Who wasn't impressed with the play of the Kansas City Chiefs in their opening preseason-game win over the Arizona Cardinals last Friday? This was a radically different Chiefs team than the one that opened preseason play a year ago.
Many of the players are the same, but there are major differences in the coaching staff, for sure, and the overall attitude and energy exhibited in the very early going this season is seemingly worlds apart from what the Chiefs experienced most of last season.
The 27 points the Chiefs' offensive starters and backups hung on the Cardinals at Arrowhead in the first preseason game was the most Kansas City has scored in a preseason game in the last nine years. Moreover, it was only the Chiefs' second win in their past 13 preseason games. No wonder it was an eye-opener.
To be fair, last preseason was an abnormal time insofar as the NFL was concerned. The owners' lockout forced a very late start to the preseason and resulted in a lot of training camp adjustments to get prepared for the regular season. Chiefs' head coach Todd Haley made a strategic decision to go against the norm and use training camp for primarily conditioning because of concern for what kind of physical condition he felt the team was in after the extended layoff caused by the lockout. As a result, Haley limited contact drills and played his key players very sparingly in preseason games.
That may not have sounded like such an out-of-sorts approach at the time, given the unusual circumstances, but looking back at the year and the serious season-ending injuries suffered by key personnel such as safety Eric Berry and leading running back Jamaal Charles in the opening games of the 2011 season, it's hard not to seriously question how Haley and his coaches misused and miscalculated the abbreviated preseason a year ago in getting ready for the real games.
The Chiefs' first preseason game last season also was at home, only the results were dramatically different than they were last Friday. Tampa Bay rolled into Arrowhead with a team not all that much better than the Chiefs and proceeded to roll all over Kansas City by an embarrassing score of 25-0. The Chiefs took to the road the second weekend and were steamrolled once again at Baltimore, this time by a margin of 31-13. It was fairly apparent at that juncture, even though still in the preseason, that Kansas City's 10-6 record and AFC West crown of 2010 was highly unlikely two seasons in a row.
If we weren't convinced by the Chiefs' 0-4 record in the 2011 preseason, the team's two blowout losses in the first two games to open the regular season, by the combined score of 89-10 pretty much sealed the deal.
Haley was replaced as Kansas City's 11th head coach, and fourth since 2000, by Romeo Crennel, on an interim basis, after the 13th game last season. And from the looks of things since Crennel took over, general manager Scott Pioli should have made this move much sooner.
Crennel did not have much success in a four-year head-coaching stint at Cleveland, where he was 24-40 from 2005-2008. In his first game as head coach of the Chiefs, however, the guys in red and gold handed the Green Bay Packers their first loss of the season and also won at Denver in the last regular season game, giving Crennel two wins in his first three games.
Brian Daboll is the team's new offensive coordinator this season, coming to the Chiefs after previous NFL stops at Miami, Cleveland, the New York Jets and New England. Haley was an offensive-minded coach as well, but the Chiefs never looked as good on offense under Haley, particularly in the preseason, as they did on Friday against the Cardinals. Part of the problem was that Haley couldn't ever decide who should be calling the plays.
Say what you want about Haley, and even Herm Edwards before him, the Chiefs are responding much differently, and much more positively and productively, under Crennel's leadership than they have since Dick Vermeil vacated the job at the end of the 2005 season.
At training camp in St. Joseph, Mo., this summer, there seems to be a greater air of professionalism, and the players are going about there work with more enthusiasm and with what appears to be a little more spring in their step. Overall the confidence level seems higher as well. None of this was apparent at preseason camps under Haley. The fact that it is now is a very strong sign that things are changing in the Chiefs' Nation.
The Chiefs looked really good on offense last Friday night, no question about it. And they did it without having their best receiver, Dwayne Bowe, on the field at all and without their second and third best receivers, Steve Breaston and Jonathan Baldwin, even catching a ball. But let's not allow ourselves to get caught up in a sense of false bravado just yet. It was only the first game, and a preseason game at that. The starters were only in for about two series before turning things over to the backups and third- and fourth-teamers trying to make the team.
These games may not count, but don't tell that to the players and especially those who have only a remote chance of staying with the team when the real season starts. And if you think Crennel and the other coaches in the league don't want to win these preseason games, you don't really understand the game.
Kansas City makes gets its first road test of the preseason this Saturday night against cross-state and inter-conference rival St. Louis, and we will get to learn how they respond on foreign turf and see if the offense can operate with the same efficiency and how much defensive pressure the Chiefs can put on former Oklahoma star Sam Bradford and the other St. Louis quarterbacks.
St. Louis will be better rested than Arizona was, which will be another measure of where the Chiefs are in terms of their progress and shoring up some of the team and individual problems from recent seasons. Arizona played in the Hall of Fame game and had been on the road for about 10 days before going up against Kansas City in the first week of preseason play. So it is reasonable to expect that the Cardinals may have experienced a little fatigue against Crennel and Company than they might have otherwise.
"There are going to be ebbs and flows," Daboll cautioned. That probably goes without saying, but if you're the Chiefs, you'd like to see more flows than ebbs for a change.
After Week One of the preseason, things appear to be flowing smoothly and in the right direction.