By TJ Carpenter
Alex Smith’s multiple blows to the head Sunday against the Colts and ensuing trips to the locker room for concussion protocol raised concern amongst media and fans. “Why was he back out there?” “what’s wrong with the NFL’s concussion protocol?” “the Chiefs need to be better than this,” “what’s Andy Reid doing?”
But it also raised the voices of those who have been slowly watching “their sport” get “pussified” for years. “He’s paid millions of dollars!” “This is a man’s game!” “That’s just football.”
Here’s the problem: they’re both right. The NFL’s concussion protocol stinks, but that’s because concussion protocol EVERYWHERE stinks. The NFL does what it can, at least until it becomes inconvenient. The Chiefs did everything, “by the book,” as head athletic trainer Rick Burkholder said today. The problem there is with “the book,” more than the Chiefs, but it doesn’t absolve the Chiefs, Andy Reid, or even Alex Smith.
At this point in the NFL we have two major problems: 1. the inherent violence of the sport that all players and fans must accept before they play or watch. 2. Money motivation driving that actions of everyone from the the owners, to the coaches, to the players, to the doctors, to the fans.
The first is fairly simple and straightforward. The second… You may pause and say, “wait what?” I get it. But let’s break this down. The NFL has a terrible culture when it comes to concussions. The NFL’s concussion protocol stinks because it doesn’t actually lead to a definitive answer on whether or not a player had a concussion, which the NFL acknowledges. The test given to players can also be cheated, fairly easily (more on that in a second). The trainer’s and doctor’s involved in diagnosing concussions are given strict guidelines on what procedures to go through, but this isn’t always a good thing because if a player passes the concussion test the physician has no choice but to clear him. At that point the coach, who is completely ignorant to the process the player just went through wants a ‘yes’ or ‘no’ on whether the player has been cleared. Coach gets the answer he wants and the player goes back in. Now at this point, you may be thinking, “the coach’s decision here isn’t whether or not to send the player back in based on whether or not the player had a concussion, because as we’ve established, the physicians didn’t actually diagnose him; it's based on whether or not that player is needed to on the field to win the game.”
Scary, right? This puts a lot of pressure on the player to fake the baseline test at the beginning of the season, which many players have admitted to and in one instance with Chiefs linebacker Tamba Hali, outright refusing to take the test. But why would a player do that? The concussion protocol is there to protect them, right? Yes, it’s there to protect their HEALTH, but it doesn’t protect their job and it doesn’t protect their salary. And therein lies the ultimate problem. Players’ contracts aren’t guaranteed, and their job certainly isn’t. This year, it would appear as though Cowboys quarterback Tony Romo has already lost his job due to injury, and Alex Smith who lost his job due to a concussion in 2012 to Colin Kaepernick, wasn’t about to see that happen to HIM, AGAIN.
So to summarize the NFL’s concussion protocol stinks, the coaches just want an affirmative answer to get the player back on the field and the player wants to get back out on the field to protect his job and his money. And that’s the real problem.
How do you solve this? By guaranteeing contracts. Take Major League Baseball for example. Teams in MLB treat players with injuries, even minor ones, with kid gloves. If a player has so much as soreness in his forearm it could result in weeks on the disabled list and delicate rehabilitation. Why? Because in baseball, players and prospects are multi-million dollar investments whose contracts are guaranteed even if the player never plays an inning of baseball again. And this incentivizes the team to protect the player. It takes the decision out of the player’s hands entirely, but it also gives the player the calm and ease of knowing he’s still going to get paid.
Money is a great motivator. It’s the ultimate motivator in most things in sports. The will to win is a strong one, and one that is almost universally shared. But so is money. And if you want to fix a broken culture, the best way to do that is to take a primary motivating component and use it properly. And if you fix the culture around concussions, perhaps the concussions themselves will at least be treated properly. We know concussions will happen. It is a byproduct of football; that cannot be changed. It is a risk that every player accepts when he goes out on the field. But the risk of that concussion being mishandled because of a broken culture? No.
If the NFL truly wishes to take concussions seriously, it will change the culture of the league, not just treat the symptoms as they become financially inconvenient to the sport.
The Chiefs are coming off a 26-10 victory over the Raiders, which in the NFL is a very decisive margin of victory. Despite that, we are still searching for answers. There is a certain level of frustration that comes with not knowing after a convincing win whether or not your team is any good. We can find good things and bad things and things we simply don’t understand about the Chiefs so far.
Here’s what we like: We like that we saw the Chiefs get back to running the football. Spencer Ware didn’t turn the ball over and had the best game of his career amassing 131 yards and a touchdown. Jamaal Charles with 11 touches was also impressive, showing a level of fearlessness you like to see from an older player coming off of ACL surgery for the second time in his career. We also like that we saw big plays in the passing game. Albert Wilson and Jeremy Maclin didn’t have enormously productive days, but the catches they did have were big plays, vertical, down the sideline and Alex Smith put them on the money. We like that the defense got a couple of turnovers. Marcus Peters continues amaze. He’s always in the right spot and almost always comes down with the ball. He’s clearly the next elite super star corner in the league and we’re watching him become it every Sunday without many setbacks en route. Dee Ford also created a sack fumble when the Chiefs were trying to put the game away, which is frustrating in its own right given many are ready to write him off as a bust. But you can’t complain about seeing someone create big plays for you on defense. And after his second sack, he looked up into the heavens as the rain poured down like Andy Dufresne at the end of Shawshank Redemption after climbing through his own metaphorical river of shit to get there.
Here’s what we didn’t like: We didn’t like that the Chiefs are still throwing the ball behind the line of scrimmage all the damn time and it not working. There has to be some level of misdirection and big play set up. But this isn’t what that is. Andy Reid, particularly in the redzone has a terrible habit of calling passes behind the line of scrimmage, that often times turn into laterals and most of the time don’t work. Throw the ball into the endzone. In the middle of the field this happens a lot too, especially on roll outs. Alex Smith will always check down. Always. With receivers in his line of sight open downfield, he will still check down to Anthony Sherman or [insert tight end not named Travis Kelce here] and they will get tackled out of bounds two yards behind the line of scrimmage. It’s a problem with the play calling, the quarterback, and the play design, which puts a target in that spot to begin with. We didn’t like the slow start and the defense needing a turnover to get their blood flowing. This was an important game and it didn’t appear once again the Chiefs understood that at the open of the game. We didn’t like the injuries to Marcus Peters and Phillip Gaines. The Chiefs could be without their two best corners next week. After seeing the Chiefs struggle with Amari Cooper in the first half and understanding how important Marcus Peters is, that’s very concerning. We’ll know more about this Wednesday.
Here’s what we don’t understand: We don’t understand whether the Chiefs are good because they beat the Raiders, or if they’re bad because the Raiders didn’t really look or play like the Raiders. The Chiefs had a great day running the football. But they also left a lot of points on the board and aside from a few big plays in the passing game were inconsistent in moving the chains and punishing a bad Raiders defense through the air. We don’t understand if Dontari Poe scoring a touchdown was a great play because it was an awesome touchdown to a fat guy at the goal line or if was a terrible call that turned out okay because it was a combination of everything we hate about the Chiefs redzone offense. It was a pass that wasn’t a pass, but instead a lateral, behind the line of scrimmage, to a defensive player who never catches passes, that could have easily been a fumble if he doesn’t catch it. Andy Reid must have spent the bye week drawing up gadget plays. He got too cute too often and it mostly didn’t work in the redzone. Maclin play was a bust, most of the throws behind the line of scrimmage were a bust. Generally speaking, we just don’t understand why they can’t throw the ball into the damn endzone once in awhile.
We also don’t understand this: Why Andy Reid can’t manage the clock at the end of halfs continues to befuddle us all. We don’t need to go through the long and well-documented history of this… AGAIN, but let’s acknowledge that seeing the Chiefs play for and then miss a field goal a the end of the half only to have the Raiders come back down the field in a matter of second and kick a field goal to turn what should have been a 17-7 margin into a 13-10 margin was one of those moments you remember because the NFL is a harsh mistress that will make you pay dearly for those kinds of mistakes. It didn’t cost the Chiefs this time. But do that in the playoffs against the Patriots, you will lose that game.
All in all, the Chiefs are 3-2 and you should feel very good about that. But this team clearly has a lot of things to improve upon from top to bottom before we start discussing flight plans for the Super Bowl.
QUESTIONS ASKED AND ANSWERED AFTER CHIEFS FIRST PRESEASON GAME
The Chiefs had few questions coming into their first game of the preseason. Coming out of it, they have even fewer.
The Chiefs may have lost the game, but preseason isn’t about the score, it’s about player evaluation and health. For many of the lesser known players, the preseason is about opportunities for opportunity.
Tyler Bray had a chance to prove he had taken steps toward turning potential into production, but instead reaffirmed he has a long way to go. He also got hurt in the process. Meanwhile, former Ram and Eagle Nick Foles came in and showed that while the throws may not look great in practice, in the heat of a live game he’s cool in the pocket. Aaron Murray showed us his low ceiling may not be that low and Kevin Hogan showed us… well he showed us we can wait until 2018 before he really needs to show us anything we want to see.
Verdict? Alex Smith looked great, Nick Foles is clearly his number two, Tyler Bray is headed to the IR with a cervical spine chip fracture, and Aaron Murray may have some trade value…. Kevin Hogan did a lot of convincing he could easily make it to the practice squad. Maybe, just maybe, the Chiefs can stash two quarterbacks and carry three. Well played Andy, well played.
The offensive line wasn’t much of a question for me. They looked great. Which, in turn made the running backs, wide receivers, quarterback and tight ends all look great. Asked, if it really needed to be, and answered.
Defensively, unfortunately, the Chiefs had more issues. The run defense was suspect, which Derrick Johnson acknowledged. Dee Ford was a mess (more on this in a moment) and there was little if any pass rush to speak of until later in the game when Dadi Nicolas showed some displays of speed and athleticism that are promising. The pass defense was also an issue until Marcus Peters picked off Russell WIlson in the endzone. Peters is excellent, the problem is, he doesn’t have a lockdown corner to compliment and funnel passes to his side like he did a season ago. He instead has a Steven Nelson, who got abused in the game, and Phillip Gaines who gets abused regularly in practice. Gaines may not be quite ready to come back as he and the coaches had hoped. He’s not quite trusting the knee just yet. Nelson is aggressive, just not as talented as Peters, which means he is more easily beaten obviously. This year will be an adventure with the corners. One cannot help but think “what if the Chiefs had franchise-tagged Sean Smith instead of Eric Berry.” (#ShoulaFranchiseTaggedSeanSmith)
Dee Ford. Where to start… He’s been bad in run defense. He gets swallowed up by the right tackle…. Every time. Doesn’t matter who the right tackle is. Even with a little help from Dontari Poe at setting the edge, he’s still struggled. Forget pass coverage. Although there have been moments against the back where he’s had success and he does seem to predict the throw on the line and push the quarterback off his line, but he hasn’t been able to react fast enough to bat the pass down. Now the pass rush… He’s got speed. But speed isn’t enough. He needs two or three more moves. His long arm still needs work, and his spin move is under-utilized. I actually like his spin move. He’s had moments where it’s looked lethal, albeit misplaced. Bottom line, Dee Ford isn’t good enough at the one thing he’s the best at to make up for his deficencies in all other areas as a player. Unless he has an incredible beginning to the season, Dee Ford may have just run out of chances to earn a starting spot for the Chiefs. His best asset as a player currently: He’s all the Chiefs have.
Cairo Santos hit a 58-yard field goal. It may have been the only thing in the game that legitimately “counted” in my mind in the grand scheme of things. Field goals are field goals. Santos showed a lot of people he could be primed for one heck of a year. That range means a lot of those no man’s land punts could be field goal attempts this season. That could at up to 21 points this season that weren’t there a season ago.
Chiefs answered a lot of questions in preseason game number one. They may have raised a few about the secondary and pass rush, but the takeaway from game one are far more positive than negative. We’re one step closer to the beginning of football season.
By TJ Carpenter
We all suck at something. Despite what my mother raised me to believe, that the world was my oyster and I could be great at whatever I wanted, there were just simply some things I wasn’t very good at… (cue angry tweeter, listener, “yeah, RADIO is one of those things!")
Your own haterade aside, the point remains, we all suck at something, even the people we idolize and put on a pedestal in sports. Michael Jordan sucks at gambling, Barry Bonds sucks at being a teammate and yes, even Tom Brady sucks at covering up his balls… (I’ll pause to let you giggle.)
Andy Reid sucks. He’s great at preparing a game plan, coaching quarterbacks, creating unit cohesion in the locker room, winning regular season games, (eating cheeseburgers…) but he sucks at clock management. He sucks at clock management and he sucks at the two-minute offense. And don’t blame this on the west coast offense. Joe Montana and Bill Walsh wrote the chapter on The Comeback in the history book of the National Football League. The west coast offense is not to blame.
Andy Reid in particular has a problem here. Rea Hughes from WIP in Philadelphia the day after the Chiefs loss to the Patriots told us on 810 airwaves she’d seen this particular story many times before. It’s like watching a rerun of that one episode of Seinfeld you hate. You’ve seen it before, it comes on TBS way too often, for some reason Kramer isn’t in it. The only difference is that this doesn’t happen just once in the life of Andy Reid. He’s perpetually terrible and also perpetually in denial of this one problem.
It’s June and when I asked Reid about the two-minute drill (something they’ve been working on and failing at quite a bit in OTAs) he said, “yeah we feel good about where we’re at.”
You do? Because I watched you give the offense one timeout and 1:40 on the clock to score a TD and halfway through the drill add two more timeouts to give the offense a couple more chances. The offense didn’t repay that with a touchdown.
You read that right, Andy Reid changed the rules of his own two-minute scenario after the offense failed the scenario. And even with two more timeouts, still failed to score. (Buy hey! The defense looked GREAT!)
This week Reid also said in responding to questions about co-offensive coordinator Matt Nagy relaying the plays to Alex Smith in the huddle, sometimes he’ll do it, sometimes Childress will call them in from the scripted plays we have and I’ll do it if we’re in the two-minute drill, just so he can get used to that.”
Yes, Andy Reid, with two offensive coordinators, will call plays in the two-minute, relay those plays in the two-minute and also manage the clock in the two-minute. (I’ll pause to let you facepalm.) Reid is doing everything in the two-minute offense. The time when many people believe he should be doing the least.
In a Twitter poll I conducted (sorry, I didn’t have time to call Reuters) I asked, “Do you want Andy Reid in control of the clock, play calling and relaying plays in under 2 minutes?”
84% of responders said “No.”
This is a blindspot for Reid. He’s terrible at clock management and scoring late. The man has orchestrated 30 wins, two playoff appearances and a playoff win in three seasons, and yet he has yet to score a single touchdown on a drive started with under two minutes to go at the end of a half or game since becoming the Chiefs head coach.
You can win in the regular season without a great two-minute offense. You cannot do the same in the playoffs. You WILL be in a close game, you WILL have to score a touchdown, and you WILL NOT have a lot of time or timeouts to accomplish that feat.
His coordinators know it too. Matt Nagy said, “It’s a clear point of emphasis for us this offseason and something we are focusing on.”
Brad Childress said, “We need to be better in the two minute offense,” when asked his takeaway from the Patriots loss. “The two minute offense will be a primary focus of everything we do out here in the offseason.”
Well, I appreciate that… that’s reassuring. I don’t know how good Alex Smith, Nagy and Childress can be with the reigns in the two minute offense, I just know I’d rather take my chances and find out than trying to come up with convoluted solutions to make sure Andy Reid knows how much time is left on the clock and that he’s acting with proper urgency as he calls plays, relays plays, and clashes cymbals between his knees and plays the harmonica. (that’s a one man band, people.) Otherwise the best we could brainstorm is a plate of ribs with a clock on it… a man to hold up a see through clock board (like the one they use for soccer substitutions) that you can just hold up in front of his face so he can still see the play, but also has to constantly look at the clock first… shock collar. That’s all I got.
Can we all just simply acknowledge, we like Andy Reid. Andy Reid is great. He’s a lovable mustachioed jolly football coach. He also SUCKS! We don’t need a city-wide intervention… just some self-acknowledgement that he sucks at clock management. Maybe then, we can stop championing regular season success, and start counting postseason championships.
By TJ Carpenter
Whether through refusal to follow the rules or refusal to play until nothing is left of their knee cartilage or memory, NFL players make a choice on when they no longer want to put football first. Mike DeVito has chosen to prioritize his family and his faith over the Chiefs and football. Hussein Abdullah, who had already left football once for his faith, is leaving again, this time to preserve his mind, citing concussion concerns as the reason for his retirement.
Sometimes it’s a little more frustrating. Josh Gordon and Johnny Manziel, a pair of Browns players aren’t going to be playing football because they prioritize pot and partying over football. And before you moralize this by pointing a finger at the NFL’s hypocrisy and perhaps stupidity in upholding a ban on pot that comes with a severe penalty for repeat offenders of the rule, remember this: The rule is the rule, you may not agree with or like the rule, but it's the rule. We can talk about changing it, and it probably should be changed. But as long as you know it can harm and perhaps even end your career, you are making a choice as an athlete to prioritize football or pot.
Rules are often times arbitrary. You may not always like your choices, but that doesn’t mean you don’t have to make a choice. Josh Gordon made a choice. He chose pot. Johnny Manziel is making a choice, to party instead of play in the league. And fans are upset with them for these choices, because teams could benefit from their talents.
But fans are on some level upset with Abdullah and DeVito as well, they may respect their priorities and choices more than they respect Manziel’s and Gordon’s, but nevertheless fans know now they have to replace those players with someone else.
The NFL always likes calling the shots, dictating terms. The NFL hated it when Myron Rolle decided to pursue a Rhodes Scholarship instead of getting drafted to be a backup, perhaps starter, in the league. And now some Chiefs fans are frustrated with DeVito and Abdullah for leaving the Chiefs high and dry, compounding some of the problems the franchise is facing, like the loss of a 3rd round draft pick this year.
We are a reflection of our choices, and our choices are a reflection of our priorities. While we may view the opportunity of playing in the NFL as one we’d never pass up, for athletes who are that talented, it just isn’t the same. Much like you, they have families, they have hobbies, they have jobs, they have vices. Not everyone prioritizes those things in the same way. If you’re at the office at one in the morning, you’ll probably get that promotion, but you may also miss out on the fun at the club, or your daughter’s soccer game.
These players are telling us who they are, every day. Some of them are jerks, talented jerks, but jerks none the less. Some of them are family men and women. Some of them are pot heads, or poets, or good ol’ boys. Some of them are pathologically competitive and have a relentless desire to be the best at what they do and be defined by what they do.
All J.J. Watt does is workout and watch film and he stays away from any vice and most recreation in general. It makes sense he’s the best Defensive End in the NFL. It also makes sense Johnny Manziel doesn’t have an NFL team right now. But we shouldn’t be mad at Watt because he seems fake (when has he had time to develop a personality?) and we shouldn’t be mad at Manziel that he’s wasting his chance to play in the NFL (He clearly would rather party and have fun.) because those are the choices they are making.
The NFL has a problem with concussions, it has bad rules on pot, it has harsh jealousy of everything else that isn’t football and shows that double standard often. But, it also offers those that play, glory and fame and fortune. It’s okay when a player decides they’d rather pursue other things. The rules, written and unwritten, exist. While we may not like them - they may be arbitrary - but we have to follow them. We don’t however, have to villainize and moralize every time someone chooses to make a different choice than we would make. Players are telling us who they are. It’s time we start listening.
THE ROYALS MACHINE
“I am not a machine.”
Wade Davis pitched another scoreless inning against the San Francisco Giants In Scottsdale, Arizona, barely breaking a sweat. It was a hot day, so that’s saying something.
Wade Davis doesn’t like being referred to as a machine, even though that only spurs on the jokes on twitter and facebook (that’s exactly what a machine WOULD say; the machine is beginning to feel human emotions; skynet is online). “I don’t like that machine thing at all. I’m just a laid back guy. I have emotions,” Wade Davis said to me.
Davis and I talked a lot about his past. A one-time failed starter, Davis is now the best relief pitcher in baseball. Davis is coming off the best two-year stretch statistically in baseball history. Literally no one has better numbers in a two-year span than Davis had in 2014 and 2015. But many may not know it because Davis has been the setup man to Greg Holland for most of the last two seasons. Looking back on his time as a starter Davis has a good theory on why things didn’t work out as a starter and why he’s so good now.
“I didn’t work hard enough,” Davis said. “I didn’t have the maturity and consistency at the time to succeed. Now I’m older and more mature. I know what it takes and I know how hard it is.”
Davis’ admission is a common refrain with a lot of players around the Royals clubhouse. New addition to the team, Reymond Fuentes had a cup of coffee in the majors with San Diego where in 36 plate appearances he struck out in half of them. He was 22 at the time. Fuentes is now 25 and is jolting the ball all over the park in Spring Training, which isn’t a new development.
“I wasn’t ready,” Fuentes said. “I learned that there are guys at the major league level who throw their first strike when they want to, not when it happens. I am more mature now, I didn’t know what it took to play and hit at that level. Now I know how to go about my business and put in the work.”
It’s refreshing to hear players openly talk about failure. Baseball is after all a game of failure. If you succeed 30 percent of the time at the plate you’re considered all-star level. Perhaps one of the overlooked things about the organization is the strength the Royals built up clawing their way out of the psychological hole three decades of failure created around them.
As Andy McCullough wrote in 2014, the Royals first run to the World Series was almost derailed by Clash of Clans. Lorenzo Cain, Jarrod Dyson, Mike Moustakas, and Eric Hosmer had to be set straight by First base coach Rusty Kuntz. When they started to focus more on baseball and less on video games, the season went from another reason for optimism to the best posteason run to the World Series in Major League history.
Eric Hosmer and Mike Moustakas were supposed to be white knights in shining armor here to save the city and bring it out of squalor. Eventually they did, but not before they had their own struggles. Moustakas was on the verge of being out of the league he was such a bad hitter in 2014. He hit .212 that season, which was actually helped by a surge in production in the second half that helped the Royals make the postseason for the first time since 1985. In 2015 he redefined himself as a hitter, due in large part to an acknowledgement that he had to give up on the long ball and beat the shift. He did it.
Davis is probably the best example of the Royals machine, but every player in one way or another came to terms with failure, their own failure. They came to terms with their own personalities and shortcomings. There is a strong sense of identity in this team because they are comfortable with themselves and what they are. They embrace their roles. Every player is a gear in the engine, a cog in the infernal machine destroying every team in its path.
Wade Davis isn’t a machine. He isn’t perfect. Just like every player in that clubhouse isn’t perfect. But together, the Royals Machine churns on.
There are no games scheduled for today.
There are no games scheduled for today.