Chiefs following in Patriots' footsteps

Posted Oct. 04, 2010 @ 3:27 a.m.
Posted By Dan Arkush

With the 2010 NFL season not even one month old, most league insiders agree that it's way too early to get carried away over the Chiefs' surprising early-season success.

That said, it would be hard to find a league insider anywhere who could have predicted that a Kansas City team that had won only 10 games over the previous three years combined would be the only unbeaten team remaining at the 2010 quarter-pole.

With the league's top-ranked rushing offense and second-ranked scoring defense entering their bye week, the Chiefs are, at the very least, suddenly being taken very seriously.

But while the consensus seemed to be that it would take longer than it actually has for them to become a real factor in the NFL's scheme of things, the Chiefs' Patriots pedigree — courtesy of general manager Scott Pioli and new coordinators Charlie Weis (offense) and Romeo Crennel (defense) — was widely considered to be a springboard to long-term respectability in relatively short order.

The turnaround in Atlanta under former Patriots director of college scouting Thomas Dimitroff offered a strong hint that the Chiefs would have eventual heavyweight potential with Pioli running the show.

"When you look at how quickly the Falcons turned around under Dimitroff, it speaks volumes about the strength of the Patriots' philosophy," said one NFL personnel evaluator. "They shipped out Michael Vick, revamped the roster and rebuilt the culture of the locker room. And Scott (Pioli) did the same thing in Kansas City. It took a little longer, but the results are coming now.

"Scott came up through pro scouting, and he helped build those teams in New England with low-priced, experienced veterans who still had something left in the tank. The problem is that there just aren't as many of those veterans on the street anymore because there has become a higher premium on them. Those guys like (LB Mike) Vrabel that they used to find have been getting paid. They are not on the street anymore."

"The other thing he did was he rebuilt the whole building — he hired a whole new scouting department. He moved the training camp from River Falls (Wis.) back to Missouri. He hired a young cap guy (director of football administration Trip MacCracken) and ran off most of the building with strong ties to the old (Carl Peterson-run) regime — guys like Denny Thum."

More help from the very top of the Chiefs' organizational ladder has no doubt helped Pioli orchestrate the Chiefs' climb to respectability.

"They did a complete 180 since (Chiefs chairman and CEO) Clark (Hunt) took over for his dad," said one league executive very familiar with the late Lamar Hunt's modus operandi. "Where Lamar surrounded himself with similar personalities and let people work their way up from the ground like Denny Thum, Clark has done it a lot differently.

"If you remember, Carl (Peterson) made a decision to go young, and he thought he would give it one more year and retire, maybe consult and turn the team over. Then Carl and (former head coach) Herm (Edwards) got pushed out, and (Clark Hunt) hired a GM (in Pioli). Clark is a lot different than his dad."

Clearly, Pioli's hiring of former New England cohorts Weis and Crennel has also made a big difference.

"Scott had to do too much all by himself the first year and could not trust anyone to help him," the executive said. "If you look at (Patriots head coach) Bill (Belichick)'s operation, he had Scott, Charlie (Weis), Romeo (Crennel). He had Josh (McDaniels). It is a reason Floyd Reese was hired. Bill knows what he is good at, and where he needs help."

And the same goes for Pioli.

"I thought the Chiefs had one of the best offseasons in the NFL, and it had a lot more to do with (non-player-related acquisitions) than any talent they brought in," the league exec told PFW. "They look a lot like the old New York Jets staff under Bill Parcells. Landing Romeo and Charlie was a big win.

"If you remember, they cut loose (former offensive coordinator) Chan Gailey right before the (2009) season. And Chan is a great coach, but he did not fit their philosophy. Now you got a head coach (Todd Haley) who is not overloaded with coordinator responsibilities, and it has made a big difference."

Kansas City's jaw-dropping 31-10 rout of the Niners in Week Three really made people around the league stand up and take notice of what was transpiring in K.C.

"(The Chiefs) flat outcoached the (49ers)," said one pro scout. "They snuffed them out. Romeo Crennel and (DB coach) Emmitt Thomas are doing some good things with that group. No. 91 (ROLB Tamba Hali) and 92 (third-year DE Wallace Gilberry) are playing good football. They suffocate you coverage-wise and disguise (coverages) very well. I thought their scheme was very, very tough to figure out."

It's also very much worth pointing out Pioli's most recent handiwork in the draft — from first-round FS Eric Berry on down — and in free agency, with RB Thomas Jones, ORG Ryan Lilja and DE Shaun Smith, who has done such a fine job replacing injured 2009 first-round pick Tyson Jackson, all making significant contributions.

"Look at those secondaries in New England with Ty Law and Rodney Harrison. They were smart and physical," a league personnel expert told PFW. "That is what Eric Berry brought, and he has far better athletic talent than those guys did. He covers so much ground for them. There are few safeties in the National Football League who can do what he can.

"What they did was add a lot of explosion to both sides of the ball. I had a first-round grade on (2010 second-round WR Dexter) McCluster."

Jones' impact has not been a surprise to people in the know, as he's made his presence felt on every NFL team on which he has played dating back to his contributions for the Bears team that made it to the Super Bowl in 2006.

"I liked the Thomas Jones signing more for what he brings to the locker room than what he brings to the running game," the talent evaluator told PFW. "He still has got plenty left in the tank, even though he is on the wrong side of 30. But what you can't put enough value on is how he leads. He was like Walter Payton in Chicago. He was the leader on that offense. When they shipped him out, it was a huge loss. He keeps his body in such great shape that he should have a few more good years left.

"I was surprised the Colts let Lilja go," added the evaluator. "He was their best lineman for a lot of years. If you look at the lines in New England, they have never had great lines, but the protection has always been solid. That's what Charlie Weis gives you. He'll find a way to roll protection and chip and scheme the hell out of what he's got."

As good as the Chiefs have looked, however, a realistic look at the road ahead indicates that a pitfall or two may be in the offing — specifically a two-game stretch on the road immediately after their bye against AFC South stalwarts Indianapolis and Houston.

There are also many league observers who are quick to point out that the combined record of their first three opponents (San Diego, Cleveland and San Francisco) is a very lackluster 3-9.

On the other hand, after the games against the Colts and Texans, the Chiefs face a seven-game stretch (Jacksonville, Buffalo, at Oakland, at Denver, Arizona, at Seattle, Denver) that just might set the table for a playoff berth that many thought would have been very unlikely when the season started.

One other big concern moving forward, though, could be the offense, with many in the know wondering whether QB Matt Cassel will be able to provide consistent direction. It's worth noting that the offense failed to score a TD against a very suspect Cleveland defense in Week Two.

"The big question I think everyone still is trying to figure out is: How much can Charlie Weis get out of Matt Cassel?" said one personnel evaluator. "Josh (McDaniels) did a great job of managing him (in New England), but when crunch time comes, I haven't seen anything from Cassel yet to convince me he will respond when it counts.

"Right now, that is their Achilles' (heel)."