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Late Season NFL Adjustments

   by Al McMordie - 12/08/2008

The Kansas City Chiefs aren’t going to make the playoffs and have had a train wreck season. This wasn’t unexpected. A local writer for the KC Star pointed out, “The Chiefs aren’t built to win football games. They’re built to be $32 million under the salary cap while Arrowhead Stadium undergoes renovation.â€쳌
But one thing that is interesting from a handicapping point of view is that their offense is quietly scoring some points. Chiefs coach Herm Edwards has switched to a spread as the base offensive formation, trying to make the most of what’s left in the season. The Brodie Croyle and Damon Huard experiments went bust, but young Tyler Thigpen has started seven straight games and has played well. They scored 24, 27, 19, 20, 31, 20 and 17 points in his seven starts, part of a 4-3-1 run over the total. The Chiefs have used four quarterbacks in Herm Edwards’ three seasons, changing the team’s starter a remarkable 11 times in 45 games because of injuries and Trent Green’s departure.
But Thigpen may have changed that merry-go-round with his consistent play. He’s also putting in the work. It’s interesting that two months ago Thigpen and TE Tony Gonzalez starting meeting to watch film of practice and discuss things. Now more players have joined these sessions each week and talk about rhythm and timing on offense.
“I think it’s paying off. I know it is,â€쳌 Gonzalez said after the Chiefs’ 20-13 win against Oakland. He said they’ve learned each other’s tendencies, and each man now trusts the other. Gonzalez caught eight passes for 110 yards against the Raiders, and the week before Gonzalez had 10 catches for 113 yards.
The meetings now include wide receiver Dwayne Bowe, WR Mark Bradley, rookie tight end Brad Cottam, backup quarterback Quinn Gray and WR Devard Darling. “It’s growing,â€쳌 Gonzalez said. “We’re all getting on the same page.â€쳌 Edwards added, “We’re finding out about a lot of different players. Sometimes when you have some injuries and things don’t go your way, you’ve got to switch. We did that on offense. This is just another way to flip it and gather some more information about certain players so we can make some good decisions when the season is over with.â€쳌
That’s something to keep an eye on during the remaining weeks of the season, especially for totals bettors, as the Chiefs are last in total defense. They led Denver 17-10 at the half Sunday and Gonzalez (73 yards) and Bowe (96 yards) led the team in receiving again. The Rams are also trying changes, but little is working on offense. QB Marc Bulger is back after suffering a concussion against the Bears. But he connected on just 16 of 35 passes against Miami — the third time in five games that his completion rate has been under 50 percent — and produced no touchdowns. He was intercepted three times. The offensive line has had problems again and the team doesn’t appear any better (or happier) under coach Jim Haslett.
The Detroit Lions are similar, trying to make adjustments to salvage anything from another miserable season. The running game is a little better because of the decision to make rookie Kevin Smith the featured back, as well as the addition of FB Moran Norris. But the offensive line has had changes all season, none of which have worked.
The Houston Texans made a change on Sunday, as QB Matt Schaub played his first game in a month because of a knee injury. Schaub marched the Texans to set up Kris Brown's 40-yard field goal on the final play of the game to beat the Green Bay Packers 24-21. Schaub was 28 of 42 for 414 yards with two touchdowns! Texans rookie running back Steve Slaton rushed for 120 yards. There’s some talent on this Houston offense, one ranked in the Top 5 of the NFL.
Sunday’s Bengals/Colts game offered some insight into changes that the two teams are trying to make – and still failing. The Bengals still have no defense, as Peyton Manning completed 26 of 32 for 277 yards, while matching his season high for touchdown passes. Cincinnati lost four turnovers and Ryan Fitzpatrick was sacked four times. Lost in the shuffle was the Indianapolis running game: just 57 yards against a team ranked 24th, allowing 131 rushing yards per game. Running the football has been a problem all season for the Colts. This team is playoff bound, but you get the sense that they are going to have to do it all with Manning’s golden right arm. That’s not a bad way to go, but remember, they had offensive balance when winning the Super Bowl two years ago. Good luck, as always...Al McMordie.

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