The New England Patriots of the 2000s were known as a team that set trends almost as much as they were known for mercilessly taking other teams to the woodshed.
From revitalizing the 3-4 defense to the newest sensation of lethal two tight end sets, it seems whatever Bill Belichick schemes up is the hip thing to do in the league the next five years.
Scott Pioli came to Kansas City to bring winning ways from the East Coast to America’s Heartland in 2009. Much to the ire of fans, he seemed to be too loyal to New England connections like Matt Cassel, Mike Vrabel and newest offensive coordinator Brian Daboll.
Despite his affinity for the Patriot Way, it’s undeniable he has done the job he was hired to do: fill the roster with enough talent to make a serious bid for a Super Bowl. He has constructed a roster that includes both homegrown talent and savvy free-agent signings that don’t break the bank.
So how does this translate into success in the AFC West?
The Patriot Way is going to go against the grain once again and dredge up a philosophy that hasn’t been viable since the 2000 Baltimore Ravens: win with a punishing ground game and stifling defense.
The high-flying, pass-first spread offenses have become the norm, but the Chiefs will look to bring the game back down to earth and test the physicality of their opponents.
Matt Cassel will never be Aaron Rodgers or Drew Brees, but in the Chiefs’ offense, he doesn’t have to be. The way the Kansas City offense is built, he can be Trent Dilfer with a head of hair and still be a success.
With the Killer B’s manning the wide receiver spots, the trio of Dwayne Bowe, Steve Breaston and Jonathan Baldwin is a combination any elite quarterback would give his left tackle to have. The tight end duo of Tony Moeaki and Kevin Boss only gives Cassel more viable targets than any other passer in his division.
But make no mistake; this offense will be about Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis first.
Apart, they didn’t possess enough firepower to propel their respective teams deep into the playoffs. Together, the Zoom and Boom combination can be among the first pair of halfbacks in the 21st century to make having a dominant ground game as worthwhile as having a franchise quarterback.
This strategy relies on two principles that go hand-in-hand: keeping the other quarterback off the field as much as possible with long, time-killing drives and having a defense stout enough to keep Peyton Manning and Philip Rivers out of the end zone and the Chiefs offense from playing from behind.
If Kansas City does implement this strategy, it will be imperative they score on their opening drive, something they struggled with mightily last season. If they allow Rivers and Manning to strike first, a ground-oriented offense isn't designed to play catch-up.
That’s where it’s handy to have a defense that’s well on its way to being an elite unit. With the return of Eric Berry and the addition of Dontari Poe, Kansas City has constructed a stalwart defense that is built to combat pass-heavy offenses.
Even without Berry, the Chiefs were sixth in the league in defending the pass with just over 200 yards per game and 20 interceptions. Kansas City’s defensive backfield will only improve this season with the return of a safety many are calling the heir-apparent to Troy Polamolu and Ed Reed.
With Poe and the pair of Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey, who Pro Football Focus rated as two of the best run-stuffing defensive ends in the NFL, opening up holes for Tamba Hali and Justin Houston, Romeo Crennel is well equipped to keep high-profile passers from scoring and introducing them to the turf instead.
On the offensive side of things, Charles and Hillis will have the distinct pleasure of running behind the top collection of big boys Kansas City has seen since the days of Willie Roaf and Will Shields.
In what is shaping up to be a formidable bastion of an offensive line, in-house product Rodney Hudson and free-agent steal Eric Winston step in at center and right tackle.
With much-needed, youthful reinforcements coming in and incumbents like Brandon Albert and Jon Asamoah coming into their own, the Chiefs are gearing up to smash defenses in the mouth this autumn. Add tight ends like Kevin Boss and Steve Maneri helping off the edge, and it’s enough to make Bear Bryant and Vince Lombardi grunt with savage approval.
If the Daboll-led offense can capitalize on opening drives, the ground game can then control the pace of the game. If the defense keeps the air raids from division foes in check, Manning and Rivers are going to have plenty of time to sip Gatorade and watch the time tick down on the scoreboard as the ground-and-pound feasts on the clock.
Will this return to the more brutal, primal roots of the NFL prove successful? Will it pay off for the Chiefs to go against the grain, or will an experiment bringing the fight back to the ground blow up in their face?
There’s no way to tell until September. But if it succeeds, Scott Pioli will have succeeded in his quest to emulate the Patriot Way more than he ever dreamed.
The Chiefs will have finally become trendsetters instead of followers, and the AFC West title won’t be following far behind.