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December 05, 2004

Kansas City Loses Again! « Kansas City Chiefs »

Note the time stamp. The game against the Raiders today hasn't started yet.

After much thought, here's what I think is going wrong with the Chiefs this year.

Pride. Wounded pride and the avoidance of wounded pride.

What do I mean?*

It's a combination of things. First, everyone knows that Kansas City's offense is excellent, and no defense wants to be embarassed. It's also a challenge to see if you can stop KC's top notch players. So even though Kansas City isn't a contender this year, everyone wants to be the ones to shut KC's offense down. While it's not the biggest game teams will face all year, going up against the Chiefs this year gets everyone motivated. Even when KC is 3-6, no one wants to get humiliated by a 3-6 team. So the opposing defense is up for the game to prove they can stop the Chiefs, and the opposing offense is up for the game because they want to outdo the Chiefs' offense, and because they realize they might need to score early and score often to win a shoot-out. That's what I think happened in the loss to Tampa Bay, San Diego, and New Orleans.

But the other half of it goes back to the concept I first encountered in Steven Brust's Jhereg: that reputation is the best protection and the worst chink in the armor. No one will dare try to challenge an opponent's strength very much, especially if the few times they try they come up empty. But if someone succeeds, everyone else will try, and people will eventually succeed.

Kansas City's run defense is often quite good way into the 4th quarter. If an opposing team were down by two touchdowns**, they'd have to pass; but with fairly close games, you can still choose to run. Teams going up against KC choose to run more often, it seems, believing that if they keep pounding away, they'll eventually catch a KC defender out of position and it'll go for a long TD-run. That's true for just about every team, but with KC's reputation, they stick to the run longer. And it's a self-fulfilling prophecy, in that running extensively wears down the opposing defense. If teams didn't believe they could break a big one against KC's defense, they'd give up a little more quickly, and that weakness wouldn't be exploited...making KC's ren defense look better, and thereby making teams less likely to stick to the run against them.

Look what KC did against Jamal Lewis and LaDanian Tomlinson, two of the best backs in the league: they shut 'em down. Bad run defense teams can't do that. But teams still keep trying to run on KC, and so two RBs (the ones I know of) have the longest runs of their career against KC's defense this year. Michael Pittman's long TD run that helped clinch the win against KC came only because pass-happy Jon Gruden kept trying the run at a point that most other teams would have switched into pass mode.

Incidentally, this appears to be why Champ Bailey of the Denver Broncos is no longer a shut-down corner. Shannon Sharpe said he's never seen any team challenge Champ as much as they have this year, and as a result, he looks human and beatable, thus ensuring more teams to keep challenging him.

The last piece of the puzzle of why the Chiefs are losing so much, I think, is that KC's pride on both offense and defense is wounded. Theythemselves no longer believe they can get it done. Last year, they felt that somehow they'd get the long TD catch or the stop they needed when the game was close. And that sort of expectation becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy, too. You hold your blocks that split-second longer, you put on that little extra burst to get to the opposing QB, you juke with a little more fervor...and you succeed. Confidence makes a huge difference in a game of microseconds and millimeters, which football most definitely is.

Can Vermeil help them believe again? I don't know. That's one reason they shouldn't give up this year, even though I would if I were coach. If they can win the remaining games by at least 2 touchdowns, with the defense holding opposing rushers under 100 yards and less than two TDs scored, that would work wonders for building confidence next year. I just don't really think they can do it, and I no longer believe Coach Vermeil is the guy to help them get that swagger back.

*yeah, I like weak attempts to be cryptic to set up a more dramatic denouement.

**which is why I blame the offense for the record more than the defense. This offense should be able to protect the defense much better than it does.

Posted by Nathan at 11:19 AM | Comments (0)
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