The Morning After: Atlanta

Posted Aug 14, 2010

Digesting the Chiefs first preseason game

Win or lose, Todd Haley would have left the Georgia Dome on Friday night with a laundry list of areas to improve upon. That’s just how the mind of a coach operates; particularly following a preseason opener.

“We clearly have a bunch to work on in a lot of different areas,” Haley said after Kansas City’s 20-10 preseason defeat in Atlanta.

Though Haley made it clear that he was encouraged by certain aspects of the Chiefs 2010 debut, there was one phase of the game in particular that he just couldn’t keep from reflecting on. Part of the reason is because it’s an area that the Chiefs have worked on numerous times in training camp.

At each training camp practice, every single snap of 11-on-11 work has some sort of situation attached to it. The points of emphasis range in everything from first down fundamentals to third-and-long work, but when it comes to executing in the scoring zones there may not be a bigger focus to practice sessions.

“We had some real good situations there to learn from and be smart in, and I think that we let a couple go by the wayside,” Haley said. “We have to be a smart football team, both operationally and out on the football field physically.”

Though there was a mixture of personnel on the field throughout the night, Kansas City was its own worst enemy when it came to putting points on the board. A holding call that negated rookie Javier Arenas’ 99-yard kickoff return TD was an obvious moment, as were several other plays throughout the night, but what had Haley talking the most was a play that involving field position.

“Offensively, we can’t take a sack in the fringe,” Haley explained. “That’s an area that’s not a high-percentage spot for anybody. Those are the things that we can’t do.”

 Down three points in the second quarter, the Chiefs faced a third-and-six from the Atlanta 29. On the play, Matt Cassel was sacked by Curtis Lofton for a loss of six yards. It’s a situation that the Chiefs have been coached up on plenty of times in training camp and over the past year as a whole. Outside of a turnover, taking a sack was the next-worst thing that could happen.

“We can’t do those kinds of things,” Haley said.

The sack pushed Ryan Succop’s field goal attempt back into the 50-plus yard range; a kicking zone where make percentages start heading south. Succop would go on to clank a very well struck ball off of the left upright for the first of his two 53-yard misses on the night.

“We you get into that position, that is just not going to be a high-percentage kick,” Haley said.

Giving up points is not something that the Chiefs, let alone most teams, can afford to do.

Situations like the Chiefs third-and six are exactly what the preseason is about. That play is a specific aspect of the game that can be simulated hundreds of times, and it is, but nothing can compare to experiencing the moment in live action.

Progress is ultimately the process of learning from mistakes, and there are going to be plenty over the course of the preseason. Eliminating the game-changers before September 13th is what’s most important, and it’s also part of the evaluation process.

“There’s no substation for getting out there in those preseason games and getting competition in against another team,” Cassel said. “I thought it was a great first game for us to go out there and get our feet wet. Now we have to keep building momentum as we go throughout the rest of this preseason.”

Saturday is an off-day for the Chiefs. When Sunday rolls around, it’s back to the grind of training camp in St. Joseph. If you come out to practice, don’t be surprised to see an emphasis on snaps along the fringe of the scoring zone.

“We’ve got a full seven days to get ready to go down to Tampa Bay and we just have to make sure that we’re improving every one of those days,” Haley said.

Three That Were Good

1)      Jamaal Charles

Though his four carries were a small sample size, Charles’ 9.3 average yards per attempt offered a reminder of what he accomplished in the 2009 season finale. Finding the open field was a welcome sight for a player who sat out all of the Chiefs off-season practice. Three of Charles’ four rushes were for 10 or more yards and he seemed to give the offense a spark after a slow start.

“The coaches wanted to see what I could do after recovering from my shoulder injury, so I just executed what I had to do,” Charles said.

2)      Javier Arenas

Finding a return man outside of Charles was a problem area for the Chiefs in 2009 and one of the reasons that Arenas was selected in the second round this past April. It appears that Arenas might indeed be the solution.

Penalty flags may have negated Arenas’ 99-yard kickoff return TD, but they weren’t able to overshadow his impressive debut as Kansas City’s return man. Arenas also had a 42-yard return that gave the Chiefs the football at mid-field during a one possession game and turned in another that might have gone the distance had he not slipped. The rookie from Alabama gave reason to be excited about the Chiefs return game in 2010, and we haven’t even seen Dexter McCluster field a kick yet.

Oh yeah, and that stiff-arm was pretty sweet...even if it was against a kicker.

3)      Finding An Answer

Though Michael Turner had his way out of the gate, the Chiefs first-teamers settled down in the Red Zone and held Atlanta to only a field goal. They would go on to keep Atlanta off the board for the remainder of the half and yield just 43 yards of Falcons offense during that time frame.

Turner’s day was done following the Falcons first drive, and that could have had something to do with the Chiefs defensive surge. But Turner wasn’t exactly creating his own yards either. The rushing lanes were huge on the first drive and Kansas City had to adjust. The D was able to settle down and defend well, protecting a short field at times.

Three That Need Improvement

1)      The Start

Slow starts were a trouble area for the Chiefs throughout last season and the opening to Friday’s game had a “same old stuff” feeling. Through two offensive series, the Birds had run 20 plays, gained 85 yards and gotten on the scoreboard, while Kansas City had run only six plays for negative six yards and turned the football over once.

“There were some positives and some negatives, obviously,” Cassel said. “I think that the one thing you take away is that we definitely want to start faster.”

2)      Turnovers

Winning football games is a relatively simple formula, at least from a turnover perspective. If you lose the turnover battle, you’re more than often going to lose the football game. Finish with a -3 turnover ratio and the chance for victory becomes miniscule.

3)      Missing Horne

WR Jeremy Horne, a rookie free agent out of UMass, has quietly been getting open on deep routes over the course of training camp. He did the same on gameday, creating nice separation from defenders on a pair of vertical patterns. Twice Chiefs quarterbacks were unable to deliver a ball that Horne could run under to complete what would have been a shot at six points on each occasion.

Seizing those types of big-play opportunities will be important during the regular season.

“If our quarterbacks can keep (those throws) in play a couple of times, those are big plays for us,” Haley said.

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