlanta with a solid performance in Tampa. He completed 14 of 19 pass attempts for 125 yards and a touchdown against the first-team Buccaneers defense. Cassel, preparing for his sixth season in the NFL, avoided throwing an interception for the second straight week and finished the game with a 108.4 QB rating. He exited after the first half.
"I thought [Cassel] operated real efficiently," Head Coach Todd Haley said in his post-game press conference. "He ran the operation in a manner that he will have to for us to be successful."
The running game showed positive signs as well. The offensive line consistently opened up big holes for running backs Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles in the first half. In the second half, third-year back Jackie Battle impressed the coaches by gaining 59 yards on just 11 carries against the Tampa back-ups. Aside from the Jones fumble on the opening series, the Chiefs' coaching staff had to be encouraged by how well the team moved the ball on the ground.
In the return game, rookie Javier Arenas helped affirm early reports from training camp that the team had finally found a viable replacement for former Pro Bowl kick returner, Dante Hall. The second-round pick out of Alabama followed up his outstanding showing in Atlanta with another notable performance in Tampa. In the first quarter, he returned a kick 53 yards, setting up the Chiefs' only touchdown. Arenas also seems to have a natural sense of some of the intangibles of punt returning - when to call for a fair catch, when to let the ball go in hopes of it bouncing into the endzone - which would give you the sense he's got the skills needed to be a very good returner in the league.
There was plenty of reason for caution, though. This was just the Bucs, a team coming off a 3-13 season with a young coach and seemingly lacking direction. They also have a young quarterback, Josh Freeman (from Grandview High School), who exited the game very early because of a fractured thumb.
In an effort to take advantage of the opportunity, Tampa back-up Josh Johnson picked apart the Chiefs' linebackers and secondary for the rest of the first half. This included an embarrassing missed tackle by third-year cornerback Brandon Flowers, whom many around the league expect big things from this year, which led to a 53-yard go ahead touchdown for the Bucs.
|Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers.|
"I feel good about Brandon Flowers," said Haley. "I mean, I know he's feeling bad about not making a tackle. He's trying to make a play there."
The coach noted that too much shouldn't be read into the benching of Flowers.
"Brandon is not one of the guys right now that I'm real worried about not getting it," he said. "I think [he's] on board and he's got a chance to be a real good player for us."
One play certainly shouldn't dictate our general opinion of Flowers. Overall, though, the defense fell short of showing any real signs of improvement. For the second consecutive game, the unit failed to sack the quarterback or force a turnover, both of which are absolute keys to the team turning the corner.
Haley said the coaching staff had emphasized the importance of creating turnovers before Saturday's game.
"That was one of the things we wanted to do, was created some," he said. "We had some tipped balls that looked like chances for our defense to get the football. (We) didn't get it done."
Another discouraging sign from Saturday was the lack of impact from rookie tight end, Tony Moeaki. The Chiefs traded up in to the third round to acquire Moeaki in this year's draft because of his great catching ability and athleticism in college. While that has translated into results on the practice field, we've yet to see his skills at work in a game. Moeaki, after missing the Atlanta game because of an injury, hasn't done as much as had his name called during a game. The Chiefs would be wise to make a real effort to find out what they really have in Moeaki in the final two preseason games.
Overall, though, the team looks to be light years ahead of where it was at this point last season. The offense has an opportunity to be much better this season. The Chiefs were in the bottom third of the league in third-down conversions last year. Saturday, the unit was a solid eight of 17 on third downs, hopefully a sign of strides being made.
Still, to really progress into a possible playoff team as some have predicted, the defense must get better. The run defense, which was solid Saturday, must continue to improve. The unit also must get more consistent pressure on the quarterback if the team is going to compete.
Most of all, though, they must force turnovers, something Haley knows all too well.
"That's something we've got to get right back to work on because we've got to be an opportunistic defense," he said. "Every game our defense tries to go out there and get turnovers. That's what we're out there to do."