To get a better idea of what’s going on with the Chiefs, I spoke with Patrick Allen of Arrowhead Addict. To see the other side of our conversation and what I had to say about the Eagles, you can check out Patrick’s article. Be sure to visit ITI this evening as well, when I’ll give you five things to watch closely during tonight’s game. Preseason or not, the Eagles need to build some confidence in the offensive red zone, so this will be an important exhibition game. The Chiefs have a few things to improve as well, as Patrick and I discussed.
Ryan: Is Matt Cassel the answer? He was 25th last year in QB rating, only completed 55% of his passes and had an even 16 TD’s and 16 INT’s. In a pass-heavy league with a lot of talented QB’s, those numbers won’t cut it. Was it the lack of targets, or is he not going to make it as a starter?
Patrick: The jury is still out on Matt Cassel. Is he ever going to be a Peyton Manning? Probably not. Cassel is never going to be a gunslinger but he has some physical assets that could make him in to a Chad Pennington type of player. If he can play smart and is surrounded by talented players, I think he can do well.
The thing to remember about Cassel is that he is essentially a 3rd year player. This is a guy who hadn’t started a game since high school when he took the field for Tom Brady. He had little to no on field NFL experience and yet he adapted and played brilliantly at times. He struggled in Kansas City last year but truthfully, he was in a very volatile situation. He started the year off throwing to Dwayne Bowe, Mark Bradley and Bobby Wade, who were just terrible all year long.
This is a big season for Cassel. He has an improved line, improved receivers and a very good running game supporting him. There is no excuse for him not to improve his numbers this season. If he doesn’t, the Chiefs will likely start looking for another QB to lead their young team. Cassel’s contract was front loaded in the first two years so if they decide to cut ties with him after this season, they won’t take too big of a hit.
Personally, I think Cassel will succeed. He very hard and is surrounded by some talented players.
Ryan: What are people in Kansas City saying about Dexter McCluster? And is he a running back, a wide receiver, or is he going to be moved all around? That’s something Eagles fans are familiar with seeing in a running back after many years of Brian Westbrook, who was great as a receiver.
Patrick: McCluster is a receiver but the Chiefs are going to move him all over. The bulk of the carries are going to Jones and Charles and while Dexter might get 4 or 5 hand-offs a game, most of his work is likely to come out of the slot.
Chiefs fans may be more excited about McCluster than any other rookie. Hardly does a day go by where there isn’t a story about him making some kind of amazing play at practice. The Chiefs will likely do all they can do get McCluster the ball in space and let him go to work. Think of a Darren Sproles/Wes Welker hybrid here.
Ryan: Both Philadelphia and Kansas City have rookies starting at Free Safety. Eagles players and coaches are raving about Nate Allen. What are the reports on Eric Berry?
Patrick: Berry will move around but he is actually listed as the team’s strong safety. Berry, like McCluster, is such a valuable weapon that I think the Chiefs will move him to where ever they think he can make an impact. I look for him to go from strong to free safety and play up and back depending on the situation.
Berry appears to be as advertised. He is smart and athletic and always seems to be around the ball. He has made a few nice tackles so far in the preseason both on special teams and in the defense. He is likely to suffer some mistakes like all rookies but he has a legit shot at Defensive Rookie of the Year.
Ryan: What positional battles are you guys watching the most against Philadelphia?
Patrick: The biggest position battle the Chiefs have going is at middle linebacker. Demorrio Williams and Corey Mays (last year’s starters) are battling Derrick Johnson and Jovan Belcher for the starting roles. Mays and Williams had a lot of tackles last year but neither had any interceptions or forced fumbles. Johnson is inconsistent but has the ability to make the big play and Belcher is an undrafted free agent who has come a long way and is probably the best tackler on the team. Johnson and Belcher will get the start this week so I think most fans are hoping they make an impact. Chiefs fans saw what it is like to have Williams and Mays starting last year and the results were not good.
Ryan: The Chiefs have only won 10 games in the last 3 years. Is there any reason to expect more than a slight improvement over last year’s 4-12 record?
Patrick: I think that inexperience will be the Chiefs worst enemy this year. They are far and away a more talented team but most of their infusion of talent has come through the draft and not through free agency. Because of this I expect an up and down season where at one moment the team looks great and the next they look terrible. Still, that would be an upgrade over last year where they just looked terrible.
These Chiefs are faster and more athletic. With an easier schedule I think they can reasonable win in the neighborhood of 6-8 games but I think they are still a year away from being a serious playoff contender. These are early observations though so I am hoping my opinion changes.
Ryan: OK, it’s way early for this question, but I’m curious. If they win 6 or fewer games, is Todd Haley’s job safe? It may only be year number two, but this is just his second year as a head coach at any level, so is there a little extra pressure on him?
Patrick: I think 6 win will probably keep Haley his job as long as the team is more competitive. If the team wins 6 games and loses a few heart breakers, I think he will be safe. Pioli hired Haley and is probably going to give him at least 3 years to right the ship.
That being said, if the team, god forbid, takes a step backwards this season or only wins 4 games, it will be hard for Pioli to justify keeping Haley around.
Ryan: Our thanks to Patrick for answering a few questions. Check back this evening for a quick pre-game read and learn five things to watch on the Eagles side.