With LJ Gone, All Eyes Are Now on Chiefs Coach Haley
For Chiefs Head Coach Todd Haley, the honeymoon is over.
With running back Larry Johnson no longer the focus of the media's attention in Kansas City, Haley is on the hot seat.
The Chiefs, coming off a 24-21 loss Sunday at Jacksonville, have plenty of room for improvement at 1-7. Haley needs to provide some consistency and establish an identity for this team, and this week's game at Oakland provides him a prime opportunity to do that.
The Chiefs offense showed signs of life in their game against the Jaguars, and it needs to continue to improve to beat the Raiders. A good showing in Oakland could get this team pointed in the right direction for the second half of the season.
The addition of former Charger Chris Chambers appears to have added a legitimate threat at the wide receiver spot opposite Dwayne Bowe. That was evident on Sunday as Chambers caught two touchdown passes from quarterback Matt Cassel.
Where Haley and the Chiefs still need to improve offensively is running the ball. On Sunday, after an opening drive where Haley called three consecutive running plays yielding nine yards, the Chiefs ran the ball just nine more times for 48 yards the remainder of the game.
By contrast, Cassel threw the ball 39 times for 262 yards. The lack of balance on offense has resulted in the Chiefs awful 22 percent conversion rate on third downs, facing third and long far too often.
Moving forward, Haley will need to corral his tendencies to rely on the passing game, and allow Jamaal Charles and recently healthy Kolby Smith to make some plays in the ground game.
The team's leading rusher on Sunday with 36 yards, Charles is also a consistent threat in the passing game, ranking fourth on the team with 17 catches this season.
If the Chiefs can prove they can run the ball adequately enough, it will open up big plays in the passing game where it is now imperative that Haley impart some stability in the receiving corps.
Bowe and Chambers, in addition to Charles out of the backfield, need to be the primary focus in the passing game. Haley also needs to settle on a third receiver which will allow Cassel to finally develop some continuity with the group as a whole.
Cassel, who owns a pedestrian 55.6 completion percentage, has been inconsistent in large part because of having to work with a different set of receivers on almost a weekly basis. Through eight games this season, seven different receivers and a total of 17 different Chiefs have caught passes.
On the defensive side of the ball, Haley is faced with several issues that need to be addressed.
Perhaps the direst situation on defense is how poorly the safeties have played. Mike Brown, although tied for the team lead with 47 tackles, is clearly outmatched in pass coverage.
Jon McGraw and DaJuan Morgan, like Brown, have both played well against the run but have had too many lapses in coverage, and are both vulnerable to play-action.
The defensive line has also been an issue for the Chiefs. Of the team's 10 sacks, none have been tallied by a lineman.
End Glenn Dorsey has been the shining star on the line thus far, ranking fifth on the team in tackles, and showing the kind of motor that once made him a star at LSU.
While rookie end Tyson Jackson has struggled at times, and hasn't yet logged a sack, he hasn't been completely overmatched. The same can't be said about tackle Ron Edwards.
Edwards, who Haley praised early and often this season, hasn't been dominant enough in the middle to demand the double-teams necessary in keeping blockers off the Chiefs linebackers. As a result, the team has allowed far too many big runs this season by opposing running backs, and made the Chiefs secondary susceptible to play-action passes.
Haley has a tough row to hoe in getting these issues corrected.
While the offense may finally be ready to turn the corner, the team's struggles on defense may very well continue and make average players like Miles Austin and Mike Sims-Walker continue to look like All-Pros.
Here's to hoping Haley can get things moving in the right direction. If he can't, he won't be able to hide from the pressure and criticism that will mount if this team continues to lose.
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