|Michael Conroy / Associated Press|
|Matt Cassel grew under Charlie Weis, and it's up to coach Todd Haley to find a suitable replacement.|
No Chiefs fan can be too pleased with last Sunday's outcome. But despite Kansas City's lackluster performance against Baltimore in the wild-card round, there can be no question that a 10-6 record and the AFC West title were major positives for 2010.
The challenge for the organization going into last offseason was to become competitive. In that manner, the club exceeded all expectations. This offseason, general manager Scott Pioli and coach Todd Haley are tasked with taking that next step. So what are some of the issues standing in their way?
1. Who will be chief of offense?
Charlie Weis' departure to the University of Florida leaves a gaping hole at offensive coordinator. This is a unit that blew away its 2009 numbers, while posting the best rushing attack in the league at 164.2 yards per game.
More importantly, Matt Cassel developed greatly over the course of the season, throwing 27 touchdowns against only seven interceptions. Dwayne Bowe set a franchise record with 15 touchdown receptions. All this was possible because of a strong running identity established by Weis.
Now Haley will have to find a suitable replacement, or he might just do it himself. With Weis and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel, Haley could worry about just being the head coach and not having his hands in everything. Those days could be over.
2. Can Cassel maintain success?
Perhaps the big question is how Cassel will be without the benefit of Weis' tutelage? There can be no doubt that Cassel's game was far improved from his inaugural season in the red and yellow. In 2009, he threw 16 touchdowns and 16 interceptions. He was able to nearly double the touchdowns and cut the interceptions in half by making smarter decisions and leaning on Weis' ground train.
But with all the success comes questions. There was plenty of speculation that Cassel wasn't a Weis guy early in the year, and there could be a lack of trust regarding the "franchise" quarterback. His multiple-turnover performance in the wild-card loss destroyed the Chiefs' chances. If you include the Week 17 defeat at Oakland, the numbers look really bad over his final two games: Five interceptions, no touchdowns, eight sacks, 39.2 completion percentage, 3.6 yards per attempt and a 10.3 passer rating.
Will Cassel regress in 2011? Will the new coordinator get the most out of him like Weis did (most of the season)? Those questions need to be answered.
3. Where to go in draft?
Cassel's line played very well. But age is creeping up on some of these guys. Guard Brian Waters turns 34 in February and can't play at a high level forever. Center Casey Wiegmann is 37 and seemingly hasn't missed a start since Len Dawson's rookie year.
Wide receiver is a must-hit area in the draft. This team got nothing out of the guys playing opposite Bowe. Yes, that was Kevin Curtis you saw getting playing time against the Ravens. Other positions to consider are linebacker, where Mike Vrabel's days are numbered, and defensive line, a position that the Chiefs have whiffed on with some recent high picks.
4. Doubting Thomas?
The organization didn't miss on the Thomas Jones signing last spring. For the most part, he played well. But he'll be 33 next season, and looked the part late in the campaign.
In his first 12 games, Jones averaged 63.8 yards rushing per content, 4.1 yards per carry and had five touchdowns. Over the final five games, including the playoff loss, he averaged 29.2 yards rushing per content, 2.3 yards per carry and had only one score. In fairness, part of the reason his average fell is because he often got the call in short-yardage and obvious rushing situations.
He was a valuable compliment to Jamaal Charles, rushing for 896 yards, but paying a guy at his age $2 million is a bit of a risk. With that in mind, who will take the load off Charles if Pioli and Haley ultimately decide to part ways with Jones?
With defenses keying on Chris Johnson this season, his yards per carry dropped from 5.6 in 2009 to 4.3. Similarly, don't expect Charles to average 6.4 per rush next season, especially if Jones isn't carrying the rock on obvious running downs.
5. Ready for more?
From a broader standpoint, this organization must build on its moderate success without regressing. While fortunes changed in a good way in 2010, time will tell on the overall culture â¦ was this club fat and happy with a division title?
For over a decade, Kansas City followed a successful season with a poor one. After going 13-3 in 2003 to claim a division title, the 2004 Chiefs went 7-9. In 2006, Herm Edwards led the team to a 9-7 record and a playoff berth in his first season. The club followed that performance with a 4-12 campaign. How does Haley mold this team into a consistent contender with veterans who haven't experienced sustained success and a bunch of young kids?
Doing better in the AFC West would be an appropriate start: Kansas City lost four of six in the division. Haley has to get this group better prepared for San Diego, Oakland and Denver to have a shot at repeating.
Elliot Harrison is the research analyst for NFL RedZone on NFL Network.