Since the draft, we’ve talked mainly about the defense. That always seems to be the case this time of year. A natural consequence, I suppose, of spending a top five pick on that side of the ball every year. Tyson Jackson isn’t the type of player I should be wondering about on June evenings as I walk my dog, but he was picked third, so here we are. It’s impossible to separate players from expectations. It’s equally impossible to separate a Chiefs fan from his glorification of the 90s. We grew up on good defense, and we miss it. We’ve been waiting ten years for that unit to show some signs of life, and it may start soon. So yes, the defense, in particular the recent draft picks, are always on our minds. But if the Chiefs contend for the division, it won’t be because of breakout seasons from Eric Berry or Glenn Dorsey. It will be because the offense scored a bunch of points.
I’m as excited for Eric Berry as anyone, but I’m also realistic about his probable impact. He’s a rookie safety playing behind a bad front seven. He’ll be an improvement, and he’ll be fun to watch, but this defense will still likely struggle to stop the run and rush the passer. This isn’t a 90s resurgence, at least not yet. Our only chance at success is to turn back the clock to a more recent epoch. The 2010 Chiefs can’t play Martyball. They can maybe pull off Vermeilball.
That’s not to say Vermeilball is ideal, or that it should be the ultimate goal. I’m talking about our chances this year. The defense remains very much a work in progress. The Chiefs seems content to improve the unit slowly, through the draft. Long term, it could work. Short term, we have the same defense as last year plus a few rookies. Drastic improvement shouldn’t be expected. A baby step is likely, but that won’t win many games.
The offense, on the other hand, could take a significant step forward. This unit was improved mainly through free agency, and free agency is designed to pay dividends in the here-and-now, rather than in the future. Thom Jones, Ryan Lilja, Casey Weigmann and Jerheme Urban should all contribute to an improved offense this year. If not as starters, then as quality depth. Add that to a solid core of high-upside young players in Jamaal Charles, Branden Albert, Dexter McCluster* and Dwayne Bowe, and there is reason to be optimistic.
*It is early to be putting McCluster in this group, and I don’t think he’ll be nearly as good as the other three. But he should be useful, especially considering the roster spot he takes is probably Lance Long’s. And his upside, at least on a per-touch basis, is high.
Of course, the most important piece is Cassel. If he isn’t good, the offense won’t score many points, no matter how many running backs we have. And if we’re being honest with ourselves, we can admit that Cassel looked pretty bad last year. There are plenty of excuses, and some of them are perfectly valid. But the bottom line is that a team’s offense is going to be about as good as its quarterback’s numbers. Last year, Cassel’s numbers weren’t good.
Fortunately (or unfortunately), those numbers are a reflection of much more than just Cassel’s performance. They tell us how good the passing game is, not how good the quarterback is. Last year, the passing game was bad. This year, it figures to be better, and I think Cassel will be a part of that. I’ve beaten this into the ground, and I’m sure you all saw it coming as soon as I mentioned Vermeil, but I look at Cassel and I see a younger Trent Green. Green was bad at first, too. But then the running game took off, the line got better, and he was given respectable (though not spectacular) targets to throw to. All of the sudden, Trent Green looked like a pretty good quarterback.
This situation obviously isn’t exactly the same. That team had Tony Gonzalez at tight end, this one has Lenny Pope (he’s infallible!). That team had Willie Roaf, Will Shields, and a young Brian Waters. We don’t have any of those guys. But our receivers are better than that team’s and our running backs are just as good. Charlie Weis fills the Al Saunders role nicely. This offense won’t set records, but every part of it got better this offseason. It stands to reason Matt Cassel will benefit from that. I expect him to take a step forward this year, much like Green did in his second year here. If I’m right, our offense will probably be pretty good. Good enough to carry this team to a division title? Doubtful. Good enough to carry us to a few more wins and some entertaining games? As the magic 8-ball says, all Hatts point to yes.
Now I suggest everyone grab their rosaries and pray Branden Albert doesn’t get injured. I’d do it myself, but I’m already praying for more life speed. No matter how much I get, it’s never enough. I think I’m addicted. I’ve been hanging around local tracks with my pants down just watching people run. My last paycheck was spent entirely on cocaine and olympic swimsuits (I wear them everywhere). When I look at tape of myself last year I just can’t believe how slow I was. Things are different now. The other day I was running so fast I started hearing all these high pitched noises, I thought I was breaking the sound barrier. It turned out I was screaming. Made great time though. Or I would’ve, if I could’ve remembered where I was going. I was moving too fast to think. Imagine how much better my life will be now that I’m moving slightly faster? It’s gonna be awesome. I’m literally going to become something I’m not.