Originally posted on Football Nation  |  Last updated 1/31/12
The Kansas City Chiefs are a great example of a team that has plenty of youth and plenty of talent, but injuries and coaching have prevented them from achieving great success. The 2011 version of the Chiefs is a sad story, from losing their All-Pro running back in Week 2 to the removal of their head coach five weeks from the end of the regular season. There were very few highs on the year, but the lows were constant. Nothing seemed to work in favor of the Chiefs in 2011. In 2010, the Chiefs won their first AFC West division title since 2003. Former New England coordinators, Charlie Weis and Romeo Crennel, reunited with general manager Scott Pioli to try and mimic the success they had in the Patriots' dynasty years. The Chiefs' season ended in the Wild Card Playoff game against the Baltimore Ravens; they lost 30-7 in Arrowhead Stadium. Regardless of the outcome, the Chiefs proved that they were an up-and-coming team. Many building blocks were, and still are, in place. There are just as many holes to fill as any team, but the youth and talent on the roster already is something to take note of. As a result, let's review the 2011 Kansas City Chiefs in-depth, from their key off-season acquisitions and losses, to their Draft picks, to their highlights and defining moments of the year.

Key Losses:

1. Brian Waters, G, Released (Signed w/ Patriots) - Brian Waters was a long-time member of the Chiefs before the club unexpectedly released him on July 28, 2011. Waters was the face of the Chiefs' offensive line, manning the interior throughout the past decade. Since 2002, Waters had been a consistent starter for Kansas City, and established himself as one of the premier guards in football. He is a two-time All-Pro and six-time Pro Bowl selection. Waters entered the league as an undrafted free agent out of North Texas University in 1999. By his third year in the league, Waters was an unquestionable starter. For many years, Waters dominated opposing linemen, and also dominated off the field: Waters won the Walter Payton Man of the Year Award in 2009 for his contributions in the community, as well as his good sportsmanship on the field. A player that possesses these sorts of attributes sounds like a Bill Belichick-type athlete to me. Therefore, it did not surprise me when the Patriots reached out and signed Waters to a one-year-deal following the lockout. Kansas City was looking to get younger, as well as clear salary cap space, so the move mad sense.

However, it wasn't as if Waters had a huge dropoff in ability. The Patriots noticed this and reaped the benefits of his services in 2011. Waters has started every game at right guard, meshing with other high-caliber veterans such as Matt Light and Logan Mankins, and turning in another impressive season. He was named to his sixth Pro Bowl following his first year with the Patriots, and continues to start into the Super Bowl. This was a good-bad move for the Chiefs. Clearly, Waters has plenty left in the tank. But then again, I can't blame the Chiefs for continuing their youth movement. As good as Waters is, he wouldn't have won the Chiefs any games this year.

2. Mike Vrabel, OLB, Retired - Mike Vrabel is one of the most iconic linebackers of the past decade. He is a 3x Super Bowl Champion with the New England Patriots, a tight end, and a pass rusher, all in one form. He's also an All-Pro and Pro Bowl player. The Kansas City Chiefs acquired the former third-round pick in a 2009 trade with New England that sent them the 34th overall pick in the 2009 NFL Draft for quarterback Matt Cassel and Vrabel. At that point, Vrabel was nearing the end of his career and his skills were blatantly regressing. His last year in New England, 2008, consistent of major drop-off in production and ability. The Chiefs' didn't acquire much when they traded for him; the real purpose for the trade was, for obvious reasons, to obtain Cassel. However, Vrabel still started all but two games over the next two years, but his play was not nearly adequate enough. After his last full season, in which he totaled a lackluster 48 tackles and 0 sacks, Vrabel retired. He is now the linebackers coach at his alma mater, The Ohio State University. In essence, the Chiefs didn't lose anything from Vrabel's retirement. As a matter of fact, they got younger and better at the outside linebacker position. Vrabel played poorly his last two seasons with Kansas City, and albeit a phenomenal career, it was more than time for him to enjoy the post-football life.

Key Additions:

1. Steve Breaston, WR, FA (Cardinals) - Steve Breaston fled from his fellow Cardinals following the NFL Lockout. Arizona had taken Breaston in the fifth round of the 2007 NFL Draft out of Michigan University. In his second year on the team, he joined superstars Larry Fitzgerald and Anquan Boldin in receiving for over 1,000 yards en route to the Super Bowl, becoming the fifth trio in NFL history to gain over 1,000 receiving yards each in a season.

Breaston was inserted into the starting lineup two years later, filling the void left by Boldin. The past two years Breaston hasn't been as productive, but he's also battled some nagging injuries. After the lockout, Breaston jumped ship in Kansas City, reuniting with head coach Todd Haley, who was the offensive coordinator in Arizona from 2007-08. The logic behind his signing is simple: Pro Bowl WR Dwayne Bowe needed a legitimate No. 2 wide receiver to help take the pressure and focus off of him (although first-round Draft pick Jonathan Baldwin was supposed to compete for the No. 2 role as well, thus shifting Breaston to the slot, his more natural position). Also, it's always a plus when a player is reunited with a former coach, especially when they once recorded great success. As a result, Breaston had a decent year considering the pandemonium within the organization. Breaston finished with 61 receptions, 785 yards, and 2 touchdowns in 16 games. These are decent statistics for a No. 2 wide receiver in the NFL. Bowe had another terrific year, and Breaston helped ease the load. But with an unsteady offense, different quarterbacks, and a new  system, Breaston failed to deliver on a consistent basis. If Matt Cassel had stayed healthy, maybe Breaston eclipses the 1,000-yard mark. But he didn't, and Breaston needs to improve in his second year with the team. If Bowe leaves via free agency, then Breaston will be asked to do a lot more.

2. Kelly Gregg, NT, FA (Ravens) - The 35-year-old nose tackle signed a one-year deal with the Kansas City Chiefs following the NFL Lockout in July. The 13-year veteran was the centerpiece to the Ravens' lethal defenses of the 2000's. For the entire decade, Gregg was the nose tackle in their vaunted 3-4 base.  Unfortunately for him, he never got the recognition he deserved, evidenced by his goose egg in the Pro Bowl or awards column.

However, he was an essential piece to the Ravens' puzzle, and helped eat up space for players like Ray Lewis and Ed Reed to make plays. Upon his arrival in Kansas City this year, Gregg was coming off his worst season as a starter. At 35 years old, it's safe to assume that he is simply getting too old to play in the NFL, and his skills are regressing annually. However, the Chiefs were desperate for a veteran nose guard who knew the game well and could provide solid leadership to a youthful team. Gregg was the answer...sort of. Gregg played in all 16 games, starting 14, but had another poor year. He'll be turning 36 next year, so it might be time for him to call it quits.

Kansas City was 25th in rush defense in 2011, and this was due in large part to the poor play of the nose tackle. ILB Derrick Johnson is a Pro Bowler and the rest of the cast is more than solid, so the Chiefs need an imperative upgrade at the position. Gregg was a decent stop-gap for one season, but the Chiefs need to make a major move through the Draft or free agency.

Draft Picks:

1. Jonathan Baldwin, WR, 1st round - The 26th overall pick out of the University of Pittsburgh was selected to compete for the No. 2 role behind Dwayne Bowe in 2011. Free-agent acquisition Steve Breaston was signed for the same purpose, but he's more of a slot receiver. Another reason for Baldwin's selection was in case Bowe leaves after the season; his contract is expired. If they fail to re-sign Bowe, that leaves Baldwin and Breaston as the two top receivers, and No. 1 and 2, respectively. In terms of this past season, Baldwin had a tough year adapting to the professional game. Baldwin's motor and attitude has often been questioned in the past, and he showed why this fall.

In Week 2 of the preseason, Baldwin and veteran running back Thomas Jones got into a locker room scuffle, ending with a broken thumb for the rookie. Baldwin challenged a "made man" of sorts in the NFL, and paid the price for it. In total, Baldwin played in only 11 games, starting 3, and finishing the year with 21 catches, 254 yards, and 1 touchdown. It was an incredibly tough year for the rookie, but much of it is his own fault. However, with a full off-season of preparation, and a new coach and attitude, one can only ponder the potential of this young man.

2. Justin Houston, OLB, 3rd round - The 70th overall pick out of the University of Georgia is the perfect fit for a 3-4 outside linebacker. He would have been a late first or early second-round pick had he not tested positive for marijuana at the NFL Combine, but instead he slid to the third round. At 6-foot-3, 270 pounds, Houston is extremely strong and athletic. He was supposed to help provide extra pressure along with Pro Bowler Tamba Hali.

After a bit of a slow start to the regular season, Houston came on very strong in the team's final five games, registering all of his 5.5 sacks over that span, including a three-sack performance in Week 13 against the Chicago Bears. He finished the year with 56 tackles, 5.5 sacks, and 1 forced fumble. Overall, it was a very solid season, and he progressed immensely from start to finish. I look for bigger and better things out of this guy in 2012. Hali and Houston sounds like a deadly combination. In other news, second-round-pick and two-time All-American Rodney Hudson played in all 16 games for the Chiefs, starting one contest. In every other game, Hudson was a backup guard and center, but a year watching from the sidelines can only help. Hudson has a great chance of competing for a starting spot along the interior in the 2012 season.
Recap, Highlights, and Defining Moments:
  • Rookie WR Jonathan Baldwin gets into a locker room altercation with veteran running back Thomas Jones, ultimately ending in a broken finger that costs him almost half of his first season. This is only the beginning of a year of shame and misery for the Chiefs.
  • Second-year starting TE and future star Tony Moeaki tears his left ACL in the Chiefs' final preseason game against the Green Bay Packers. He is placed on the I.R. immediately following the game, leaving a massive hole at tight end.
  • In the first quarter of the regular season opener vs. the Buffalo Bills, Pro Bowl SS Eric Berry, in only his second year, similarly tears his left ACL. He was already named a Top 100 player in the NFL by his peers and teammates prior to the season. His loss was the biggest on the defensive side of the ball, considering he was arguably their top defensive player.
  • Death comes in threes: All-Pro RB Jamaal Charles ALSO tears his left ACL (the curse of the left ACL?) in Week 2 of the regular season at the Detroit Lions. Now they don't have a viable option at running back. Up until this point, the Chiefs have lost their (arguably) best defensive player, best offensive player, and potential stud tight end. That's not even fair.
  • Oh, and did I mention they lost these first two games by a total score of 89-10?
  • The Chiefs rally for four straight wins, shaking off the early-season casualties, and posting a 4-3 record through the (almost) first half of the regular season. This includes a dominating performance by Pro Bowl ILB Derrick Johnson on Monday Night Football, in which Jon Gruden basically shuns everyone who is not witnessing the play of the All-Pro.
  • Not so fast my friends. Starting QB Matt Cassel is another season-ending injury victim in Week 10 against the Denver Broncos. Pro Bowl pass rushers Von Miller and Elvis Dumervil combine to crush the quarterback's throwing hand, ushering him onto the I.R. and essentially ending the Chiefs' chances of another AFC West crown.
  • The Chiefs would lose five out of their next six, ultimately ending in the firing of head coach Todd Haley after a Week 14 loss to the Jets, and signaling the end to an era. Defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel finishes the year as interim head coach, and records a 2-1 finish.
  • The Chiefs end the regular season at 7-9, placing fourth in the AFC West, and missing their chance for a division title repeat. Romeo Crennel is officially promoted to head coach following the season. Linebackers Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali are named to their first and second Pro Bowls, respectively.
The Kansas Chiefs clearly caught the injury bug for the 2011 season. Injuries to the team's only legitimate tight end, star second-year safety, and top-tier running back diminished the Chiefs' chances of returning to the Playoffs from the get-go. TE Tony Moeaki is best remembered in his first season for his amazingly acrobatic catch in the back of the end zone against the San Francisco 49ers in Week 3. He finished the year with 47 receptions, 556 yards, and 3 touchdowns. He was supposed to top those statistics this year. Unfortunately, the torn left ACL ended his year much too early. TE Leonard Pope started in his place, but he is no more than a blocking tight end at 6-foot-8 and slow. He is a complete non-factor in the passing game, and therefore, Matt Cassel was left without a safety valve for the entire year. Hopefully, he can return healthy next season. He will immediately improve the passing game, which ranked 25th overall in the NFL. 

SS Eric Berry is one of the NFL's brightest young stars. He's already garnered respect from many of the best coaches and players currently in the league, evidenced by his place in the NFL's Top 100 Players of 2011 (via NFL Network). He could have had another wild season in 2011, teaming up with lockdown cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr. The progression of his second full season was lost because of another torn left ACL, but his loss was minimized by the other top-flight defenders on the roster. Flowers (easily becoming one of the best in the game) and Carr (who must be re-signed this off-season) are among the best young tandems in the league, regardless of experience and awards. They actually improved their pass defense from 17th overall in 2010 to 6th overall in 2011. This doesn't signify that Berry is not a very important player on the defense. Rather, it shows how much Flowers and Carr progressed this year. Imagine the possibilities with a healthy Eric Berry in 2012: I can see the Chiefs getting to No. 1 overall in pass defense!

The impact of losing All-Pro RB Jamaal Charles need not be stated. Once he went down, the undrafted Jackie Battle and old-timer Thomas Jones shouldered the load. However, they were miniscule compared to Charles in terms of talent and production. The Chiefs didn't finish half-bad, however. They placed 15th overall in rush offense, even without their stud horse. Take into account the fact that the Chiefs had to throw a lot because they were often down in games, and you got a decent running game. But nevertheless, things aren't the same. A healthy Charles should get the Chiefs back on track next year. Jones should retire, and Battle could be the back-up. Plus, who knows what position Dexter McCluster plays these days?

QB Matt Cassel seemed to struggle this year on a weekly basis, and his season-ending injury in Week 10 may have been for the best; that is, it gives him a fresh start next year. Once he went down, however, the season was over for the club. Tyler Palko and acquired veteran Kyle Orton filled-in poorly, as was to be expected, and both will most likely not be back next season. Along the same lines, WR Dwayne Bowe is a free-agent this off-season, and initial rumblings indicate that he may be done in Kansas City. He had another excellent season, although not as consistent and productive as the previous year: 81 receptions, 1,159 yards, and 5 touchdowns (he had 15 touchdowns in 2010). Bringing him back would be ideal, but his past relations with Chiefs' executives and coaches may remind him to seek work elsewhere.

Rookie WR Jonathan Baldwin exemplified the character and attitude issues that followed him through college and the draft process. He was not a factor this season, and there was no visible progression. He may have done more agitating than playing. And key free agent signing Steve Breaston had a decent year, consistent with his past statistics in Arizona: 61 receptions, 785 yards, and 2 touchdowns. If Moeaki, Breaston, and Bowe all return healthy, the Chiefs will be in seriously good shape. If not, it's quite the opposite.

Defensively, the secondary is fine; that is, as long as Carr is re-signed and Berry returns to Pro Bowl form. But we already touched on this. Outside linebacker Tamba Hali had another fantastic season, earning his second Pro Bowl in as many years, placing himself along the echelon of elite pass-rushers, and recording 66 tackles, 12 sacks, and 4 forced fumbles. With Romeo Crennel manning the defense, Hali's sky-high potential is maximized. His counterpart, rookie OLB Justin Houston, really came on strong in the second-half of the regular season, chalking up all of his 5.5 sacks in that time frame. He should only get better as well, benefiting Hali by taking the double teams away. The most underrated linebacker in the league, Derrick Johnson, improved even more in his second full year as a 3-4 inside linebacker (as opposed to his former 4-3 weakside linebacker position). With the legendary Crennel doing the teaching, Johnson has blossomed into the havoc-creator that many knew was in him. He was finally named to his first Pro Bowl and All-Pro teams following a 131 tackle, 2 sack, and 2 interception year (not to mention his incredible closing speed and bone-crushing hits, such as the season-ending pop on Bears' RB Matt Forte). His partner in crime, Jovan Belcher, is a fringe player at best. He misses many tackles, gets blown back by blockers, and leaves DJ in the dust quite often. Upgrade needed.

Along the front three, NT Kelly Gregg struggled at his old age of 35. He may have been a one-year stopgap at the position, but he was dreadful to watch nonetheless. While he was phenomenal in Baltimore over the past decade, it's time for him to hang up the cleats. His lack of strength and regressed abilities allowed opposing running backs to march up and down the field at times, placing the Chiefs at 26th overall in rush defense. I would say the nose tackle (Gregg, for the most part) and inside linebacker Jovan Belcher are the two players who need to be upgraded. They were easily the two biggest liabilities on the defensive side of the ball. High Draft picks, LSU products, and defensive ends Glenn Dorsey (No. 5 in 2008) and Tyson Jackson (No. 3 in 2009) are the two building blocks on the defensive line. With two top five choices invested in them, they need to produce big-time.

Jackson's first two years were full of struggles and road blocks. He had immense trouble with the learning curve of the NFL. Finally, in his third full season, Jackson showed some potential. He played in all 16 games, starting 14, and showed significant signs of improvement. His 55 tackles and 1 sacks don't do justice for the progression we witnessed this year in him. Dorsey, in contrast, has started almost every game since day one. His fourth year in the league saw him progress even more, but his 62 tackles and 0 sacks may fool some people. Dorsey is a big reason for the success of linebackers Tamba Hali and Derrick Johnson. If he were in his more natural 4-3 defensive tackle position, I would guess that he'd record around 4 or 5 sacks a year. These two former Tigers should only improve on this young, upside-filled defense in 2012.

All in all, the Chiefs have a very good team. They're young and explosive, fast and smart. This past season was a fluke or sorts because no team, even the Patriots, could survive a season with those key injuries. I pegged the Chiefs for another AFC West title in 2011, and I'll bet you they would have done it again if not for those drastic injuries. Getting rid of Todd Haley was also a very good move. To be honest, I liked the guy, but I think that was solely due to his beard and grimy appearance. At the same time, however, he was not a very good coach.

Consistent collisions and altercations with players such as Bowe and Johnson only contributed more to his ousting. Plus, Crennel is more qualified. He also fits the mentor-role better here; that is, a young team needs an older coach. In conclusion, I feel that the Chiefs will bounce back next season and compete for the AFC West crown again. As long as Bowe and Carr are re-signed, and the ACL trio comes back healthy and up-to-par, the Chiefs should be like the Lions and 49ers of 2011.


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