With week one behind us, fans have gotten the first real answers about the 2009 Kansas City Chiefs. Certainly, the news was not all bad. Going into Baltimore against the NFL's perennial number one defense, the plucky Chiefs actually stuck around had a chance to tie the game with the ball, down by 7 with 2:06 left on the clock. Of course, the news wasn't all good, either. When everything is said and done, moral victories won't take you anywhere in the NFL and a loss is still a loss and there is a lot of work for the Chiefs to do.
Among the positive is the fact that the culture does seem to be changing at one Arrowhead Drive. After falling behind 10-0 in the first quarter, it would have been easy for the Chiefs to go into the tank en route to a blow out loss. Frankly, after watching the Chiefs is 2008, such a reaction would have been expected. Instead, the Chiefs kept playing hard and were rewarded by actually grabbing a 14-10 lead in the third quarter. Then, the Chiefs managed to rebound from deficits of 17-14 and 24-17. They just wouldn't quit. If there is any positive to take from Sunday's game, there is no bigger one than this one.
Another positive would be the play of quarterback Brodie Croyle. While he still doesn't have his first career win, Croyle proved himself a competent backup for Matt Cassel. While certainly not lighting the world on fire, Croyle withstood constant pressure, bounced up from three sacks and managed to complete 16-24 passes for 177 yards, with two touchdowns and no interceptions. This was good for an excellent quarterback rating of 116.2. What was most impressive was that Croyle continued to make good decisions in spite of ear popping pressure and constant defenders in his face. Another positive was the play of the Chiefs outside receivers, particularly Dwayne Bowe and Mark Bradley, who both made big plays. If Bradley can continue to show that the last 8 games of 2008 were not a fluke, it will go a long way towards easing the loss on Tony Gonzales.
We also learned that the defense has the potential to be pretty good. The Chiefs held the Ravens scoreless in the 2nd quarter and set up the Chiefs 2nd score with a big interception and return by Derrick Johnson. Also, while the Ravens passed the ball quite well, safeties Mike Brown and Jarrad Pages were not sucked in for big gains as has been the problem with the Chiefs safeties the past couple of seasons. Also, Tamba Hali got a sack (forced fumble) and a couple of QB pressures. Tank Tyler came up with 7.0 tackles (including on for a lose) and looked pretty good at NT. More importantly, was the intensity that the defense played with throughout the game. Guys kept trying to fight through blocks and were running to the ball non-stop. An encouraging play was Mike Brown hustling to knock Ray Rice out of bounds at the one in the fourth quarter. The Ravens still scored, but Brown could have easily slowed up and given the score. Point is that he didn't.
Of course, anytime you lose there is going to be more bad than there is good. First is the same point I just mentioned, which is the defense. We learned that, at least so far, that the Chiefs still can't pressure the quarterback. Mike Vrabel was double teamed for much of the day because Tyson Jackson failed to make any impact (not even registering a single tackle). In order to gain pressure, the Chiefs blitzed but often took poor angles and failed to get to Joe Flacco in time. Additionally the Chiefs lack depth on defense. This lack of depth really caught up to them in the second half when their first teamers really were wearing out. After allowing the Ravens only a 3.4 yard rushing average in the first half, the Chiefs surrendered a 5.5 average in the 2nd half. In the secondary, the Chiefs particularly missed Brandon Flowers, as Maurice Leggett got picked on constantly. Also, in the passing game, linebacker drops were often poor and undisciplined (hence Todd Heaps big day).
Although it is no surprise that the Chiefs defense is a work in progress, coaching and familiarity with the new scheme can correct many of the errors. Due to this it is still hard to get a sense of what the Chiefs D will look like later in 2009. This is a refreshing change from 2008, when the defense was familiar and was returning most of its starters (save Jared Allen, of course), so such hope didn't exist.
Overall, on offense, we have learned that the Chiefs offensive line cannot handle a defense such as the Ravens possess. Even Brandon Albert, presumably the Chiefs best offensive lineman, was overwhelmed several times on the day. There seemed to be a missed or poorly executed block on nearly every run play, resulting in the Chiefs netting a dismal 29 rushing yards on 17 carries. Ultimately, here we learned something we already knew, which is the Chiefs need to do something to address the offensive line. Also, we learned that the Chiefs are still learning their new offensive system. Multiple times, it was clear that players were confused and thinking too much about what their responsibilities. The good news is this is a new system thing and will improve with coaching and time.
Overall, suffice it to say, we learned that Todd Haley's Chiefs will play hard, but still have a lot of work to do. Really this isn't a surprise. On the upside, the return of Matt Cassel and particularly Brandon Flowers should help in the immediate. Otherwise, hopefully coaching and familiarity will help many of the Chiefs to play better. Long term, however, it is clear that Scott Pioli has some work to do as well. During the course of the game, it became apparent to me that the Chiefs didn't have the horses to really beat the Ravens, unless the Ravens beat themselves. Across the Board, the Ravens are better than Chiefs at most every position. There are only two ways to fix this (1) the players you have get better or (2) you get new players. Only time will tell of which one we will see more.