Reevaluating

I try not to overreact to things that go on in football, especially since we’re only a few days removed from the first slate of games. But what we saw from Kansas City against Buffalo (and Indianapolis against Houston) warrants some reconsideration of what I said in my Season Preview.

Houston now has to be the odds on favorite to win the AFC South after realizing just how valuable Peyton Manning is to the Colts. And while the devastating injury to Eric Berry doesn’t change San Diego’s position as AFC West frontrunner, it could possibly change the landscape of spots 2-4 in the division.

Last Sunday’s debacle against Buffalo was pretty disheartening for Chiefs fans all around. If there is one positive to take away from it, the team did have 18 carries for 108 yards. Sure, some of it came in garbage time, but at least they proved that in a closer game, when passing isn’t a complete necessity all of the time, this is still a team that can control the ball and move the chains.

That said, I don’t think it could have gone any worse. Matt Cassel completed a solid percentage of his passes, but 119 yards on 22 completions is unacceptable (and he had 3.3 yards per attempt! An absurdly low number).* Dexter McCluster fumbling on the opening play of the game was even worse. The team was -2 on turnovers, and the front seven looked like a junior varsity squad against Fred Jackson and the Bills’ ground attack. And to add insult to injury (or the other way around I guess), Eric Berry is now out for the year with a torn ACL. Again, I try not to overreact, but seeing all of these deficiencies after one week does not paint a very optimistic picture.

*He’s certainly come a long way, without a doubt. But just seeing Tom Brady operate against the Dolphins Monday night served as a stark reminder of just how long Cassel has to go as well.

Frankly though, I refuse to let one crappy week of football dictate my optimism for this team down the road, which remains extremely high. While, my expectations for this year have been lowered a good amount, I think this injury will really do nothing but good for the team in the long term. The absence of Berry (and Tony Moeaki) will force other players to improve their games at an even higher rate. Kendrick Lewis is no all-pro in the defensive backfield, but now that he is one the best playmakers the Kansas City secondary possesses, it is mostly on him to become a better safety on the fly. What’s more, the front seven will need an improved pass rush from guys like Justin Houston, Tyson Jackson, and Glenn Dorsey, to make it easier on that secondary. If a season’s small hopes are pinned on some of our more talented young players getting better, this is something I can definitely live with…the Chiefs aren’t New England or Pittsburgh yet. 

As far as records go, its not like Berry’s injury will make the Chiefs go from a seven to nine win team to a two to four win team. But there could be just enough extra losses to get a very high draft pick, and a great chance to improve this team even more along with it.* After this season, Cassel will have 3 years left on his contract. Wouldn’t that be the perfect amount of time to let a good young quarterback sit and develop and learn (like Matt Barkley, Kellen Moore, Landry Jones…..or, gasp, Andrew Luck) and be able to take the reins after his contract is up? That sounds like a great situation to me.

*Just to get an idea: Dallas had the 9th pick in the 2011 draft with 6 wins, and Arizona had the 5th pick with as many as 5 wins. Kansas City does not need to lose 14 games to get a special player.

A buddy of mine also presented the idea that if this year turns out as bad as many now think it will, the first reaction of the media and less educated fans will be to call last year’s 10-6 record a fluke. While that will make many of the diehards angry, I doubt too many of the players even care. And if they do, won’t that just motivate them even more for next season? The “nobody believed in us”/”us against the world” mantra has taken teams very far in the past. I wouldn’t mind it at all if the players want to use that next season, or even this season.

Furthermore, Eric Berry may be losing a year of playing time. But he also left college a year early for the NFL. And he doesn’t turn 23 until December, making him even younger than most people would guess. While he won’t be able to physically play the game, this is a chance for him to get the technical/schematic aspects of Romeo Crennel’s system locked down. Yeah, there is definitely no substitution for learning by trial (in this case, with pads and a helmet, and against an offense), but I think there is also something to be said about learning from the sidelines.* And if anything, this will only get him all the more juiced for next season.

*Just ask Aaron Rodgers

I’m sure the biggest concern, though, is how this will affect Berry in the big picture. Well, upon listening to an interview from one of ESPN’s doctors (although, I can’t be sure how good the doctors are that ESPN has for guest spots), I learned that Berry should be a go for the start of training camp next year. Even better, he also noted that 95% of people who suffer ACL injuries like Berry’s go on to make full recoveries; gaining full range and all of the athletic capabilities possessed pre-injury. More than anything, the hardest thing for Berry to get back will be his confidence in planting that leg and making cuts on it, something I doubt he’ll have much of a problem with.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. Progress this season won’t mean more wins or a division championship. Because of injuries and a tougher schedule, comparing this season with last season would be like trying to compare Kate Upton with this poor girl. The situations and surrounding circumstances are just different.

In an ideal world, Eric Berry stays healthy and plays the whole season. He continues to improve and he asserts himself as the heir apparent to the likes of Ed Reed and Troy Polamalu. But if you are looking for an ideal world, the NFL would probably be last on your list of places to visit. It sucks that he won’t be able to play anymore. It puts even more pressure on the entire team, and especially the secondary, to perform even better than originally expected. But sometimes, the NFL sucks.

It will be difficult for this team to win more than 6 or 7 games (that would have been difficult even if Berry and Moeaki were still healthy). But from the guys that are already on the roster to the guys that will be after April of 2012, to many other factors (WARNING: talking long-term here, something that requires patience, understanding etc)…I just don’t see how this injury doesn’t benefit the Kansas City Chiefs.

WEEK 2 PICKS (Home team in CAPS)

WASHINGTON over Arizona

Philadelphia over ATLANTA

Baltimore over TENNESSEE

BUFFALO over Oakland

GREEN BAY over Carolina

NEW ORLEANS over Chicago

DENVER over Cincinnati

INDIANAPOLIS over Cleveland

Dallas over SAN FRANCISCO

DETROIT over Kansas City

Houston over MIAMI

NEW YORK JETS over Jacksonville

MINNESOTA over Tampa Bay

NEW ENGLAND over San Diego

NEW YORK GIANTS over St. Louis

PITTSBURGH over Seattle

Last Week: 11-5

Overall: 11-5

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