This past weekend was a fairly interesting and eventful few days on the Kansas City sports front. The Chiefs, with their seemingly popular new rookie class, opened up their preseason schedule against the Falcons in Atlanta on Friday. Meanwhile, the struggling Royals hosted the hated New York Yankees for four games in yet another David vs. Goliath style matchup.
This is how it all looked from my vantage point..
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Let's start with Friday, which, at least when the weekend began, was the day most fans in this city (including myself) were looking forward to the most. It was amazing to see how quickly the hype and excitement surrounding the Chiefs coming into this season seemed to vanish. In my previous post, I mentioned a few things to look for during the game that might help clue us in on how much this team has really improved.
Well, if we were to use that as a basis, the results are mostly mixed. Branden Albert looked okay, but the ultimate goal of him improving is to see the offensive line perform better as a whole. That did not happen, at least while the Falcons first-team defense was still in the game. In limited play, new addition Thomas Jones had little room to the run the ball between the tackles, and it wasn't until the second quarter when Jamaal Charles checked in that the running game really even got going. By then, the Atlanta starters were already out of the game, making the results less signifcant. Also, right tackle Ryan O'Callaghan whiffed on a block on the second offensive series, leading to a sack and fumble by quarterback Matt Cassel.
Cassel didn't look great at all Friday, either. His final stats (other than the fumble) may have looked up to par - six of eight for 25 yards - but you have to look deeper. During one series on third down, Cassel took a sack when he had an opportunity to throw the ball away and secure a very makeable field goal attempt. The sack led to the attempt by kicker Ryan Succop being much longer, and of course, he missed it. Playoff quarterbacks do not make those kinds of mistakes.
It was surprising to see that, at least to my knowledge, Cassel (or any of the quarterbacks) never even targeted receiver Dwayne Bowe on a pass attempt. Now, it's possible that was more of a product of conservative play-calling than anything else. Still, even in the first preseason game, it's a bad sign.
And we haven't even elaborated on the fumble play, which could have easily been avoided. The block was missed by the right tackle, which isn't a right-handed quarterback's blind side. So your guess is as good as mine as to why Cassel didn't simply step up in the pocket and roll to the outside, which he clearly had plenty of room to do, to try and make a play. Instead, he tried to rush his throw, but his arm was hit by Atlanta defensive end Kroy Biermann, and the ball was knocked loose before the tuck rule could come into play.
There were some encouraging signs to speak of Friday. Although first-round draft pick Eric Berry didn't make any big plays, he did seem to be around the ball on almost every play while he was in the game. The two second-round picks from the 2010 draft were the real stars, though. It was somewhat of a shock to see Dexter McCluster lined up as a running back more often than a receiver after the team made it clear he'd contribute primarily as a slot receiver in the offense. That didn't seem to matter one bit, though, after the ball was in his hands. It's pretty obvious to me that, if he can stay healthy, McCluster will quickly become a star in Kansas City. His quickness was absolutely unmatched by the Falcon defense as he repeatedly beat the linebackers to the outside on sweeps and pitch plays for big chunks of yardage. On the end of one run, McCluster took a big-time late hit by a Falcon defender but immediately popped back up with a smile on his face. Let's hope he can continue to do that into the regular season, when the wear and tear begins to take its toll on the players' bodies.
The other second-round pick, cornerback Javier Arenas (who is also known for his speed), shined as well. It looks like the Chiefs may have finally found a comparable replacement to Dante Hall in the return game. Arenas returned three kickoffs for 85 yards, including a 42-yarder. He also had a 99-yard kickoff return for a touchdown taken off the board because of a holding penalty called on rookie free agent Justin Cole. Not bad at all for a debut.
Overall, though, the team and its fans got a healthy dose of reality Friday. Maybe all those playoff predictions were a bit premature. Or maybe not. On the one hand, you got the feeling Friday that if the starters stayed in the game, the Falcons would have won by five touchdowns. On the other, it is preseason. Just as we may have put too much stock into a solid offseason and smooth (so far) training camp, we should apply that to our analysis of Friday's disappointment and avoid jumping to conclusions just yet.
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Saturday was a change of pace, as I, for the first time since April visited Kauffman Stadium to see a Royals game.*