Bills vs. Chiefs: Will Matt Cassel Miss This Game?
The Buffalo Bills travel to Kansas City to open up the 2011 NFL season on the 10-year-anniversary of 9/11. The Bills also played in Kansas City last year, and Bills fans will recall the heartbreak of that contest, which the Bills lost in overtime by three points.
That was the game that Rian Lindell appeared to kick a game-winning field goal, only to learn that Chiefs head coach Todd Haley had been awarded a time out call just prior to Lindell's kick. Lindell missed the second attempt, and the Chiefs went on to win from there.
But timing is everything, and the timing for the Bills to be playing the Chiefs may never be better. Chiefs starting quarterback Matt Cassel was injured playing in the second quarter of the final preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. Cassel suffered a rib injury and may not be able to play in the contest as a result. Stay tuned for updates on his health as the week unfolds.
The Chiefs have a number of issues right now, and we will detail them as we proceed with the preview.
More About the Chiefs Issues
According to the blog Arrowhead Pride, Chiefs backup quarterback Tyler Palko was told by Chiefs head coach Todd Haley to be ready to play next Sunday. An article from the Kansas City Star goes into more detail about Cassel's injury, in addition to providing more background on Tyler Palko. This would be Palko's first NFL start if in fact he does get the nod. You can imagine the Bills' revamped defense is licking their chops with the thought of providing him an official NFL welcoming committee.
If Cassel can't start due to his cracked rib and Palko doesn't perform well, the Chiefs could turn to rookie Ricky Stanzi and see what he can do.
We have to mention the Chiefs first-round draft pick Jonathan Baldwin. Baldwin, the talented wide receiver that played for Bills coach Dave Wannstedt last year at Pittsburgh, has been nothing but trouble so far for Kansas City. Baldwin showed up to camp with a diva mentality and so agitated his veteran teammates with his attitude that running back Thomas Jones fought him in the locker room. Baldwin required surgery on his thumb as a result of the fight and will probably miss the game as well.
Not only that, but another casualty of the Green Bay game was starting tight end Tony Moeaki, who tore his ACL and is now gone for the rest of the year. Head coach Haley will be second-guessed by Chiefs fans for playing his starters so long in the final preseason game, as well they should. The Chiefs have already placed Moeaki on the I.R. list.
Next, we address the talented Chiefs' running back Jamaal Charles. Charles had not been seeing that much work in the Chiefs preseason games, as he only had 16 carries after three games. During the final game against Green Bay, Charles had two fumbles and did not look very sharp, as per the Kansas City Star report we shared earlier by Adam Teicher.
One final note about the Chiefs and Teicher is that the defensive line has been leaky as well. No other detail about the D-line play other than that. When you add all this up, it seems that the Bills are catching Kansas City at the right time.
Bills Health Status Coming in to Kansas City
The Bills have had a number of players that have sat out various portions of training camp due to injury. In fact, there have been so many guys that have missed time that the list would be too long to write them all down.
What we do know is that Shawne Merriman, Roscoe Parrish, Kyle Williams, Johnny White and Justin Rogers have all either returned to practice or played against the Detroit Lions in the preseason finale and escaped without injury.
The only player that had not yet been cleared to play again was wide receiver Donald Jones, but Jones has now been given clearance to return to practice on Monday. He will be the Bills' No. 2 wide receiver opposite of Steve Johnson.
The fact that there are only two players on the I.R. list to start out the season (Bruce Hall and Reggie Torbor) is a very welcome sight for Bills fans. We had already lost a few players at this time last year, but Danny Batten and Marcus Easley appear to be healthy this year and made the final roster.
When Kansas City Has the Ball
Since this is the season opener, you can throw the 2010 stats out the window. These are two different teams than they were a year ago, and a number of changes have been made on the rosters of both teams. But since we have nothing to go on for this year yet, we can take a look at where they both finished in 2010 to see if we have a little better idea of what to expect.
The Chiefs had the No. 1 rushing offense in the NFL last year, averaging 164.2 yards per game. The Bills' rushing defense was last in the NFL, allowing 169.6 yards per game. This appears to be the biggest story line of the game. How much has the Bills' rush defense improved with the personnel changes that they have made, and is the Chiefs' ground game still as strong as it was?
One thing that will happen is that, if Matt Cassel can't start, you expect to see the Bills bring eight men up in the box to try to shut down the run game and make Kansas City beat them by throwing the ball.
The Chiefs' passing attack was only ranked 30th in the league, while the Bills' pass defense was the third best in the NFL. That stat might be a bit misleading, as teams didn't have to throw the ball much since they could run it on the Bills so easily. Nonetheless, it will be interesting to see what would happen when the Bills force Kansas City to pass it. The Bills pass rush looks to be much stronger with the addition of Shawne Merriman, Marcell Dareus, Nick Barnett, Kelvin Sheppard, Kirk Morrison and Danny Batten.
Not to mention the better Bills defense, but what is up with the Chiefs wide receivers? The Chiefs invested $25 MM to wide receiver Steve Breaston for a five-year deal, but Breaston hasn't been able to crack the top three wide outs on the depth chart. The Bills will have to worry about Dwayne Bowe, a talented wide receiver. Losing the tight end hurts, because the Bills can focus on stopping Bowe.
When the Bills Have the Ball
The Bills offense has made their own degree of changes since 2010. Wide receivers Lee Evans and Namaan Roosevelt are gone. In their place are Marcus Easley and Ruvell Martin. The Bills have two new tight ends in Scott Chandler and rookie Lee Smith. Smith may not be totally healthy, as he banged up his hand in the final New England preseason game. The Bills are trying to get Smith up to speed on the offense, but Chandler is the clear starter at tight end.
The Bills offensive line was trying out multiple players during the second half of 2010, and they surprisingly did not find one player that they thought could improve the offensive line when every team announced their final roster cuts over the past weekend. That is still a rather curious statement as to why the Bills couldn't claim even one veteran to replace veteran Geoff Hangartner, who the team released Saturday.
The biggest additions to the Bills offense are wildcat quarterback Brad Smith and the hopeful emergence of second-year running back C.J. Spiller. The Bills will be more difficult to defend in the red zone due to the presence of Smith on the team. It remains to be seen how effective Spiller will become this year, but the Bills are expecting some marked improvement from their 2010 first-round draft pick.
From the 2010 season, the Bills passing offense was ranked 24th, averaging 197.4 yards per game. The Chiefs passing defense was 17th in the NFL, allowing 219 yards per game. The Bills rush offense was generating 107.5 yards per game, good for 18th. The Chiefs run defense was 14th, allowing 110.3 yards per game. Based on those stats or trends, it looks like the Bills should be able to move the ball for about 300 total yards. They averaged 304.9 yards per game last year.
From a big-picture perspective, how will the Chiefs secondary try to defend Steve Johnson? With Lee Evans gone, do the Chiefs rotate two men to cover Johnson and force Ryan Fitzpatrick to throw to his secondary receivers like Donald Jones, Roscoe Parrish, Marcus Easley and David Nelson?
Key Matchups and Prediction
The Bills offense will have to game plan to figure out how to stop Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali, who finished second in the NFL in 2010 with 14.5 sacks. If the Bills can slow down Hali enough to give Ryan Fitzpatrick time to throw the ball, the Bills passing attack will have a chance to have a positive showing.
The Chiefs added ex-Baltimore Ravens tackle Jared Gaither during the offseason. Gaither had back problems in Baltimore, so his work will be cut out for him as he has to contend with the likes of Marcell Dareus, Shawne Merriman, Danny Batten and Alex Carrington. The Bills will know early on if Gaither is effective or if he is still having issues.
The biggest test for the Bills is obviously slowing down the Chiefs running attack. The defensive line is stronger with the arrival of first-round draft pick Marcell Dareus. Dareus and Pro Bowl nose tackle Kyle Williams will make it almost impossible for teams to successfully double team both players, so expect them to repeatedly make plays in the Chiefs backfield. If they don't, they will have opened up lanes so that Shawne Merriman, Chris Kelsay, Batten, Carrington and Nic Barnett can create havoc.
The other big story is if Cassel can feel up to starting. That will become a significant factor in the game. The Bills are still seeking revenge for the overtime loss last year. Not only that, but Chan Gailey would love to beat Todd Hailey, the guy that fired him as offensive coordinator for the Chiefs. He may never say so in public, but any time you can one up a guy that fired you before, it has to feel good.
The Bills are trying to establish a new winning tradition with this team that they can compete and win against anybody. With all the new veterans that have been added, I suspect the Bills improved defense will show well in Kansas City and do the job. My prediction for the game: Buffalo 24-Kansas City 17.