With the NFL draft behind us and a lockout raging on, the opportunities to talk about real football are becoming fewer and fewer. That being the case, I have sought out bloggers that cover teams that the Lions will play in the 2011 season to get a glimpse into what is going on with those teams.
Granted, this exercise presumes that no games will be lost due to the lockout. That might be a big step of faith, especially in regards to the preseason games, but I have a hard time operating under any other assumption. I know what happens when one assumes, let’s hope the labor situation doesn’t prove the old saying true. These Q&As aren’t meant to be any sort of game preview, it is obviously way too early for that. The subject teams may end up looking much different when the Lions play them compared to how they look now, but I anticipate this being a good introduction to each teams’ hopes, fears, needs, expectations, etc.
The Lions will open up the home portion of their regular season schedule with a game against the Kansas City Chiefs in week two. I was able to send some questions to Patrick Allen, the editor at Arrowhead Addict, and he was kind enough to provide responses. Here we go…
Zac Snyder: I followed your site during the NFL draft and I got the impression the Arrowhead Addicts were a lot more excited about the Chiefs’ draft than the pundits. Is that just typical fandom or is there something the “experts” don’t know?
Patrick Allen: Actually KC fans can be pretty critical. We’ve seen some bad drafts and when they happen, we let our displeasure be known. When the Chiefs reached for Tyson Jackson in 2009, KC fans were not happy.
I think that most liked this draft because of the high upside of a lot of these players. Getting a big, sure-handed receiver like Baldwin excited people. Filling the need at center and getting a LB with first round talent in the 3rd round (Justin Houston fell because he tested positive for weed at the combine) showed even more upside.
I think most fans know there are some big risks with this class but I think they believe things will workout. It is one thing for a bottom feeder to take a risk on some guys with character concerns but teams with solid locker rooms and winning attitudes can take those risks. Scott Pioli has spent 2 years drafting hard workers and boy scouts. The team is winning now and the culture has changed. There is a much better chance these rookies will come in and acclimate to their surroundings rather than cause a distraction. That is what we are banking on anyway.
ZS: The Matt Cassel connection aside, are you seeing some similarities between the Pioli-led Chiefs and his former employer, the Patriots?
PA: From an organizational standpoint, absolutely. The Patriots and the Chiefs are both team first organizations. They want players that are more about winning than personal glory. Super Bowl over the Pro Bowl.
From a style of play standpoint, they are very different. Particularly on offense. The Pats are built around Tom Brady but the Chiefs are built around their best player, Jamaal Charles. They are built to have players around Cassel to enable him to be efficient. That means surrounding him with play makers and a very strong running game.
Both organizations build their teams around the strengths of their players though, so in that aspect they are very similar.
ZS: What is something you hope will change with the Chiefs by the time they face the Lions in week two?
PA: I hope that Matt Cassel will have learned to deal with pressure a little better. When the Chiefs have gone up against tougher defenses, Cassel has struggled. Some will point out that he had very little int he receiving department and while that is true, Cassel has a history of playing poorly against tough defenses and dealing with pressure. Go back and look at his numbers in New England. He struggled mightily against teams like the Steelers and he had plenty of weapons to throw the ball to.
Keep in mind that Cassel has only been starting for three years so being able to stand up to the NFL’s best defenses is probably one of the last steps in his maturation process. This is the year for him to show he can do it. The Chiefs play a really tough schedule and will see some fierce defenses and pass rushers.
With the way the Lions are going to be playing on defense in the coming years, especially on the defensive line, I hope Cassel is read to get rid of the ball before Suh rips his head off.
ZS: Coming off a division title and a playoff appearance, what are expectations like for the Chiefs next season?
PA: Once you get to the playoffs the expectations go up big time. Anything short of another AFC West title and a playoff win will probably be considered a disappointment.
I don’t see it that way. The Chiefs are still a very young team with a lot of developing players. A lot of young, upstart teams take a big step forward and then a step back before they move forward again. I think this is usually because that initial step forward came because of an easier schedule. Sometimes Cinderella arrives a little bit early to the ball, so to speak.
I could see the Chiefs going 9-7 or even 8-8 this season and then coming back in 2012 and making it to the AFC Championship game. It just depends. The Saints missed the playoffs one year and won the Super Bowl the next. Welcome to the NFL.
ZS: What are you most excited to see out of the Chiefs and what is one thing that makes you nervous heading into the 2011 season?
PA: I am excited to see them take the next step and get battle-tested. Win or lose, they are going to come out of this season black and blue. Games against the Patriots, Packers, Steelers and Chargers are going to test them. If they can hang with and beat a few of those teams I will know the are getting close to being a serious Super Bowl contender.
I have pretty much daily nightmares about something happening to Jamaal Charles. I feel like I am jinxing him just talking about it. When JC is getting carries, the entire offense changes. If he goes down to injury and the KC running game becomes average it is going to put a lot more pressure on Cassel. Charles is tough, I just hope nothing really bad happens to him until the Chiefs get another young, talented runner to join him after Thomas Jones is done.