Column: It Took Awhile, But Chiefs Find Identity

From the Coliseum, Oakland, California

How can a team that started the season with the worst back-to-back defeats in club history and a 0-3 record come back a month later and beat a divisional opponent on the road for their third straight victory?

Who are these 2011 Kansas City Chiefs that are now 3-3 on the season? And, who were the guys that we wearing the red and gold uniforms for the season’s first three games when they were by any statistical category available, one of the worst teams in the National Football League?

There is really nothing odd about this transformation. It’s an explanation that’s quite simple to explain whether the average Chiefs fan wants to believe so or not. It may sound like an excuse, but it’s as true as true can be.

The Chiefs horrific start to the season came because of the owners’ lockout that shut down the league and wiped out off-season programs, OTAs, mini-camps, skull sessions, tape study and any other act that usually comes with a football team trying to improve itself.

Todd Haley says it all the time and it probably drives GM Scott Pioli crazy, but the Chiefs do not have enough talent to simply walk on the field and win games. They have athletically talented players; they just don’t have enough of them. They have players that are fast and quick; they just don’t have enough of them. They have players that can seemingly lift the weight of the world; they just don’t have enough of them.

They did not have enough of them last year, and they certainly didn’t add enough of them in the past off-season to make a serious difference. They won the AFC West last year because of a weak schedule, a roster without major injuries and a work ethic that was not topped by any team around the league.

That started in the off-season when they had nearly 100 percent attendance at each and every conditioning session and OTA. The players absent for all of those sessions could be counted on both hands with a few fingers left over. Even guys who were notorious for their hatred of off-season work like Brian Waters and Mike Vrabel were showing up and taking part.

That gave the Chiefs a huge shot in the arm when it came to team building, cohesion and establishing their identity. It showed when they started the 2010 season with a 3-0 record and controlled the AFC West for the rest of the schedule.

They had none of that this time. The owners’ lockout wiped away any chance of using the spring and summer to build on what happened the season before. Individual players were without coaching and teaching and there was no way for many young players to be able to replace that type of expertise. They couldn’t go down to the local gym and find somebody to teach them the intricacies of man-to-man coverage or two-gap defensive play. They could stay in shape shape, but they couldn’t get into football shape, and there is a very big difference.

When they finally got back together and the league was open for business, Todd Haley had a choice to make. He could move forward with training camp like nothing happened, or he could go back and try to recreate what came through in 2010 with the team’s physical conditioning. He rolled the dice and worried more about working out, than he did about football. He worked on their bodies rather than their brains.

Whether that decision was the right one or not does not yet have a definitive answer, but he looks a little smarter about the whole deal today than he did when the team was sitting at 0-3.

Making the situation worse was a three-week period where three of the most important pieces of the team were ripped from the roster in TE Tony Moeaki, SS Eric Berry and RB Jamaal Charles. All three were more than just starters; they were cornerstones of what the team wanted to do in the passing game, on defense and in the running attack. That delayed even longer this team finding out who they were, as they experimented with different schemes and personnel in an attempt to fill the void.

They’ve now been together essentially since the first of August and ever so slowly, the 2011 Chiefs are starting to create a personality for themselves. They now have an identity they can fall back on and rely on in games when things get tough.

“We have come to understand what we are about,” said CB Brandon Flowers, the man with a pair of interceptions against Oakland, including one he returned for a TD. “We are going to play complimentary football. We are going to help each other. We are going to have each other’s back.

“The offense is going to help the defense, the defense is going to help the offense and the special teams are going to help both. There’s only one way that got done, and only one way it will continue to get done.”

What makes it work?

“We just have to keep grinding,” said FS Kendrick Lewis, who had a TD on an interception return. “That’s what it’s all about. We just have to keep grinding at it. We can’t take time away. We can’t think like now that we are 3-3 that somehow we’ve gotten something done. There’s so much more that has to get done.”

At 3-3 and with the division leader coming to town next Monday night, the Chiefs are in a position to take control of the AFC West with a victory over the Chargers. Heaven knows when they were 0-3 and among the worst teams in the league, nobody would have thought that possible.

They are no longer looking up from their hole. With hard work, the one thing they knew they could count on from last year, they’ve filled that 0-3 start and are back on level ground.

“The big part of what this team has done is just grind it out, one day at a time,” said QB Matt Cassel. “You can see us getting better from the start of the season until now. Hopefully, we will continue to make that progress. Right now, it’s a series of one-game seasons for us. San Diego is next.”

9 Responses to “Column: It Took Awhile, But Chiefs Find Identity”

  • October 23, 2011  - Tenand6 says:

    One word review for Bob’s column: Bravo!

  • October 23, 2011  - johnfromfairfax says:

    Agree! How bout these Chiefs? Hopefully the Luck suckers will understand this was a signature win regardless of the circumstances, not try to excuse or minimize the victory and climb back on the bandwagon and root for our team. It’s a week at a time proposition but enjoy this one and let’s get ready for the stupor chargers.

  • October 23, 2011  - napahank says:

    Great win! What I liked best is the way different players have stepped up each week. Succop hitting multiple (long) field goals after a rough start. Then Bowe and Breaston and Cassel then Battle.

    Today Flowers and Lewis we have quietly murmured about step up big-same with DJ. Finally don’t let Colquits amazing punting and Succops touchbacks on kick offs get lost in the hooplah.

    Clean up the stupid penalties and fix the screen passing game and you may have a “balanced” team that can contend even without Moeaki, Berry and Charles. This season just may be interesting!

  • October 23, 2011  - Josh says:

    I can’t wait for Baldwin to make his presence known. What do you do as a defense with Bowe and Baldwin as wideouts, Breaston in the slot, and McCluster in motion? You grab your ankles and hope there’s enough lube to go around.

    Oh, and we have a stellar defense, by the way. Gregg, Jackson, Dorsey, Johnson, Brandon squared, Lewis… I certainly wouldn’t want to be the Chargers next Monday night.

    What a great day to be a Chiefs fan…

  • October 23, 2011  - ED J says:

    No question felt the same way Bob. Sacrificing those preseasons games for conditioning I also felt would cause us to get off to slow start. It was worst than what I thought but we did find away to be only 1 game back of where I thought we would be at 2-3 before knowing injury situation with us and teams like Colt (Peyton Manning). Either way its paying off. I still disagree that we don’t have alot talent. I think this team still has enough talent not only to win division again but finally break the playoff streak. Once again it’ll be up to Mr. Cassel.

  • October 24, 2011  - K.C. Defense Bedevils All Raiders QB in 28- Victory : says:

    [...] COLUMN: Chiefs finding their identity. [...]

  • October 24, 2011  - Niblick says:

    I know from a passing rating standpoint, Cassell had a bad game. However, he was very good on third and longs. I think they converted four or five. Also, I wonder what his passing rating would have been without the ‘hail mary’ interception and if Bowe had scored instead of being stopped on the one foot line. I’m just going to enjoy this victory and not focus on the negatives.

  • October 24, 2011  - cychief24 says:

    Bob- Great analysis! You are right, $30+ million under the cap and Haley is supposed to beat teams near or at the cap?

    ED j- Didn’t you trade Cassel for that “great young QB” Josh Freeman? Or was it Sanchez? :)

  • October 25, 2011  - leonard says:

    Where are the whiners from 2 weeks ago? The cried and waaed that we will on win 2 games. I said it 2 weeks ago that the Chiefs will be 5-3 . I still say that. Where is all the BS about firing Haley.
    Funny how the fair weather fans are back on the wagon

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