From Arrowhead Stadium
There are certain methods and ideas that are part of the NFL Head Coaches Handbook.
One of those suggestions is that the head coach should pick several themes or traits that are important for his team to possess. Once he has those, he’s advised to keep pounding on those ideas, to drive home the point over and over, so players, fans and the media come to understand what is important.
That’s just what Todd Haley has done over the last eight months as head coach of the Chiefs. He had a vision of three things he wanted his team to be. First, he wanted them to play smart football. Second, he wanted them to be tough. Third, he wanted his team to be in top physical condition.
Smart, tough, conditioned, those are words that have come out of Haley’s mouth hundreds of times. It is his mantra, his chant, his foundation for building a successful football team.
It’s not happening. Oh, the Chiefs show all the signs of being a tough bunch of hombres. They had to be to survive the training camp and pre-season that Haley put them through. That also means they are conditioned.
But they ain’t smart. At times, they are simple one dumb football team. One of those times was Sunday against the Raiders.
If any team over the last 20 years has written the book on playing dumb football it would be Al Davis and his band of silver and black from Oakland. For 10 years, Marty Schottenheimer told his Chiefs that all they had to do was play hard and tough and then wait for the Raiders to screw up. And, they always did.
Now, the Chiefs are playing like the Raiders and they did against Oakland, helping the visitors to a 13-10 victory that is the most unexpected gift that the silver and black have received in some time.
Mistakes were a plenty in this game and the majority of them wore the red and gold of the Chiefs:
- They wasted two timeouts in the first quarter. When they needed them late in the first half, they were gone and cost the team at least a field goal. They lost by a field goal.
- A hard to understand play call at the end of the half when the team had 14 seconds left and QB Matt Cassel threw a short pass to RB Dantrell Savage, who did not get out of bounds to stop the clock. The rest of the half ticked off and the Chiefs got nothing.
- Nine penalties, seven of those against the offense, including four penalties that were simply mental mistakes, three false starts and an illegal man downfield on a pass play. In all the Chiefs lost 37 yards of offense thanks to penalties.
- They blew a chance to down a punt at the Raiders one-yard line. There were enough bodies around the ball that three or four people had a chance to touch it before it bounced into the end zone for a touchback.
- A pair of interceptions that were just killers, as both came in Raiders territory.
That’s just a short list, but all of those situations badly hurt the Chiefs chances of earning a victory. But none more than wasting timeouts in the first quarter; that’s a surefire way to get burned. I’ve never understood why head coaches allow their quarterback to call a timeout that early in the game.
On the first one, rookie TE Jake O’Connell was late running on the field and the play clock was about to expire. On the second, there appeared to be a communication breakdown between the sidelines and the huddle, as if the play was coming in late, or was garbled in transmission.
Now, that first timeout came on a 1st-and-10 play at the Chiefs 31-yard line. Why waste one there? Take the five-yard penalty and move on. The second timeout was a 4th-and-2 play in Oakland territory and stopping the clock there made more sense.
What did not make sense was the last play of the first half. Without the timeouts to stop the clock again, Cassel should have been instructed to throw the ball to the end zone or throw it away. Make sure you get three points. Conservative? Yes, but effective.
Certainly more effective than Cassel’s pass to Dantrell Savage in the flat where the running back could not get out of bounds.
“It’s an out of bounds or incomplete situation,” said Haley. “That stuff can’t happen.”
It can and it did. It just shouldn’t be happening to a team that is being coached to be smart, to understand situations, to practice them ahead of time and know the right things to do.
The Chiefs margin of error is a slim one. They do not have enough talent to be able to make mistakes and expect to win games. Haley says they will go back to work on being a smart team on Monday. Something has to change, because the idea of being a smart team is not getting through to these guys.
Smart doesn’t guarantee victory.
But dumb will lock up defeat every time.