The Kansas City Chiefs were drowning in a sea of inexperience, lack of discipline and an overall void of direction from the last half-decade of declining veterans like Larry Johnson, Preist Holmes and Trent Greene and draft day misses such as Dwayne Bowe and Glenn Dorsey.
The team has brought in some prospects with potential, but has been lost, searching for some sort of an identity.
After the failed Herm Edwards era—which was hardly long enough to label an "era"—the Hunt family brought in former Patriots VP of player personnel to do the hiring. Right away, the culture changed as he brought in the then Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator Todd Haley.
Haley wasn't known for much other than getting in shouting matches with players like Anquan Boldin on the sideline. Haley ran a high powered offense in Arizona, but the Chiefs were anything but high powered in terms of talent. The QB situation was addressed first by bringing in QB Matt Cassell.
Year one was a learning experience full of tough losses and growing pains. Haley fired the team's offensive coordinator before the season even started, and the defensive coordinator was gone at the conclusion of the Chiefs' 2009 campaign.
The team had a few players who were worth keeping, but it was Haley's opinion that a total overhaul was necessary if this team was ever going to compete.
Pioli and Haley decided to work with what they had and build on their strengths by cutting dead weight and bringing in talent where needed to make their strengths stronger. The dead weight was aplenty, and many guys from last year are no longer Chiefs.
The team kept Cassell, who didn't get a fair shake in year one, but it was time to start bringing in some other guys and fast.
The rebuilding started with hiring a staff that Haley could trust to take some of the workload off of his shoulders, so he brought in some old colleagues. Coordinators Charlie Weis (offense) and Romeo Crennell (defense) were called upon to whip the young team into a well oiled football machine.
In the draft, Haley addressed holes in the secondary at safety (Eric Berry) and the tight end position (Tony Moeaki). These aren't viewed as power positions, but fans were excited to have Berry in the fold. On top of that many or all of the players drafted were captains on their respective collegiate teams in 2009.
I'm still unsure if Haley really thought that the team wasn't very good coming into the year or if he was just downplaying his excitement in the young talent, but he didn't let on to the public that they were about to witness something special in 2010.
In the preseason, the Chiefs didn't look like anything special, going just 1-3 and running a very vanilla gameplan. This was a smoke screen, though. In week one, a Monday night home opener against the division rival San Diego Chargers, Haley, Weis and Crennell let a little bit of lightning out of the bottle.
One solid drive, two big plays, three revitalized defensive prospects, and four huge goal line downs sealed a Chiefs' opening day victory. Basically, youth started to peak out of its hole in that game. The Chiefs won the game 21-14, and they were off to Cleveland in week two.
Haley said after the game in week one that it was "...an ugly win. If you're looking for something pretty, you're not going to see it (from the Chiefs.)" In week two, it appeared that Haley hit the nail on the head. It was all running the ball and defense that propelled the Chiefs to a 16-14 victory after trailing for three quarters.
By week three, fans had grown restless due to the stagnant play of the offense. In their week three contest at home against the 49ers, the offense came alive in a 31-10 route that wasn't as close as the score indicated.
It was safe to say that the Chiefs had the best one-two punch in football (Thomas Jones and Jamaal Charles) in their backfield, and the defense was as tough as any in the league.
Week three was the third straight week that the Chiefs held their opponent to under 15 points. It was also the third straight game without a 100 yard rusher and still getting over 130 rushing yards. They were one of only three teams left that were 3-0, and they were going into their week four bye.
In week five, the Chiefs had there toughest test of the season with the Indianapolis Colts in Indy. The defense played very well and kept their opponent under 20 again, not letting Peyton Manning throw even one TD pass. The team had positives they could take from their 19-9 loss.
Still, a demon from WR Dwayne Bowe's past reminded fans why he hasn't lived up to his potential yet when he dropped a key third down pass in the endzone for a go ahead score in the second half. The next week, on the road against the Houston Texans, Bowe finally showed the skills that die hard Chiefs fans new he had, catching six balls for 108 yards and two TD receptions in the Chiefs' 35-31 loss—and he didn't drop one pass.
After dropping two straight games on the road, the Chiefs came back to Arrowhead stadium in week seven to play the Jacksonville Jaguars. This was the first game where everything came together.
Bowe had 80 yards and two TDs, Thomas Jones had 125 yards and one TD, linebacker Derrick Johnson had a pick six, Eric Berry got his first NFL interception, and Matt Cassell threw for 193 yards and two TDs with a QB rating of 144.0 and zero picks in the Chiefs' 42-20 win.
Cassell didn't put up Pro Bowl numbers in the contest, but he made throws when he needed to and was very efficient. That's all Haley is really asking of him, at least for now. Haley has taken a more old-school approach to the 2010 season, and he has the personnel to pull it off.
Forget the fact that most of these Chiefs were in high school or younger when this brand of football was routinely practiced. In the pass first, ask questions later NFL of this millennium, the Chiefs are turning heads with their stingy defense and yard churning, clock burning ground game.
Despite much early criticism of Haley starting Thomas Jones over the younger, more explosive Jamaal Charles, he's stayed steadfast in his decision—and it is paying huge dividends. Haley isn't listening to all of the outside influences that come with being an NFL head coach.
The Chiefs are eighth in points per game scored, seventh in points per game allowed, fifth in scoring differential, sixth in rushing defense, first in rushing offense, and have turned the ball over less than any other team in the entire NFL—they've only given the ball up four times in six games, which is an astounding stat.
As individuals, some Chiefs are quietly having very good seasons. Cassell has thrown nine TDs to only three picks with a passer rating of 91.5, both Jones (461 yards) and Charles (489 yards) are on pace to rush for over 1,100 yards, rookie TE Tony Moeaki has 21 catches and averages 11.2 yards per catch, and WR Dwayne Bowe has 346 yards (18.9 yards per catch) and five TDs.
Defensively, Derrick Johnson is on pace to get 137 tackles this season, CB Brandon Flowers is shutting down everyone he faces and has two picks (one for a TD) and eight pass deflections, DT Glenn Dorsey is finally playing like a first round pick, and DE Tamba Hali already has 5.5 sacks on the year.
This team is the most surprising success story in the league this season, and if they continue playing like this they'll keep on surprising people all the way into the playoffs. The coaching staff deserves as much credit as the players do in the curious case of the Kansas City Chiefs.
Haley, Crennell and Weis are getting the most out of the young team, and if you ask them, they themselves didn't even expect success to come this quickly. The coaching staff isn't very animated, and they go about their business as if nothing out of the ordinary is happening in K.C. It's just another day at the office.
Haley routinely dials up fourth down calls at odd times in games as if it were just a normal, calculated decision—he's gone for it on fourth down in the first three quarters more than any coach in the league this season.
He has faith in his team and subscribes to a very taboo, yet very respectable way of thinking and coaching: if we can't pick up a yard, we don't really deserve to win.
Haley has a brash way of calling a game. Still, he and his team lets their play do their talking for them. The young coach and his young team are following the words of former United States President Theodore Roosevelt. "Speak softly, and carry a big stick."
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