There is no better word to describe the feeling that Chiefs’ fans had in 2010. After totaling only 10 wins over the course of the prior three seasons, fans had grown tired. A coaching change before the 2009 season brought hope, but winning only four games that season quickly squashed that newfound hope.
Then, Kansas City turned it all around last season, finishing 10-6 and winning the AFC West. A loss in the first round of the playoffs was disappointing, but the season as a whole was chalked up as a win, putting Kansas City back on the path towards a Super Bowl championship.
Fans were excited for Chiefs football again, and rightly so. Running back Jamaal Charles had proved himself one of the league’s premier players. Linebacker Tamba Hali led the AFC in sacks. Matt Cassel finally proved himself an effective NFL quarterback.
Then the 2011 preseason arrived.
Suddenly, an offense that was one of the most dominant in the league in 2010 looked anemic. Through three preseason games, the Chiefs are last in the league in points and total offense.
There seems to be no sense to it. While a few players were lost over the offseason, the addition of Steve Breaston and Le’Ron McClain more than made up for that. In fact, only one thing has really changed.
Charlie Weis left.
After calling the plays himself in 2009, head coach Todd Haley brought in Weis, a former Notre Dame head coach, as offensive coordinator.
Instantly, the Chiefs offense exploded. Matt Cassel became a Pro Bowl quarterback. Jamaal Charles rushed for 6.4 yards per carry. This improvement carried the Chiefs to a division title.
When the season ended, though, the Chiefs found themselves without an offensive coordinator with Weis bound for the University of Florida.
Now that the Chiefs’ offense has been suffering, the question is whether the loss of Weis has really affected the team this much. Can the Chiefs’ offense rebound?
To decide that, one must first figure out exactly what Charlie Weis brought to the table.
Weis has received a great deal of credit for Cassel’s turnaround. Weis’ track record with quarterbacks is proven, having helped Jimmy Clausen become a successful quarterback at Notre Dame and the Patriots’ Tom Brady become an elite player.
Looking at the preseason stats, you would think that Matt Cassel is lost without Weis. Cassel has completed only 44.4 percent of his passes, accruing a 59.5 quarterback rating in the process.
While the loss of Weis may have led to lower production from Cassel, this preseason cannot be used as a gauge for the upcoming season in any way. Cassel has thrown only 27 passes over the three games, nearly seven less than what an NFL team averaged in one game last season.
Overall, Cassel’s preseason, while not as great as the 2010 season, is not completely different from the 2010 preseason. In more than twice the passing attempts, Cassel had 293 yards. If Cassel were to have as many pass attempts while continuing to play like he has this preseason, he would have 286 yards, only seven yards shy of his 2010 preseason total.
In fact, the 2011 preseason is only completely different in one major offensive category: rushing yards per game.
In 2010, the Chiefs’ rushing game was the best in the NFL, averaging 164.19 yards per game behind the strong performances of Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones. Weis used the two to perfection, having Jones eat up a great deal of the opponents’ energy before a speedy Charles would break a long run. The preseason was no different, with the Weis-guided running game averaging a stellar 148 yards per game.
Without Weis, though, the Chiefs have only averaged 79.3 yards per game, ranking 31st in the league. While some of this may have to do with the game-planning of new offensive coordinator Bill Muir, a great deal can be attributed to two things.
First, there is Jones and Charles. Through three games, the duo has only carried the ball 15 times combined, less than half of what they totaled a year ago. With the two leading rushers sitting on the sidelines, Kansas City’s rushing game was bound to lose some of its effectiveness.
A lot of the blame for the lack of production can also be shifted to the offensive line. The line has been far from great, allowing 13 sacks. There has not been much support for the running game either. While Weis may have been able to help improve the line, current coordinator Bill Muir was the offensive line coach last season. Weis’ absence does not explain the line’s issues.
Of course it is early. The preseason is not meant to show the talent that your team has, but rather to decide what players will be showcasing that talent throughout the season. No, this preseason start does not mean that the Chiefs are hopeless without Weis.
With that said, Weis will be greatly missed. With Muir’s talent resting almost entirely on the running game, Cassel’s development that was led by Weis will be slowed. Weis tended to gamble on plays quite a bit, a trait that will not be missed by many. If Muir goes too far the other way, though, the Chiefs will be hurt by a lack of aggressiveness.
Can the Chiefs rebound from Weis’ departure? Yes, they can. It will not be easy to operate without Weis’ leadership, but Weis did not change the Chiefs entirely. He just showed how to use the personnel they had more efficiently.
It is the same Chiefs team as last year. Yes, a different coach can change things, but not everything. The talent is still there.
If Muir can figure out how to use it, Kansas City could have the season that they were hoping for.