Saturday, November 6, 2010

The Second Guess: Chiefs vs. Bills


The first quarter could easily be defined by missed opportunities for the Chiefs. On the opening drive, Kansas City looked to be moving the ball with ease until it stalled at the Buffalo 31-yard line after a first-down pass to the endzone was dropped by Dwayne Bowe, who only had one hand free by the time the ball arrived. Still, if Bowe wants to eventually become the receiver head coach Todd Haley and others feel he can become, catches like those need to be made more often than not.

Then, the ever-bold Haley elected to punt on fourth and seven from the 31 rather than go for it or kick a field goal. The decision may have seemed logical at the time — surely there weren't very many Chiefs fans predicting this to be a tie-game with a second remaining in overtime — but upon re-watch, I have some questions. I wouldn't argue for the team to kick something like a 48-yard field goal there, especially with just how windy we'd come to realize it was at Arrowhead last Sunday. No, my problem with Haley's decision to punt is simply the risk/reward factor. If the wind is so unpredictable that you've no confidence in Ryan Succop to make good on what should, more often than not, be considered a makeable attempt, then what makes you believe your punter, Dustin Colquitt will be able to judge the wind correctly enough to pin the Bills inside their own ten-yard line? As we know, punts typically go much higher in the air than field goals, making them much more susceptible to the wind-factor. Besides, with the ball on the 31-yard line, the likelihood of the ball going into the endzone, and therefore giving the Bills possession on their own 20, is great, regardless of the wind. The likelihood of converting on fourth and seven is not great, but the risk-factor is low, making it, seemingly, a much more logical decision.

Colquitt tried directionally punting the ball out of bounds, but the ball slipped just inside the pylon and into the endzone. The team netted just 11 yards of field position.

On an ensuing Bills drive, Wallace Gilberry and Shaun Smith combined to force a Ryan Fitzpatrick sack/fumble, but Buffalo was able to recover at their own ten-yard line. A Chiefs recovery would have had seven points written all over it. Not yet mentioned, was the sure-thing pick-six dropped by Derrick Johnson on the Bills first offensive play from scrimmage. Flurried in there, as well, was an embarrassing Matt Cassel overthrow of a wide-open Jamaal Charles, who could have walked into the endzone. Or, possibly, as CBS color commentator Steve Tasker so thoughtfully pointed out, it may have been a bad route by Charles. Either way, combined with the other near-misses, the Chiefs gave us a great example in the first quarter of how a team can completely dominate the entire first-fifteen minutes of a game, yet have nothing to show for it on the scoreboard.

Also, you get the feeling had the Chiefs made good on anything in the first period, there would have been a lot less near-heart attacks in Kansas City last Sunday.

Start of second quarter: Chiefs 0, Bills 0

Oh, and there's a Cassel intercep - no, nevermind. Okay, so that's why the Bills haven't won a game.

Anyway, when did Leonard Pope become the focal-point of this offense? And why is Cassel forcing the ball into triple coverage to the aforementioned backup tight end?

"It's a process," Haley preaches endlessly.

Finally, we've arrived at the root of where all the second-guessing of Haley began throughout the week. I'm not here to pile on (sure I am), so I'll just say this. At the time, I was begging for Haley to kick the field goal and take the points. And upon re-watch, I'm begging for it even more. After witnessing, essentially, a wasted first-quarter effort allowing Buffalo to stay in the game to that point, it was absolutely the wrong decision to not go ahead and take the lead. A good team taking unneccessary chances that wind up backfiring is the exact recipe for an upset in the NFL. The game has played out perfectly for the Bills to this point.

Oh, and there's another Cassel-to-Pope connection. These two are becoming quite the tandem. Pope now has 20 of Cassel's 39 yards passing. Impressive. After the play, which ended with Pope being, at least, a yard and a half short of a first down, Pope popped up and gave the 'oh, we definitely got it' first down signal. On third and one, offensive coordinator Charlie Weis called — you guessed it — another pass-play designed for (backup tight end, I remind you) Pope. This time, Cassel's new favorite target couldn't handle the pass (he was covered), and the Chiefs have to punt. Maybe the Bills knew the they were passing because there were no running backs in the backfield. Hell, I don't know. Tony Moeaki, anyone?

So, with six minutes left in the first half, the Chiefs are in punt formation, in a scoreless-tie, at Arrowhead, with the Buffalo Bills. And, if we hadn't noticed, before the play, Tasker informed us that "the game is unfolding exactly how the Chiefs wanted it to".*

*"Dynamite chime-in, Monty! Those days of broadcast school have really paid off." If you haven't seen the Major League movies, my apologies for the confusion.

On their final drive of the half, the Chiefs finally decided to get serious and put together a nice drive, which was capped off by a one-yard touchdown pass from Cassel to Bowe. We go to halftime with the home team ahead seven to nil, but you get the feeling they should have something closer to 70.

Start of third quarter: Chiefs 7, Bills 0

The second half begins, and, as is usual at Arrowhead Stadium, there looks to be about half as many people in the stadium as there were to begin the game. Guys, if the purpose of more bathrooms and concession stands was to keep the fans in their seats and in the game for every play, it's failing.

Thoughts from an otherwise uneventful third quarter so far: This Chiefs run defense is pretty damn good. Maybe not "Enter Sandman" good, which was the theme song CBS chose while Tasker analyzed Kansas City's first half defensive highlights, but they're good.

More thoughts: the pass defense isn't too great. Especially the third-down pass defense. The Bills have been able to take more than eight minutes off the clock to start the second half because of their ability to convert through the air on third down. And quite honestly, they were forced to settle for a field goal mainly because of a false start penalty. It's obvious this Chiefs defense is better, but the unit has plenty of room to improve before the team can seriously think about winning in January.

Whoa! A Chris Chambers sighting! And, boy, was he open?! Naturally, though, Cassel's timing was off, and the pass was tipped and almost intercepted.

Start of fourth quarter: Chiefs 7, Bills 3

The Chiefs are putting together a nice drive now, and with less than ten minutes remaining, a touchdown would likely put the game away for good. On second and two from the Bills 11-yard line, play-by-play announcer Gus Johnson points out that Kansas City has yet to pass on the drive. On the very next play, the tenth of the drive and one that has play-action to the endzone written all over it, Weis calls for a delayed handoff to Thomas Jones. The result is a loss of five yards. On third and seven, Weis finally calls a pass, but Cassel settles for a dump off to special teams extraordinaire Terrance Copper. This time, on fourth and two, Haley decides to take the three points he so carelessly passed on earlier in the game. These decisions were head-scratchers live, and are head-scratchers now, to say the least.

Wow. The Bills just won't go away. On third and eight from their own 43, Fitzpatrick just hit a wide-open Roscoe Parrish for a 37-yard gain to the Chief 20-yard line. It's the second ridiculously huge third-down conversion for Buffalo on the drive. This third down defense is absolutely the Chiefs' Achilles heal right now.

And yet another missed opportunity for the boys in the red and gold. With the Bills threatening, Brandon Flowers stripped Lee Evans of the ball after a catch, and Mike Vrabel recovered. Unfortunately, Bills head coach Chan Gailey challenged the play. Upon review, Vrabel's elbow was touching white chalk as he recovered the ball, making him out of bounds, nullifying the recovery, and giving the ball back to the Bills.

After the stoppage of play for the challenge, Haley burns a timeout prior to Buffalo snapping the ball on third down (Uh, you may want that one back later). On third down, now that the Chiefs are finally ready for action, the Bills run a screen pass to rookie C.J. Spiller, who looked to be just short of a first down. After a very generous spot from the side judge, it was declared a first down. There goes that third-down pass defense again. Haley declined to ask for a measurement and/or challenge the spot. I'm baffled.

Eventually, on fourth and goal, Fitzpatrick gunned a touchdown pass to Steve Johnson. There was some doubt as to whether Johnson got in the endzone before he went down, and this time, Haley opted to challenge (and waste another timeout), to no avail. Tie game.

And now, Todd Haley has absolutely lost his mind. On the Chiefs' ensuing drive with less than two minutes to play, on second and three, Weis calls a draw play to Charles. Charles looks to have picked up the first down. Actually, it's fairly obvious Kansas City should have been awarded a first down. Regardless, the chains did not move, and the Chiefs face a third and inches. The problem is, no one in red seems to realize it isn't first down. The next play would seem to verify this, as the result is an underthrown, incomplete pass to Verron Tucker.

Again. Tie game. Less than two minutes remaining. Key third down. The pass is to — Verron Tucker.

I just.. I.. uh.. Oh, nevermind.

Then, on fourth and inches, from their own 29-yard line, the Chiefs line up for a quarterback sneak. Oh my. Haley, possibly seeing his head coaching career flash before his eyes, abruptly changes his mind and calls timeout just before Cassel snaps the ball (and picks up the first down). I think, at this point, it's safe to say Haley is having an off-day.

After a long punt return for Buffalo, setting them up at mid-field, we have our second dropped interception by Derrick Johnson. I love it.

And just when the Bills were getting in field goal range, Ryan Fitzpatrick had to go all-Ryan Fitzpatrick on us and throw a pass directly to Chiefs' rookie, Eric Berry, who intercepts it. Of course, after one offensive play — a sack of Cassel — and no timeouts because of the Todd Haley show just moments before, the Chiefs could do nothing.

Overtime! Chiefs 10, Bills 10

Buffalo won the toss, and, if I'm recalling last Sunday correctly, I was giving these Chiefs absolutely no chance of winning at this point. The feeling seemed to be multiplied by about 100 after a ridiculous 15-yard face mask penalty by Vrabel put the Bills on the Chiefs' 43-yard line. Luckily, the Bills are win-less for a reason. After gaining just two yards on three consecutive passing plays, Buffalo punted.

After two big gains by Charles, Kansas City has the ball out past the 40 and look to be headed for victory. And, my goodness, how many yards does Charles have? He's been running all over this Bills defense. Charles, of course, would end up with 177 on the ground (and 61 receiving). Those type of numbers against the worst team in the league, and the Chiefs managed just ten points in regulation. Embarrassing.

Whoops. Another almost-interception by Cassel. That was close. It was an underthrow to Bowe on what would have been a probable game-clinching catch. Which reminds me, can the Cassel-defenders please stop using his low interception numbers as a valid argument? This guy has to be the luckiest quarterback in the NFL.

And the Chiefs have to punt.

Whew. Fitzpatrick just overthrew Spiller in the endzone for a game-winner. This coming after a Haley timeout, which came just after a 17-yard pass completion on third-down for the Bills. Again. This third-down defense is killing the Chiefs.

Ok, here it is, a Rian Lindell 51-yard field goal attempt for the win. And it's good! Bills win! Wait, no, the Todd Haley show continues, this time to Chiefs fans' delight. Haley called a timeout just before the snap, negating the field goal. Lindell boots the next one like he'd never kicked a football before, and the ball hits off the upright. No good! The game continues. My heart explodes.

Now the Chiefs have all the momentum, and, wouldn't you know it, Moeaki is active for this game, and just snagged a big first-down completion into Bills territory. With that catch, by the way, Cassel just went over the 100-yard passing plateau for the game — in overtime, against the Bills. Wow.

After a few runs, Succop is ready to end this baby. It's a 39-yard attempt, and, Buffalo calls timeout. It was well before the Chiefs were ready to snap the ball, so, maybe they were icing him? It was around 50 degrees last Sunday, so, maybe, I guess. In any event, Succop's attempt is up and goo - you're kidding, right? The ball, mid-way through it's journey through the uprights for a Chiefs' victory, took a left turn, hooking just outside the upright. My head explodes.

It's the overtime two-minute warning now, and Fitzpatrick has the Bills driving. It's pretty obvious the best scenario for the Chiefs, at this point, would be a tie.

That, of course, was until it dawned on me that, yes, the Chiefs are playing the Bills. Again, from inside the Chiefs' 45-yard line, Gailey calls for three consecutive passes, none of which gained any yardage. The third attempt, in fact, is what I felt was, at least in the waning moments after the game, the play of the game. Tamba Hali, presumably running on fumes, forced an intentional-grounding by Fitzpatrick, setting up an obvious punt by Buffalo. The punt was shanked, giving the Chiefs good field position for one last hoorah with just over a minute left.

How about this guy Moeaki? The Chiefs get within field goal range after two more big catches by the rookie, and you just have to wonder if he misplaced his helmet before the game and found it just in time for overtime.*

*What happened to Pope? After establishing himself as Cassel's favorite target in the first half, he completely disappeared the entire second half. Where does a team turn when it can't even count on it's focal-point of the offensive gameplan, backup tight end. And I was just starting to like the guy.

Alright, this is where the Cassel-defenders may have a case. When the game was on the line, when it counted, Cassel came through. There's something to be said for his performance on that final drive (and something much worse to be said about his performance prior to that drive).

Quickly, just one more thought with five seconds left in overtime, before Succop either affirms Haley's arrogance and stupidity or helps a city rejoice over a victorious, 5-2, first-place team on the 35-yard attempt that awaits: Thank God and everyone else for the fact that the referees didn't quite have the cojones to call the Chiefs for illegal formation on the Cassel spike on the second-to-last play of the game. Neither Moeaki or Bowe, on the near-side of the field, lined up on the line of scrimmage for the spike, leaving the right tackle uncovered on the line. In the NFL, the offensive lineman have to be covered on the line by an eligible receiver on each side, or it's illegal formation. Hey, we'll take it.

And the kick is — GOOD! Chiefs win! Succop redeems! All is forgotten (at least for the moment). Just how they planned it.

* * *

We must hope and pray, as fans, that Haley learns a little something from his coaching performance last Sunday. The Chiefs have an enormous showdown with the Raiders this Sunday, one that will certainly help decide the division. He can't possibly be so reckless against more talented opponents. Uh, that is, if he wants to continue winning.

After the game, Haley summed it up pretty honestly:

“It was a hard-fought game for our young, transitioning team," he concluded. "There were multiple valuable lessons to be learned from and I’m very happy the result was what it was, specifically today, so that some of those lessons can be learned a little easier."

For Haley's sake, let's hope those lessons are learned before his team gets on the field Sunday in Oakland.

1 comment:

  1. Great job, Eli---

    Haley's "gut feelings" are beginning to smell a lot like garbage.

    On the last drive of regulation, when the Chiefs were backed up and thinking of going for it in their own end, I was horrified that:
    A. they were thinking of going for it
    B. they called a timeout before A PUNT!

    Win some, lose some, yes, but Haley's decisions rankle even his most fervent supporters. On this Oakland Game--Those 3rd and 1 Plays yesterday where Cassell launched the ball downfield were grotesque. Dude, you have the #1 RBs in the League!! Your QB is not a playmaker!

    I am glad to read your re-cap of the Buffalo game, as it only further establishes what I hope are simply "growing pains" from this young coach.