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Haley improves, but Chiefs still need a win

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Recent posts by Eli Kaberon

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Posted Sept. 26, 2011 @ 3:55 p.m. ET
By Eli Kaberon

After two beatdowns that even the Washington Generals would find embarrassing, the Chiefs played by far their best game of the 2011 season in Week Three. Kansas City picked off Chargers QB Philip Rivers twice, got some big plays from their special teams and finally showed some life on offense following consecutive dismal efforts the first two weeks. RB Dexter McCluster, in his first game as a primary running back, showed some good burst and, more importantly, held on to the ball. The defense also finally displayed some toughness, especially on a 4th-and-1 with less than two minutes remaining, with DE Tyson Jackson and LB Jovan Belcher stuffing Rivers behind the line to give the Chiefs the ball back.

In the end, none of that mattered. Two plays after the big defensive stand, with less than 90 seconds remaining and the Chiefs down three, QB Matt Cassel threw a foolish interception on a screen pass, giving the ball back to San Diego and dropping K.C. to 0-3 on the year.

The PFW Spin

Rarely does the pressure on a head coach taper off following a division loss, but that should be the case in Kansas City this week. Despite a very slow start (the Chiefs didn't register a first down in the first half) Todd Haley developed a wonderful game plan in Week Three, a mix of short throws and runs, with the occasional over-the-top pass mixed in. It wasn't the vertical passing game that Chiefs fans thought they were going to see over the summer, but without key offensive players Jamaal Charles, Tony Moeaki and Jonathan Baldwin, Haley did what he had to do in order to give his guys a shot at victory.

That pressure, along with the coach's job security, will be subject to change again next week, when putting together a good game plan but falling just short won't cut it. Hosting the equally hapless Vikings in Week Four, Haley and the Chiefs have to come out of the game with a win to avoid turning this hard-luck season into a full-on embarrassment. Unlike the Chiefs, who have held a lead this season for exactly zero seconds, Minnesota has been in all three of its games, only to give those advantages up each time. The Vikings likely see the Chiefs as a must-win game just as much as the Chiefs view the Vikings that way.

For Kansas City to finally grab a win, it will need another splendid effort from Haley. Without players such as Charles and Moeaki, the Chiefs no longer will have superior talent to their opponent when they line up on offense. Cassel is inconsistent, and despite a touchdown in Week Three, WR Dwayne Bowe is not the elite player he appeared to be last season. The Chiefs' offensive line is average at best and will be facing a Vikings pass rush that registered five sacks last Sunday. Haley will have to figure out a way to protect his quarterback while still getting his skill players a chance to make things happen.

The Chiefs were better on Sunday than they'd been all year, a credit to their much-maligned head coach. Haley has scrapped his original playbook and adjusted his calls to fit the current roster, helping the team stay competitive with one of the NFL's elite teams. Now, facing one of the league's worst, the coach will need to work some magic again and put a mark in the Chiefs' win column.

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