The Good, The Bad, The Ugly on 16 Nov 08: Chiefs 1-9

This past week we learned that if I don’t get this thing written by Monday, I don’t write it at all.  For the sake of history, I’ll go back and do the G,B,U for 9 Nov later, perhaps.  Without further ado:

The Good:

– Another decent performance by Tyler Thigpen.  He threw for 235 yards and 2 TDs

– We clearly have a good set of receivers right now; Bowe is great in the red zone, Bradley is good on really long passes, TonyG is as awesome as ever, Cottam is a nice target who doesn’t drop passes (it seems), and Franklin is a good #3 (for a rookie; he should improve)

– Despite our injury problem on defense, we allowed only 103 yards rushing, and just 3.7 yds/carry

The Bad:

– Pressure and WR drops (I counted 5) left Thigpen with just a 50% completion rate; he needs to keep that above 60% to keep us in games

– The O-linepass protection regressed somewhat, perhaps: Thigpen was sacked 4 times; I say pass protection because the RB is supposed to help, and Thigpen could have avoided at least one sack with better awareness; still, this was a trenches battle we clearly lost

– The D-line not only failed to get a single sack again, it also got almost no pressure on Brees

– The D allowed the Saints to gain 7.4 yards on every snap, on average

The Ugly:

– Despite an otherwise great game, Bradley dropped an apparently easy pass on 3rd and 2 late in the game when we are on the Saints 40; catch it, and we likely drive to a TD to tie the game, or at least pull within 4; dropped, we have to punt, and the Saints drive to a FG, putting the game well out of reach

– The Special Teams were atrocious again: Dantrell Savage misplayed a KR, leaving us deep in our own territory that resulted in a short punt and short field opportunity for the Saints, who promptly scored a TD; Colquitt’s punts were short all day; additionally, the kick-off coverage team gave up another 50+ yard return, which the Saints converted for a FG

– Missed tackles hurt us badly

Reasons for Optimism:

– We were competitive with the best offense in the league, even despite our injury problem and youth situation (even though this was a 2-score loss, I still considered us competitive through most of the game)

– Tyler Thigpen had another good game

– Our receivers (WR + TE) are developing into an outstanding group

Reasons for Pessimism:

– There is zero improvement in our special teams, despite it being an obvious problem

– With so many starters out, we aren’t building cohesiveness or continuity for the future

Key Points:

Here’s what cost us the game:

– We couldn’t punch it in the end zone from 1st and goal within the 5 twice

– We got no pressure on their QB; they got plenty on ours

– We couldn’t stop the leauge’s #1 offense with the infirmary ward we call our defense

– I’m really irritated with bad calls and bad non-calls by refs: there was no hold by FB Cox, but it was called; Colquitt was hit, but no flag; our WRs were clearly hit before the ball got there on at least 2 plays, but no flag;  this is getting ridiculous

Tyler Thigpen threw his first INT in 161 attempts.  This is only slightly bad, because: a) it was in garbage time as he attempted to rally from 10 points down, b) he just completed only his 5th start, he’s allowed to make some mistakes, and c) the fact that he had a streak going is excellent, considering his experience, the pressure he’s been dealing with, and his penchant for throwing into extremely tight coverage.  Actually, this point highlights Thigpen’s effectiveness as a starting QB.  He’s virtually a rookie, having come into the NFL far more raw than average, and then missing most of the season rehabilitating an injured knee.  Young players are supposed to throw lots of interceptions.  They are supposed to be easy pickings for savvy, experienced DBs.  But Thigpen has shown Brett Favre-ish willingness to throw the ball into tight spaces; unlike Brett Favre, Thigpen throws it where only the receiver can get it.  He’s not always 100% accurate, but he seems to be more than 99% accurate on these throws into tight spaces.  I can’t recall the last time he threw one that even came close to being picked off, until this INT.

I’m not that concerned about Thigpen being 0-5.  I’m not that concerned about the Chiefs being 1-9. Troy Aikman’s first year, the Cowboys went 1-15; Peyton Manning’s first year, the Colts went 3-13.  We are losing competitively, which is what you see from teams just one year away from contending.  We will be in a Super Bowl within the next 3 years.

More on Thigpen: Overall in the last four starts, Thigpen is 85 of 140 (60.7 percent) for 945 yards (6.75 yards per attempt) for eight TDs and one INT; for a 16-game season, that projects to just under 4000 yards, 32 TDs, and just 4 INTs; that is outstanding by anyone’s reckoning; I expect further development, and am hopeful that Thigpen will be known as one of the best QBs in the league by this time next year.  I fully expect he will be a perennial pro-bowler.  Granted, this is just based on what we’ve seen the past 4 games; theoretically, he could regress; or defenses could find a way to confuse him.  But with what he has shown in just 5 starts, I don’t think so.  Any QB is capable of a bad game, but Thigpen has already faced some excellent defenses that had enough game tape of him to come up with an effective game plan to stop Thigpen; they were unable to do so, even though Thigpen has lacked a strong supporting running game.  And the best part is that Thigpen has only started 5 games! I know that it is impossible to know when/where a player will peak; you can’t project him out on exactly the same career arc of development as Elway, Montana, Manning, Brady, etc.  But the fact that he is ahead of nearly every top franchise QB at similar points of their careers is extremely exciting, and grounds for extreme optimism.

Lots of people are calling for Gunther Cunningham to be fired.  I’m not one of them.  The reason why is that despite a patchwork defense, we are still leading the league in take-aways with 22: that’s the signature of a Gunther Cunningham defense.  With a better O-line (and we’ll pick up a few good rookies in the draft, and Richardson may be ready to take over at RT next year; not to mention the improvement of experience for Albert and Niswanger) and better offense overall, we take advantage of all those turnovers and win several more games.  Just getting 3 points off of every turnover would have us sitting at 5-5 right now.  We have only 6 sacks for the season, which is not characteristic of a Gunther-led defense, however.  But I do think this is due to lack of experience on our D-line, where the most experienced starter (Hali) is in only his 3rd year, and he has spent much of the year injured.  We need to (and should) draft a top DE this upcoming off-season.  With the maturation of our youth and a good pass-rusher at the right end (we really don’t have one this year), we should be average or even slightly above average next year.  With more talent at LB, that should be enough for Gunther to craft one of the league’s top defenses next year…if he’s still around.

Bottom Line: As tough as it is to lose yet another game, we’re right where we should be right now.  But some time soon, we need start winning games.  We need to win at least 4 of our last 6 games to show some promise for next year.

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