September 30, 2011
There are many possible reasons for the agonizingly slow start the defending AFC West champion Kansas City Chiefs are off to, especially on offense. One could cite the injury losses of franchise running back Jamaal Charles(notes), tight end Tony Moeaki(notes), and first-round receiver Jonathan Baldwin(notes), or the fact that Matt Cassel(notes) has regressed as a quarterback without those targets, or that the line has underperformed, or that former offensive coordinator Charlie Weis moved on to the University of Florida. Any of those excuses would be acceptable to a degree, but according to Chiefs receiver Dwayne Bowe(notes), this slow start should have been expected all along.
"We're definitely improving," Bowe told the Kansas City Star on Thursday. "Without having [offseason practices], we've got to somewhat expect a slow start. Now we're just putting the pieces together, and that's going to help us win this game. We're just waiting for Sunday to come.
"I'm not saying it's a big factor, but timing is key. Not having that, you can kind of expect a slow start."
Well, based on the Chiefs' putrid preseason offense, that might be a legit concern, but extending the lockout rationale into the regular season makes absolutely no sense at all. In just the first three weeks of the 2011 regular season, we've had two different quarterbacks (Cam Newton(notes) and Tom Brady(notes)) pass for over 400 yards in consecutive games, becoming the sixth and seventh players to do so in NFL history. (Ironically, Cassel was one of the others, but he did so with the New England Patriots in 2008.) Brady also broke the mark for a three-game stretch with 1,327 yards.
Meanwhile, Cassel's current offense has gained a pitiful 130.7 yards per game in the air (only the Jacksonville Jaguars are worse), just 23 passing first downs, and only three touchdowns. The Chiefs should know all about dynamic offenses — they've allowed 40-burgers to the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions, though the Chiefs have scored a league-worst nine points per game. They're still averaging 113.3 rushing yards per game, but when you're getting outscored at Arena League levels, smashmouth isn't good enough.
Contrary to Bowe's take on things (and the Chiefs very much excepted), NFL passing offenses in general are running at the kind of clip we've never seen before. There are currently nine different quarterbacks averaging more than 300 yards per game, Brady already has 22 passes of 20 yards or more, and Dallas Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo(notes) is averaging 9.0 yards per attempt despite the fact that at times his offensive line and receivers appear to be playing for the other team.
Through three weeks, there have already been 34 300-yard passing games, which easily surpasses the old record of 21. Even the NFL Network's Brian Billick, who coordinated some of the most wide-open offenses in NFL history for the Minnesota Vikings in the 1990s, has seen enough of this wackiness.
I fear we may be losing the essence of what makes this game special. Both the college game and the NFL have evolved to this at the price of losing some of the physicality that distinguishes it from other sports. I am not sure what the league can do to dial it back. You can't go back and take the protections off the quarterback. The reason for that change, safety, still applies. But perhaps we need to go back to giving defensive backs the ability to play more aggressively down the field. I am afraid the train has already left the station, but I think it at least needs to be discussed.
So, Mr. Bowe … you may want to re-think your reasoning. The Chiefs may be off to a horrible start, but the offseason isn't the reason.
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