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2012 NFL Season Preview

CBSSports.com Staff
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By Clark Judge | Senior NFL Columnist

Offense

So the Chiefs missed out on Peyton Manning. That's a reason to boo Matt Cassel prior to a celebrity softball game? Please. The last time the Chiefs went to the playoffs, they did it with Cassel. Furthermore, he played only nine games last season because of injury. Cassel wasn't the reason Kansas City fizzled in 2011. Jamaal Charles was. He bowed out immediately, and without the league's No. 1-ranked rushing offense (which Kansas City was in 2010) Cassel had to shoulder the offense by himself, and, sorry, that's not how he works best.

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Nope, you must have solid supporting actors, and the Chiefs did in 2010. One year later, they lost Charles and tight end Tony Moeaki at the beginning, and the offense never was right. I don't know what the Chiefs get from either this season, but I do know what they must get from Dexter McCluster -- more snaps. McCluster is a dynamic and explosive playmaker who has been underused and could -- if he cuts down on his fumbling -- be an impact player in Daboll's scheme. So could Peyton Hillis, a smart choice as a safety net for Charles.

With the addition of tackle Eric Winston, the offensive line should be better, and that's a start. But the Chiefs must keep Charles healthy and make more use of McCluster. When it won the division two years ago, Kansas City won with defense, a marvelous running game and a quarterback who stayed in the lineup and didn't make mistakes. The pieces could be there again.

Defense

Romeo Crennel was positively ecstatic with the choice of first-round draft pick Dontari Poe, and here's hoping Poe is what Crennel and the Chiefs think. The guy was seen as a boom-or-bust choice, with some scouts saying his extraordinary ability belied a reputation as an underachiever. If Poe is the right guy for Crennel's 3-4, the Chiefs are in business. They have an outstanding pass rusher in Tamba Hali, a solid run stuffer in linebacker Derrick Johnson, a first-rate cornerback in Brandon Flowers and a promising box safety in Eric Berry.

Essentially, the elements are there for the Chiefs to improve on their 11th-place overall ranking a year ago, but I don’t know that free-agent acquisition Routt is an improvement over Carr, and I don't know what they gain from Poe. Routt has a reputation as one of the league's best tackling defensive backs, but he surrendered eight touchdown passes last year -- tied for second most in the league. There's also the matter of Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson, two high draft picks who haven't lived up to expectations, and how much -- if any -- promising linebacker Justin Houston improves vs. the run.

Key Changes

Roster Additions: TE Kevin Boss; RB Peyton Hillis; QB Brady Quinn; CB Stanford Routt; T Eric Winston; S Abram Elam; CB Jacques Reeves.

Roster Departures: CB Brandon Carr; FB La'Ron McClain; QB Kyle Orton; QB Tyler Palko; TE Leonard Pope; T Barry Richardson.

Staff: Brian Daboll becomes the Chiefs' sixth offensive coordinator in six years, replacing Bill Muir, and I don't care who's the quarterback, that's a hardship on the guy calling signals. Cassel is that man, and lucky for him that he and Daboll worked together in New England in 2008, Cassel's first season as a starter. Another newcomer is special-teams coordinator Tom McMahon.

The Chiefs replaced Carr with Routt, and while they saved money with the move they didn't get the better player. Maybe that changes, but Carr is a reliable cornerback. Routt is not, allowing too many touchdown passes in 2011. Landing Winston was a steal, with the Texans letting him walk for cap reasons, and the addition of Hillis was smart. He can play fullback or running back and can get the tough, inside yards that a Charles might not. Quinn is a non-factor, though he might be if Cassel is hurt again. The Chiefs better hope that doesn't happen. He couldn't make it in Cleveland and Denver for one basic reason: Inaccuracy.

X-Factor: Jamaal Charles

When he was in the lineup two years ago the Chiefs not only had the league's best and most effective rushing offense; they won the AFC West ... and, yes, the two are related. To succeed, quarterback Matt Cassel needed a lot of help from his friends, and he got it from Charles and Thomas Jones. But Jones is gone, and Charles is returning from a knee injury that sidelined him all of last season. That could be trouble. Look what happened last year without Charles: The Chiefs swooned to 15th in rushing, scored five rushing TDs and finished last in the division. OK, so they were only a game out of first. That only underscored the importance of having someone of Charles' talents around. The Chiefs aren't a passing team; they're built around their run game and defense, and the defense was just fine last season. The run game? Not so much. The Chiefs need a healthy ... and revitalized ... Charles to challenge for first place.

How good is rookie Dontari Poe?

The Chiefs think he could be an impact player, and they're not alone. But there are plenty of scouts who think he could be a bust, too, seldom playing up to his ability in college.

What do the Chiefs get from Charles?

He suffered a season-ending knee injury last season, and the question is: Will the explosion that made him so dangerous before be there again?

How good is Matt Cassel?

He was good enough to lead the Chiefs to the division title two years ago, but there seems to be a feeling that he's not good enough to do it again. We'll see.

Insider's Take

The AFC West is loaded with proven quarterbacks, but Cassel is No. 4 on the list. That doesn't mean the Chiefs can't win with him because they have. It just means they can't lean on him as, say, San Diego does with Philip Rivers or Denver will with Peyton Manning. The Chiefs are an offense that uses the run to set up the pass, and without an effective running game Cassel can get exposed. Kansas City can play defense with anyone, and that unit should keep the Chiefs in most games. But it's an offense that averaged 13.2 points per start that's the concern, particularly with an uncertain future for their lead receiver, Dwayne Bowe. Frankly, there's also a question of what the Chiefs gain from coach Romeo Crennel. The team looked comfortable under his direction last season, but that was three games (they were 2-1). He had one winning season in four years in Cleveland and, while these Chiefs have talent, they don't appear to have enough to stay with Denver and San Diego.

Xs and Os

By Pat Kirwan | NFL Insider

Chiefs' Rivals: AFC West

2012 Preview • Schedule
Broncos @ Chiefs: 11/25 (1 p.m. ET)
Chiefs @ Broncos: 12/30 (4:15 p.m. ET)

2012 Preview • Schedule
Raiders @ Chiefs: 10/28 (4:05 p.m. ET)
Chiefs @ Raiders: 12/16 (4:15 p.m. ET)

2012 Preview • Schedule
Chargers @ Chiefs: 9/30 (1 p.m. ET)
Chiefs @ Chargers: 11/1 (8:20 p.m. ET)

The Chiefs' offense took a lot of criticism this offseason. In the nine games Matt Cassel played, they averaged 15.5 points. In the seven games he missed, the Chiefs averaged 10 points. It wasn't all Cassel's fault, but he has to play better in 2012. He is 6-9 against division opponents and 18-22 overall. The Chiefs' offense is now under the guidance of OC Brian Daboll, who will play to Cassel's strengths with a strong running game and a contain-break pass attack. I expect the Chiefs to feature 12 personnel (one RB, two TEs, two WRs) on the early downs with Kevin Boss and Tony Moeaki at the tight ends, Dwayne Bowe and Jonathon Baldwin at the receivers and Peyton Hillis at running back. That is one of the biggest sets of skill payers in the league and their job is to get to third down and manageable.

Then in comes Jamaal Charles and possibly Steve Breaston. That is their 11 personnel package as Hillis and Boss leave, making speed a matchup problem for the defense. The offensive line got big help when they signed RT Eric Winston. Unless Casey Wiegmann comes out of retirement, we will have to wait and see if Rodney Hudson can handle the job at guard. Look for a zone run scheme behind Winston and a three-step drop game with plenty of slant routes to the big wideouts if teams play off coverages.

The Chiefs employ a traditional 3-4 defense package that Romeo Crennel learned under Bill Parcells and Bill Belichick. The starting three linemen are all first-round picks but this scheme doesn't call for them to be great one gap penetrators. Consequently Tyson Jackson, Glenn Dorsey and rookie Dontari Poe will not show up in the stat sheets with a lot of sacks. OLBs Tamba Hali and Justin Houston should get 20 sacks between them in this scheme. Last year they had 17 ½, so there is work to be done -- especially by second-year man Justin Houston.

This defense only gave up 76 points in their six division games and a repeat of that would be terrific. Stanford Routt replaces the departed Brandon Carr at one corner and will like the amount of cover two Crennel likes to play, as opposed to the pure man the Raiders played throughout his career. The Chiefs' defensive staff may utilize more pressure calls from defensive backs and inside linebackers since those six positions produced a grand total of four sacks.

Draft Recap

By Rob Rang | NFLDraftScout.com Senior Analyst

After investing a first-round choice in talented but troubled wideout Jonathan Baldwin a year ago, Chiefs GM Scott Pioli rolled the dice again in 2012 with Memphis defensive lineman Dontari Poe at No. 11 overall.

Chiefs Draft Analysis

Theoretically, Poe is an ideal fit for the Chiefs. The 6-4, 346-pounder certainly has the bulk the team has been lacking on the nose and no one in the 2012 draft showed greater weight-room strength at the combine than Poe, who led all participants this year with 44 repetitions of 225 pounds.

Review Poe on tape, however, and the incredible combination of athleticism and strength is rarely on display. Poe routinely comes off the ball high, losing the leverage battle to smaller, weaker opponents and ultimately being driven away from the action.

Playing with leverage so that he can swallow up blockers and free the linebackers behind him to make plays at or behind the line of scrimmage will be Poe's main assignment. Defensive-minded head coach Romeo Crennel is highly regarded as a teacher. He has a talented pupil in Poe but make no mistake, there will be a learning curve with this rookie.

The rest of the Chiefs' picks:

1st Round - No. 11 overall - Dontari Poe, DT, Memphis
2nd Round - No. 44 overall - Jeff Allen, OT, Illinois
3rd Round - No. 74 overall - Donald Stephenson, OT, Oklahoma
4th Round - No. 107 overall - Devon Wylie, WR, Fresno State
5th Round - No. 146 overall - DeQuan Menzie, DB, Alabama
6th Round - No. 182 overall - Cyrus Gray, RB, Texas A&M
7th Round - No. 218 overall - Jerome Long, DL, San Diego State
7th Round - No. 238 overall - Junior Hemingway, WR, Michigan

 
 
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