Chiefs Luck With Injuries Dies … Monday Cup O’Chiefs

Brandon Siler/Achilles … Tony Moeaki/ACL … Matt Cassel/Ribs … Jonathan Baldwin/Thumb … Ryan Lilja/Unknown … the Chiefs training room has been a very busy place already in 2011, and the regular season is only now set to begin.

Injuries are a major part of every NFL team’s season. It’s a factor with players lost. It’s a factor with players who are on the field but aren’t right physically. It’s a factor with how teams react when they lose outstanding pieces of their puzzle. Injuries are a factor in game planning, execution, drafting, working the free agent system … they are part of everything in the NFL.

Professional football is not a contact sport. Ballroom dancing is a contact sport. Football at its highest level is a collision sport. It can be a violent car wreck on every single snap of the ball.

Last year, the Chiefs had one of those seasons where injuries were kept at bay. Not a single starter or important contributor ended up going on the injured-reserve list and being lost for the entire schedule, or even half the season. The most games missed because of an injury were the five games that Dexter McCluster sat out with his ankle injury. McCluster wasn’t a starter.

Those days are over with the Chiefs. The good luck with injuries last season has already been chased away and they haven’t even played a regular season game. Siler and Moeaki have been lost for the season due to injuries. It’s the same for rookie and draft choice OLB Gabe Miller, who we hadn’t seen much from in the 2011 pre-season.

Baldwin’s broken right thumb is still healing. Lilja has an ailment that the Chiefs aren’t willing to discuss, or even acknowledge, so his status for next Sunday’s season opener against the Bills is only a guess.

Now there’s Cassel, and reportedly a broken rib that he suffered in Thursday night’s game at Green Bay. He may not be able to play against Buffalo.

Yes, the Chiefs luck has worn off and it happened pretty quickly. But then, that’s to be expected, planned and strategized for. Remember, it’s not a contact sport, it’s a collision sport.


Whether or not Cassel was injured Thursday night is not a question; it’s a fact. Anyone who saw him walk off the field after being pancaked by the 340 pounds of DL Howard Green of the Packers, knew immediately there was no way he was walking away without some sort of problem.

If the injury is merely a rib, then count Cassel and the Chiefs lucky. When Green lowered all his poundage down on Cassel, the one of the first things that hit the Lambeau Field turf was the quarterback’s right shoulder. That he could comb his hair after the game was a good sign, but figure that Cassel’s status for this game will be the story of the week, and won’t be announced until late in the week, or on Sunday when the first-team offense hits the field for the first time.

As happens when there’s a high profile injury on the radar screen, there’s second guessing and no doubt that the Chiefs have left themselves open to being questioned about how Haley approached training camp and pre-season, to the decision to part ways with veteran G Brian Waters, to spending little in helping establish offensive line depth in free agency, to not signing a veteran NFL quarterback just in case there starter got hurt and could not play.

Haley approached the game in Green Bay not as the normal fourth pre-season game, but as the crowning moment of his combination approach of training camp and the pre-season games. Because so many of the key players had gotten so little playing time in the first three games, they were going to go for longer stretches in the fourth game. That’s just the opposite of what NFL teams have done for years. Normally the fourth game features cameo appearances by the starters, and then get them off the field. That’s what the Packers did with QB Aaron Rodgers. He was set to take eight snaps against the Chiefs. That’s exactly how man plays it took for him to lead Green Bay to the game opening score.

Under Haley’s 2011 plan, Cassel was still in the game with 8 minutes, 50 seconds to play in the second quarter. That’s when Green sacked him.

How does Waters factor into this scenario? Why the Chiefs made the decision they did on Waters has never really been explained. There are obvious reasons, including a deterioration of Waters’ skills over the last few days. But why not take him to camp and into the pre-season. Maybe GM Scott Pioli’s mentor Bill Belichick would have been willing to pay up a late-round draft choice in exchange for Waters, who signed a two-year contract on Sunday with the Patriots.

It was second-round draft choice Rodney Hudson who gave up the sack of Cassel. He couldn’t handle Green and even the late arrival of C Casey Wiegmann wasn’t able to slow down the defensive tackle who buried Cassel. Hudson should have been out there in the second quarter of the fourth pre-season game. Whether he should have been protecting for the No. 1 quarterback is a point of discussion.

The decision with Waters was matched by the unwillingness of the franchise to spend anything close to big money in free agency. If ever there was a season where the perfect storm existed to dip into the free agency pool, it was this year. More players were available, more money was open under the cap, and the Chiefs had more money available than any team in the league. The only money they used in veteran free agency was signing OT Jared Gaither. They added no veteran inside presence.

If it’s true that Cassel can’t play against Buffalo, then the start will go to Tyler Palko. It will be his first in the NFL. Why the Chiefs didn’t bring in a veteran, just for possible cases like this one, figures to be one of this week’s most debated points. They had the room, they had the space; they didn’t feel the need.

Haley is a great believer in Palko. For his team’s sake, that belief better not be misplaced.


Watch the play where Moeaki suffered an ACL injury in his right knee. There was nothing unusual about the catch and run; Moeaki dragged across the middle, caught the ball on the left side of the field and ran towards the sideline. He was met just before the boundary by Packers LB Ricky Elmore, who went high and tackled him around the shoulders.

Moeaki hit the ground out of bounds in the Packers bench. When he didn’t immediately get up, there was a sense that something was wrong. When he hobbled off the field, it appeared to be something very wrong. It turns out that somewhere in that sequence of catch, run, hit, out of bounds, he suffered an injury to his left ACL.

There was nothing vicious about the hit, nothing violent about the play. But Moeaki is done for the year and with him goes an important piece of the Chiefs offensive attack. As a receiver, Moeaki was going to be a major part of the passing game. Last year as a rookie, he caught 47 passes and the plan was to get him even more involved, something between 50-60 catches.

Moeaki’s presence provided help for the wide receivers because defenses had to take into account the tight end in their coverage plans. That normally meant a safety on him, and that was one less body in the deep secondary for the wide receivers to deal with. Plus, Dexter McCluster has been moved to RB, making him a real receiving threat out of the backfield. Having Moeaki in the offense as a receiver, again forced defensive coordinators to deal with him and that was going to give McCluster room to maneuver with his quickness.

Plus, Moeaki was a better than average blocker in the running game. He helped the offense lead the NFL in rushing last year. As a rookie, he was a better blocker than Tony Gonzalez was at any point in his career.

But now all that is gone, and there is no one to replace him. The only tight end the Chiefs had that was close to Moeaki as a receiver was Cody Slate. But he was released and wasn’t signed to the practice squad. Leonard Pope and Jake O’Connell are blockers first and foremost. At 6-8 Pope can make a great target in the red zone, but he’s not much of a runner. O’Connell has inconsistent hands and is prone to dropping passes. Veteran Anthony Becht may end up going from not playing in 2010, to the pass catching tight end of the Chiefs.

Injuries – a painful fact of life in the NFL.

12 Responses to “Chiefs Luck With Injuries Dies … Monday Cup O’Chiefs”

  • September 5, 2011  - bhive01 says:

    Ouch. I heard some rumblings on Twitter last night about the ribs… Those take a lot of time to get up to 100%. He’ll be playing with sore ribs for a while this season.

  • September 5, 2011  - Milkman says:

    Why did they let Cody Slate walk? They already had 2 blocking tight ends. This is another aggravating situation where we are left feeling “out of the loop”. Please- just tell us a LITTLE of what you’re thinking so we can feel a little better about the people who are running our team. Instead, getting any information is like trying to pry national security secrets out of them. This may be the Patriot way, but until the secrecy is replaced by playoff wins this is very frustrating.

  • September 5, 2011  - pharmer says:

    Are you sure that Lilja is hurt? Before the game on Thursday, Mitch congratulated the Liljas on a brand new baby…..

  • September 5, 2011  - RW says:

    Given the haughty secrecy and hubris displayed by this franchise under Hunt Jr., it really doesn’t seem like my lifelong Chiefs any longer. Bob said it best a couple of weeks ago under a similar thought: “They’d better win”.

    I’m totally at a loss to understand the QB situation. Start there with a starter still finding his way, a journeyman backup without a NFL start and a green rookie. Now with Cassel likely out for a time, we’re down to asking some rube from the backwaters to pilot the big ship?

    There are two things in the business world that will get you in trouble. Lack of cash flow, and off-the-leash big ego. Take your pick as to the cause but from where I’m sitting, the Chiefs are in trouble with blame that can be spread across the ineffective leadership of Hunt-Pioli-Haley.

  • September 5, 2011  - Jimbo says:

    Cassel is an average QB. Granted he is the best QB on our team. If he is not able to play in a couple of games, so be it.
    Palko looked pretty good the last two pre-season games and seems capable. He has a decent and accurate arm. Goes through his progressions and does not appear to stare down at any one receiver. Best of all he is comfortable throwing the ball more than 5 yards.
    Cassel is notorious for throwing 5 yard passes when 9 was needed. Our biggest challenge with Palko is he’s left handed which reverts his blind side to the right side of our line and as we know the right side is our weakest especially in pass protection. Bottom line is we need to support our back up QB’s and I have plenty of confidence in Palko. Who knows, he may have a coming out party at the Bill’s expense and if you really think about it he’s not a big step backwards from Cassel who I still feel is an average QB.
    Go Chiefs. Go Palko.

  • September 5, 2011  - Tenand6 says:

    I’ve never understood the “ego” accusation. Whether or not someone has a big “ego” (like ascending Pro-Bowler Dwayne Bowe?) doesn’t explain everything. The Chiefs have a strategy that frustrates fans. I have never been bothered by secrecy. Apple’s Steve Jobs– who has a massive ego– runs a super secret operation and they’ve done pretty well. Their strategies are very different from the competition and thank God for that. They’ve experienced relatively few failures (they fired Jobs for one) and experienced spectacular successes. BTW, who picked the Chiefs to win the division last year? I didn’t.

    Haley is a conditioning/training expert. He has strong, well-thought out and informed opinions on how to best take care of the team’s #1 asset: The players. He wants them in top condition for their own good and for his. I’m grateful we have a coach who devotes so much time to protecting his players from injury.

    So it didn’t happen this pre-season. Look around the NFL, there were a rash of injuries this year. Some may have been related to the lock out and some not.

    To me, this is a non-issue. Yes, it is potentially devastating to the Chiefs season, but so was Tom Brady’s knee injury against the Chiefs. That first game injury was a fluke. It looked like nothing when Pollard “hit” him.

    Injuries happen— even to teams where the coach has an active plan to protect his players before they get on the field. Not playing is not a plan to protect players. They have to get on the field and despite the conditioning and good intentions, injuries still happen.

    Blaming Haley for an injury strikes me as an excuse to go after him. I thought his strategy to minimize injuries while getting his team ready to play was entirely rational. But that’s not a guarantee.

    As for Waters, I’ve seen him miss numerous blocks over the past two years. The guy is immobile compared to what he was a few years ago. If that play would have occurred against Waters, Haley would still be called out. Remember, we were going against Green Bay’s #2 unit when Cassel was injured. You’d think it would be safer to put Cassel out there with our best against Green Bay’s second unit.

    There are no guarantees.

  • September 5, 2011  - Niblick says:

    Even before the injuries on Friday, I have become less and less optimistic about this season. I don’t have the optimism with Palko that Jimbo has. I hope he performs well, and can lead us to a win, but I’m skeptical. I’m sure Buffalo will put 8 or 9 in the box and force us to throw. I didn’t agree with the way Haley handled the pre-season, but he had a plan and stuck with it. To me, the Chiefs have not been the same since the Jacksonville game where Haley pulled Cassell and supposelly took the play calling duties away from Weiss.

    I’m still hoping for a good season but I just think they could only win four or five games. I’ve been a season ticket holder for 45 years, so I’m no band wagon fan.

  • September 5, 2011  - KC_Guy says:

    Any news on Baldwin?? Even if he gets the splints out of his thumb – when will he be ready to play?

  • September 5, 2011  - Steve says:

    I agree with Milkman – why let Cody Slate go with Moeaki’s injury? Bob, any chance we’ll see Slate again either on the practice squad or active roster? Did the Chiefs see enough and decided he didn’t have what they needed?

  • September 5, 2011  - Chuck says:

    As Lloyd Benson said to Dan Quale many years ago. Dan I knew Jack Kennedy and Dan you’re no Jack Kennedy. So I will say this: I know Matt Cassel and Tyler Palko you’re NO MATT CASSEL. WE’RE IN TROUBLE FOLKS!!!!!!!

  • September 5, 2011  - Fleaflicker34 says:

    Maybe Palko will be our Kurt Warner, who cares, the fun starts in a week.

  • September 5, 2011  - Michael says:

    Unfortunately, injuries happen; Cassel and Moeaki could have been injured in the 1st, 2nd or 3rd preseason game or even practice.

    I think it would have been hard for the Chiefs, and Brian Waters, to have kept him around as a backup. And at the end of his career, why not give him a shot to go to another contender that has injury issues at guard. Would have been nice if it had worked out to get a late pick for him, though.

    The latest reports are saying Cassel may be able to play with a flak-jacket protecting his ribs. We’ll have to see how the week of practice goes. Tough call; let it heal a little longer, or let him play with the possibility of making it worse. Palko made a few bonehead plays this preseason to be expected of a QB with little experience, but overall not bad. He throws catchable passes, has very good mobility to extend plays or run for yardage (important until the OL comes together more) and being a lefty gives the Chiefs a different twist. And he’s got the right coach in Zorn, who himself was a college lefty free agent QB out of Cal Poly Pamona. No one expected Zorn to do anything either, but he had a very good career with the Seattle Seahawks. Plus, Zorn is an excellent QB coach.

    The Cheifs certainly could have spent more money on free agents this year, for depth if nothing else. But, they feel they have the guys needed to step up. We’ll see.

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