Will the Chiefs throw the ball much?
When last we saw Matt Cassel and the Kansas City Chiefs' offense in a game that counted, they were being soundly thrashed by the Baltimore Ravens, 30-7, in an AFC wild-card contest. Cassel went only 9-of-18 for 70 yards and threw three interceptions in the loss.
The poor outing came on the heels of the previous week's disappointing Week 17, 31-10 loss to the Oakland Raiders, in which the quarterback did only marginally better, going 11-of-33 for 115 yards and two picks.
Let's face it. The Chiefs weren't even a "fair" passing team in 2010. In 13 of the 16 games Cassel started, he failed to throw for more than 250 yards. In the one game Cassel sat out due to an emergency appendectomy, Brodie Croyle fared no better, completing just 7-of-17 passes for a sad 40 yards in a 31-0 pasting at the hands of the divisional rival San Diego Chargers.
Part of the problem was simply a lack of any decent wide receivers not named Dwayne Bowe. Though Bowe, amid plenty of double coverage, was able to haul in 72 passes for 1,162 yards, the next-best stats among Chiefs wideouts belonged to Chris Chambers (who was released once the lockout ended). The veteran had been a shadow of his former self in 2010, managing only 22 grabs for 213 yards.
With the receiving cupboard so visibly bare, it's no surprise that, armed with a dynamic duo of running backs like Jamaal Charles and Thomas Jones, coach Todd Haley simply ran the ball as often as he could. In fact, no team in the NFL had as many rushing attempts (556) as Kansas City did last season, and only three teams had fewer passing attempts.
This was a run-first, run-second and almost 60 percent of the time, a run-third offense. So shouldn't we expect more of the same from the team this season?
The Chiefs spent the offseason attempting to give opposing secondaries somebody else to focus on besides Bowe. In the first round of the draft, they selected 6-foot-5 Jonathan Baldwin, a potential red-zone target. They knew Jerheme Urban, who missed all of last season after breaking his hand in the preseason finale, would be back, but they weren't about to put all their eggs in his one basket either.
Once the free agency period officially opened up, the Chiefs snatched up Steve Breaston from the Arizona Cardinals. Then they made sure to re-sign their own free agent , Terrance Copper. In an effort to bring as many bodies into camp in whatever form possible, they even invited veteran Keary Colbert, who played last season with the UFL's Sacramento Mountain Lions, to compete for a roster spot.
Now as far as Bowe is concerned, perhaps all these extra sets of hands will actually end up hurting his fantasy value more than it helps. In 2010, Bowe scored a touchdown every 8.8 targets and finished 11th in the league with 133 targets. Considering his career pace is a touchdown every 15.9 targets, if the Chiefs start spreading out the passing love a bit more in 2011, we're looking at perhaps 30 fewer fantasy points from this past season's No. 2 overall in ESPN standard scoring at his position.
Yet, even with a drop-off from last year's league-leading 15 receiving touchdowns, Bowe is still an odds-on favorite to be a top-10 wide receiver when all is said and done. Regardless of how many other options he ends up having, Matt Cassel will still look Bowe's way more frequently than anyone else in the huddle on those occasions when he is asked to pull the trigger.
Which brings us to the real question; whether Todd Haley will trust these new faces enough to allow his offense to become a little less dependent on the tag-team tandem in the backfield. I think Haley honestly wants to make strides in that direction.
Take a closer look at exactly whom he chose to sign: Steve Breaston was Urban's roommate when the two receivers played together with the Cardinals as part of an offense that had the second-most passing attempts in the league in 2007 and 2008. Haley was the offensive coordinator for the Cardinals at the time, so he knows exactly what these two receivers have to offer and how best to utilize them.
Colbert, albeit a longshot to make the team, played at USC with Matt Cassel. Again, with the shortened amount of time for new players to get acquainted with new systems, familiarity is of the utmost importance.
With Bowe taking on the role of Larry Fitzgerald, some combination of Breaston and Urban emulating Anquan Boldin and Bryant Johnson, and Baldwin, Colbert and Copper (and possibly even Verran Tucker) providing depth, this team is going to be a lot more willing to air things out.
Now nobody is comparing Matt Cassel to Kurt Warner, and when you have not one, but two running backs with the potential to get 1,000 yards, you're not going to suddenly become a pass-first team. However, it's likely to be a lot closer to 50-50 than it was last season, and with that kind of balance to keep opposing defenses guessing, Haley and his new breed of Kansas City Comets are going to take some shots.
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With all the new hands on deck in the receiving corps, Dexter McCluster has been working out with the running backs. More likely than not, he'll be used exclusively as the team's return specialist, with only the occasional appearance in the backfield on gadget plays. With the new kickoff rules in place this season, this pretty much rules McCluster out as a viable selection in even the deepest of leagues.
But whichever receivers end up winning the Nos. 2 and 3 jobs -- most likely Breaston and Urban -- are going to see some weeks at the top of the fantasy leaderboard.
True, there's probably not going to be enough consistent contribution to warrant being in your fantasy lineup on a weekly basis. However, near the end of your draft, when all you're looking for is roster depth in the form of a bye week fill-in, don't think to yourself, "Kansas City? All they do is run the ball. I'll look somewhere else."
If you do, you're likely to be making the same mistake that opposing defenses like the Buffalo Bills and Detroit Lions will do against Kansas City out of the gate, and if you don't snatch these underrated talents up now, someone else surely will.
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