Green Bay Take Five Rewind

Posted Sep 2, 2011

Re-visiting five pre-game focus points from the Chiefs preseason finale

That’s it for preseason football and there was a lot to take away from Thursday night’s preseason finale in Green Bay. Let’s re-wind our five pre-game focus points. As always, original pre-game text is in italic with post-game analysis in bold.

GREEN BAY, WI – The final preseason contest of 2011 brings the Chiefs back to Lambeau Field for the first time since the infamous 989 pump – Trent Green to Eddie Kennison.

Green will be in the booth for tonight’s preseason finale, alongside play-by-play voice Mike Kelly, and it’d be a shame if he doesn’t recap one of the greatest Chiefs moments from the past decade during the broadcast.

This is it. The final tune-up before Saturday’s cut-down to 53 players. Let’s Take Five.

Green Bay Take Five

1)      Pound The Rock

Through three preseason games, the Chiefs have managed just three rushes of more than 10 yards. Thomas Jones broke free for a 17-yard run against Tampa Bay, Dexter McCluster took 13 yards at Baltimore and Jackie Battle rumbled for a 12-yard gain against St. Louis.

It’s been a slow preseason start for a team whose offensive identity revolves around running the football. Of course, the Chiefs have also taken great measure in protecting their primary ball carriers during exhibition play.

Jamaal Charles is averaging just 2.7 yards per carry, but has rushed the football only six times. Jones owns nine carries and McCluster boasts just seven rushing attempts. New addition Le’Ron McClain has carried the football twice.

Those four players are projected to handle the brunt of the rushing load in 2011, but have combined to log just 33.8% (24 combined carries) of the Chiefs preseason rushing workload. Meanwhile, Jackie Battle – a short-yardage back and special teams player over the past few years – has been the workhorse of the backfield with a whopping 34 preseason carries.

 It’s clear the Chiefs are protecting their primary runners, but it would still be nice to see the rushing game take a solid preseason finale into the regular season opener.

With Jones, MccCluster, Charles and McClain combining for 29 of the Chiefs 35 rushing attempts, we saw a much more realistic version of the Chiefs regular season rushing attack. Some good things occurred, but the Chiefs were still unable to pop the big run.

Tyler Palko’s 15-yard scramble was the longest run of the evening. Charles had the next-longest run at 10 yards. The preseason definitely didn’t’ carry over a repeat of last year’s top-ranked rushing attack. Charles and Jones combined to average just 2.2 yards per carry on 21 rushing attempts last night.

Overall, Charles finished the preseason averaging 2.3 yards per carry. As a team, the Chiefs averaged just 3.4 yards per attempt on 106 carries. Kansas City finished 2010 averaging 4.7 yards per attempt.

2)      1s vs. 2s?

Green Bay kicks off the NFL’s regular season one week from tonight with a nationally televised matchup vs.  New Orleans. It’s a shorter week for the Packers and Chiefs first-teamers may end up getting in most of their work against Green Bay reserves.

Last year, a healthy Aaron Rodgers didn’t even make the trip to Kansas City for Green Bay’s final preseason game and head coach Mike McCarthy rested a load of other starters including Charles Woodson, Ryan Grant and Clay Matthews.

The Chiefs, meanwhile, plan to play their core players at Lambeau Field. It will be interesting to see who lines up across from Kansas City’s starters.

As expected, it was Green Bay’s reserves vs. Kansas City’s starters for much of the evening. Statistically, the Chiefs did exactly what they should have done, outgaining the Packers by 283 total yards and churning out 15 more first downs.

It was the turnovers that were killer.

If a team loses the turnover battle at the NFL level, they typically lose the football game – even if they dominate the stat book. Five turnovers was more than the difference in Kansas City’s 20-19 loss.

3)      Red Zone Work

The Chiefs offense has struggled mightily in the red zone this preseason. Twice the first-team offense has received turnovers in the opponents’ red zone and twice the Chiefs have come up with field goals.

In those two series, Kansas City has gained just one yard on six red zone snaps.

Those issues trickled down to the third-team unit late in the fourth quarter last week vs. St. Louis. Down four points with less than four minutes to play, the Chiefs had the football with a first-and-goal from the St. Louis three-yard line. After three snaps yielded no yards, the field goal unit ran onto the field. To add an exclamation point, the Rams blocked Ryan Succop’s chip-shot attempt.

When the Chiefs are inside the 20, the offense needs to punch it in the end zone.

In three red zone trips, the Chiefs put up two touchdowns and a field goal. Not bad. That’s winning football.

What Thursday’s red zone efficiently numbers don’t show are the three fumbles that occurred inside Green Bay’s 20-yard line. Two of those fumbles were lost by Jamaal Charles as he crossed the 20-yard line and another bounced harmlessly out of bounds when Dwayne Bowe was punched from behind.

Early in the third quarter, it looked as if the Chiefs were ready to put the game away. Up 16-7 and driving, Charles fumbled forward into the red zone and Green Bay’s Pat Lee took the recovery all the way back to the KC 26-yard line. Charles’ second red zone fumble of the night was the first of three straight turnovers that evaporated the Chiefs second-half lead.

Also, capitalizing off red zone turnovers continues to remain an issue. Kansas City’s red zone field goal came after Green Bay muffed a punt at its own 16-yard line. The Chiefs gained three yards on three snaps and settled for another field goal following a red zone turnover.

4)      A Clicking Cassel

Thus far, Chiefs Pro Bowl QB Matt Cassel has yet to click with his receivers in preseason play. Cassel has completed less than 50% of his passing attempts and owns a 59.5 passer rating this preseason. The good news is that he’s taken care of the football and hasn’t pressed throws into double coverage.

Cassel didn’t’ light up the exhibition stat book in 2009 or 2010 either and his timing with receivers hasn’t been concerning in preseason practices. Like the running game, it would just be nice to see him close out the preseason on a positive note.

Cassel was excellent at Lambeau Field. Critics will be quick to say that the quarterback’s 15-of-17 passing performance came against Green Bay reserves, but Cassel did exactly what a Pro Bowler should do against lesser competition. He doesn’t control who lines up across from him.

After struggling with efficiency in his first three (really two) preseason games, Cassel was in regular season form at Green Bay. The best part of Cassel’s preseason was that, even when he was struggling, he never threw any interceptions.

That 27/7 touchdown to interception ratio carried the Chiefs a long way in 2010.

5)      Green Bay’s Cuts

Whose bubble will take flight and whose will burst?

Tonight is the final opportunity for a number of players to impress as rosters are cut almost in half Saturday afternoon. While I’ll be watching to see which Chiefs respond, I’ll also be watching for standouts in Green Bay’s reserve ranks.

Green Bay’s trash will become another team’s treasure. Among the deepest teams in football, the Packers won Super Bowl XLV despite suffering 16 season-ending injuries last season. When cuts are announced Saturday afternoon, a handful of waiver claims are likely to be placed on some of Green Bay’s roster casualties.

Last year, to provide depth at a thin position, the Chiefs claimed NT Anthony Toribio off waivers after the nose tackle was squeezed out of a roster spot in Green Bay behind Ryan Pickett and B.J. Raji.

Is there another future Chief who’ll line up across from Kansas City tonight?

I haven’t watched the Packers enough this preseason to truly know who is on the bubble as that club heads into this weekend’s cuts, but I do know that a pair of undrafted free agents were impressive against the Chiefs Thursday night.

On the offensive side of the football, WR Tori Gurley looks like he has a future somewhere. The 6-4 undrafted rookie out of South Carolina brings a frame and athleticism that would be an asset to plenty of teams looking for depth at wide receiver.

Gurley is apparently competing for a job as the Packers’ fifth or sixth wide receiver.

On defense, the obvious standout was OLB Vic So’oto. The Chiefs appear to have good depth at this position with Justin Houston and Cameron Sheffield, but the rookie free agent from BYU was all over the field and outstanding overall.

So’oto finished the night with 1.5 sacks and a forced fumble. He was also the culprit in Tyler Palko’s pick-six that was ultimately Green Bay’s winning score.

Much of the Green Bay media has unofficially welcomed So’oto to the Packers’ 53-man roster following last night’s breakout performance.

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