At first glance, it might appear that the Kansas City Chiefs and the Washington Redskins are vastly different teams. The Chiefs sit winless at 0-5, while the Skins are 2-3, which hardly respectable, is certainly a place that the Chiefs would love to be at. However, the reason why doesn't have much to do with who the Chiefs and Redskins are as much as who they have played. Through 5 games, the Redskins have played only one team with a winning record (the Giants at 5-0) while playing four teams with losing records, including two who haven't won a game (the Bucs and Rams). Conversely, the Chiefs have played only one team with a losing record (the Raiders at 1-4), while playing four teams with winning records. To sum up, the combined record of the Redskins opponents through five games is 7-17 (an appalling 2-17 sans the Giants), while the combined record of Chiefs opponents is 15-9.
Ultimately, when all of the smoke and dust clears, the Chiefs and Redskins actually have some similarities. Both feature aging runningbacks, in Clinton Portis and Larry Johnson, who are past their prime and struggling. Both teams have weak offensive lines (the Chiefs rank #3 in the NFL in sacks surrendered at 17, while the Giants rank #7 with 14) and younger quarterbacks.
Having pointed all of this out, make no bones about it, the Redskins will be the more talented team on Sunday. The Redskins receiving core of Antoine Randle El, Santana Moss and Chris Cooley far outshine the Chiefs quartet of Dwayne Bowe, Mark Bradley/Bobby Wade and Sean Ryan. Additionally, the Redskins offensive line, while also not good, certainly is not as bad as that as the Chiefs. Although Clinton Portis' average yards per career is at a career low of 3.7, this is a far cry from Larry Johnson's anemic 2.4 average. Still, much like the Chiefs, the Redskins offense ranks down among the worst in the NFL, averaging only 299.8 yards per game (23rd ranked) and 14.6 points per game (27th, actually behind the Chiefs, who rank 25th at 16.8).
On defense, the Redskins are better, too with names like Albert Haynesworth, Andre Carter, DeAngelo Hall and London Fletcher. An interesting side-story for the game will be to compare the impact of Tyson Jackson to Brian Okrapo, who the Chiefs passed over in the draft. There are many who would have liked to have seen the Chiefs take Okrapo and make him a staple as a rushing linebacker. Suffice it to say, it is going to be a long day for Scott Pioli if Okrapo keeps making sacks and big plays for the Redskins against the Chiefs. Putting Okrapo aside, the Redskins defense ranks among the NFL's best; ranking 5th in total yards surrendered (290.8/game) and 6th in points allowed per game (16.4). However, when you consider that four of the Redskins opponents rank 21st, 26th, 27th and 28th, it makes one pause to consider how good their defense really is at this point.
So what is the point of all of this discussion? There is more here than simply summing up the state of who the Chiefs and Redskins are and how they match up. The NFL is players league. As such, it is very rare for a head coach to coach well enough for an under talented team to beat a vastly superior opponent. Clearly this is what the Chiefs have been up against in three of their five games this season (vs. the Ravens, Giants and Eagles). However, a good coach can make a difference to pull out a win when two teams are comparable, even when his team is somewhat under talented. As such, going against a much maligned Washington head coach, in Jim Zorn, this is an opportunity for Haley to show his stuff.
As to Zorn, there is already much scuttlebutt as to whether or not he even survives this 2009 campaign. The general consensus in Washington seems to be that Zorn's team is underachieving. As an offensive coach, the Redskins offense has looked nearly as bad as the Chiefs, in spite of having a year of continuity and what most would consider as superior talent on offense and certainly more superior talent on defense. Detractors are quick to not that the Redskins lone two victories have been squeakers, at home, against two winless teams in the Rams (9-7 win) and Buccaneers (16-13 win). On the flipside, the Redskins have been the only wins for Lions and Panthers, both games on the road. It is interesting to note that – were it not for the Redskins –the Lions, Bucs, Rams and Panthers would sport a combined record of 0-16.
The good news, for the Chiefs, is that this means that this should be a close game and a chance to see what Zorn's opposite number, Todd Haley, has learned. Haley has been equally maligned in his short tenure as Chiefs head coach, particularly since the Chiefs found a way to lose against a Raiders team, over which they are probably superior, in week two. Now, four weeks later, the Chiefs are coming off a loss against an average Cowboys team, which could have been a win. These are the types of teams that the Chiefs can potentially steal a win away from. In many ways, the Redskins are the inverse of the Dallas Cowboys. Instead of having a top ranked offense, they have a top ranked defense but are still not a complete team.
By week six, I don't expect Haley to have mastered his craft, but I do expect to see improvement. Come Sunday, we will get an opportunity to see how far he has come. If the Chiefs offense can find a way to manufacture 24 points, it should be enough for a win against a Redskins team, which hasn't found a way to score more than 17 points in any game this season, in spite of going against defenses that ranked on average 18th in the NFL (if you remove the #1 ranked Giants, this number drops all the way to an average of 22nd). To Haley's credit, he hasn't stopped tinkering. He continues to move players around and this week has announced an intention to go more with a no-huddle offense. For Haley, he has been criticized for making too many changes and not allowing any stability to develop. This is, of course, the catch-22 for coaches, as Zorn, on the other hand, has been criticized for not making changes and for allowing an inept statues quo to continue.
Regardless, of the outcome on Sunday, it may not be fair to measure Haley in terms of a win or a loss – since these things are often out of a coach's control. However, the Chiefs should be able to be close in this game. So, get a win and it tells us something. Have it be close and lost in the closing seconds, it tells us something. Lose by a ton? Well, that tells us something else.