Todd Haley: Disheartening Loss to Buffalo Bills Puts Him on Hot Seat
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When I was stationed in Iraq, my sergeant used to say, "You're only as good as your last mistake."
After Sunday's game, I felt about like I did back then, waiting outside his office to hear about one of those "mistakes". It was never a pleasant situation; not only did I hate disappointing him, but (more importantly) the man could take off a pound of flesh just by yelling.
Five days earlier, I wrote about how the Chiefs would blow out the Bills in their season opener. So when the final score came through, a devastating 41-7 Kansas City loss, my computer screen eerily reminded me of that office door.
Buffalo didn't just disprove my assertion that Kansas City outclassed them at nearly every position; they made it look like I'd claimed unicorns and dragons are real. Buffalo's defense snatched up three turnovers and choked out the passing game.
On offense, the Bills took advantage of their solid field position and scored at will against Kansas City's defense, taking the Chiefs' running game out of the equation with a big, early lead. Ryan Fitzpatrick systematically made Brandon Flowers and the rest of Kansas City's defense look average at best.
The Bills came into Kansas City and dominated the Chiefs, surpassing them in nearly every measurable statistic. Only in rushing yards per carry and penalties did Kansas City do better than Buffalo.
But ,as much as I dreaded the large helping of crow I'd have to eat this morning, I'm not the only one facing ridicule and the third degree after Sunday's loss.
Head coach Todd Haley has a lot to answer for.
Chiefs fans might have hedged their bets in light of their highly-competitive schedule, but likely expected a far better performance than Sunday's train wreck. And, despite the limited training period for players, Haley acted like he had all the answers.
Haley protected his players from injury by limiting training camp to mostly conditioning drills, and gave little playing time to his starters until the last preseason game.
Instead, Kansas City watched Tony Moeaki, Matt Cassel, Eric Berry and Barry Richardson all step off the field with injuries. The Chiefs lost Moeaki for the season with Cassel suspected of missing the season opener. Then yesterday, Berry went down in the first quarter and did not return.
There is no news yet on Berry's injury or how severe it is.
UPDATE: Kansas City lost Berry for the year with a torn ACL. Jon McGraw stands next in line on Kansas City's depth chart. While McGraw holds his own on special teams and in reserve play, he lacks Berry's big-play ability and athleticism. This leaves a large hole in Kansas City's secondary.
After losing Charlie Weis as offensive coordinator, Haley showed his confidence and professional growth by not only promoting Bill Muir to replace Weis, but announced that Muir would call the offensive plays. Gone are the days where Haley runs the team as an all-powerful potentate.
Muir's play calling qualified as pedestrian, even at the high-school level.
Cassel rarely threw down field; even on third and long, Kansas City's passes went well short of the first down marker. The Chiefs only completed nine passes for more than five yards; only four of those went for more than ten.
Finally, Haley improved an already-stellar group of running backs by moving the elusive Dexter McCluster away from receiver duties, and signed All-Pro fullback Le'Ron McClain to the team. Opponents would face even greater challenges as the Chiefs bolstered their league-leading rushing attack further.
Kansas City only ran the ball three times in their first three possessions, and 12 times total in the first half while the game remained in reach. By comparison, the Chiefs threw 18 times, including seven of their first ten plays from scrimmage.
The end of the first game of the season is a little early to start declaring that the sky is falling. Last year, the Chiefs won their opener more on opportunistic play and luck than anything else. The Chiefs passed for only 68 yards and didn't score in the second half of their 21-14 win over San Diego.
The win-loss column is what really puts the pressure on Haley. Last year's questionable performance at the start of the season was overshadowed by Kansas City's 3-0 record. This year's schedule provides no such luxury with back-to-back road games against Detroit and San Diego.
Haley won't likely be on the hot seat with his front office even with an 0-3 start. Owner Clark Hunt doesn't believe in jettisoning head coaches every couple years (unlike certain Oakland owners voted "Most Likely to Lead the Zombie Apocalypse"), and will afford Haley every opportunity to prove the Chiefs are headed in the right direction long term.
The question is, how long will Kansas City fans do the same? The Chiefs looked to be on the road to success last year, and now even a respectable mediocrity like Kansas City enjoyed in the 90s won't cut it.
If this season doesn't improve fast, the tongue lashing I received from my sergeant will seem mild compared to what Haley will hear from fans soon enough.
Come to think of it, my sergeant will probably join them.
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