By Nate Winkler 
Cold, Hard Football Facts resident rib wrecker

The Kansas City Chiefs needed far more than a Naughty Nurse during their 2011 season. A full-fledged battlefield triage unit would have been much more fitting. One impact player after another went down for the defending AFC West champs, before the plug was pulled on the Todd Haley era with three games left during a first-to-worst freefall. The good news for Chiefs fans is the team showed a spark when new head coach Romeo Crennel relieved Haley, finishing 2-1 with wins over then-undefeated Green Bay & eventual AFC West champ Denver.

The Chiefs got off to a horrid start, dropping their first two games (Buffalo, @Detroit) by a combined score of 89-10 and losing featured back Jamaal Charles to a torn ACL in Week 2. Dynamic defenders Eric Berry and Brandon Siler were lost in training camp, as was breakout tight end Tony Moeaki on an offense that was already thin on playmakers. The ground game would never get on track, with the Chiefs rushing for 734 less yards in 2011 than they did in 2010 and their YPC dropped drastically from 4.7 to 3.9.

After dropping the division opener to the San Diego Chargers the Chiefs righted the ship, winning four in a row and getting right back in to the mix of the wide open AFC West. Just when things were starting to look up, the winless Dolphins came into Arrowhead two weeks removed from getting “Tebowed” and took out their frustrations on the Chiefs with a 31-3 drubbing that sent K.C.’s season into a flat spin.

The Denver Broncos paid a visit to the Barbeque Capital of the World in Week 10 and beat the Chiefs despite Tim Tebow only completing two passes. Denver’s revamped “Orange Crush” also ushered in the beginning of the Tyler Palko era when Matt Cassel fell victim to a broken hand courtesy of Von Miller’s face mask. Palko started the next two games against Pittsburgh and New England respectively, and the predictable results propelled the “Chefs” into the conversation of 2011’s most disappointing teams. Palko got what will likely be his only NFL victory at Soldier Field (10-3) in Week 13 before a trip to New York and a 37-10 defeat at the hands of the J-E-T-S cost Palko and his head coach, Todd Haley, their jobs.

Defensive coordinator and former Browns head man Romeo Crennel stepped in for the final three games and promptly named Denver reject Kyle Orton the starter.Romeo’s audition got off to a shockingly positive start as Orton led the Chiefs to a 19-14 victory over the defending Super Bowl Champion and 13-0 Green Bay Packers. Kansas City, despite their 6-8 record, was still mathematically alive in the AFC West with division games against Oakland and Denver remaining. It was not to be, however, as the Raiders eked out a win in OT that completed the Chiefs first-to-worst collapse despite Orton getting his revenge against the Broncos in the season finale.

2011 Storyline: High speed roller coaster at a county fair. The Chiefs season was full of ups and downs, with streaks of 3 (L), 4(W), & 4(L) taking them to the beginning of December, then winning every other game from there on out. Injuries certainly played a part in the lack of offensive consistency, but Todd Haley’s overbearing ego and eventual alienation of the locker room played a role as well. Crennel & Orton were able to salvage some respectability in the end, but by all accounts the Chiefs were a disappointment in 2011.

Kansas City’s defense certainly has the talent (but lacks depth) to build around, and the Chiefs posted impressive numbers in our vital Defensive Passer Rating, Defensive QB Rating, & Defensive Hog Indexes, which with the return/addition of a few offensive playmakers gives them reason to believe they can turn the franchise back into a contender quickly.

The Vital Signs
Coach (record): Romeo Crennel (2-1 with Kansas City; 26-41 overall)
2011 Record: 7-9 (13.2 PPG – 21.1 PPGA)
Record against the spread: 9-7
Record vs. Quality Opponents: 1-3 (8.5 PPG – 27.3 PPGA)
Record last five seasons: 27-53 (.338)
Best Quality Stat in 2011: Defensive Hog Index, (6th)
Worst Quality Stat in 2011: Scoreability (31st)

22 15 31 16 23        24 26 8 28 7 20 24 6 29
Overall =Overall position in Quality Stats Power Rankings; QS= Quality Standings; SCOR = Scoreability; Bend = Bendability; RPYPA = Real Passing Yards Per Attempt; DRPYPA = Defensive Real Passing; QBR = Real Quarterback Rating; DQBR = Defensive Real Quarterback Rating; OPR = Offensive Passer Rating; DPR = Defensive Passer Rating; PRD = Passer Rating Differential; OHI = Offensive Hog Index; DHI = Defensive Hog Index; REL = Relativity Index.

Statistical curiosity of 2011: The Chiefs were one of only three teams to have both offensive and defensive passer ratings in the 70s (Seattle, Chicago). None of the three ended up with winning records. This tells us the most important metric when looking at Passer Rating is Differential, with 10 of last year’s playoff teams finishing in the top 12 in the NFL in Passer Rating Differential. Kansas City’s PRD was -6.00 (20th).

Best Game of 2011: 19-14 win at home against Green Bay (Week 15). In the debut of both Romeo Crennel & Kyle Orton, the Chiefs pulled off the unthinkable in knocking the Packers from the ranks of the unbeaten. Much to the delight of the Arrowhead faithful, Orton drove the Chiefs to a rare opening possession score, giving the Chiefs the confidence they needed to compete against the 13-0 defending Champs. K.C.’s front 7, led by Tamba Hali and his (3) sacks on Aaron Rodgers, controlled the line of scrimmage throughout the contest and never allowed the Pack to get into a rhythm. Like so many teams before them, the Packers dreams of perfection ended at the hands of an inferior opponent who gave credence to the age old adage of “Any Given Sunday”.

Worst Game of 2011: 17-10 loss at home to Denver (Week 10). Although they lost games by far greater margins during the season, none hurt worse than this one. The Chiefs had worked their way right back into the thick of the AFC West race when the Broncos came to town and K.C.’s front 7 looked to match up well against the Tebow-driven read option look that the Donkeys had recently found success with. Unfortunately, the full-frontal assault that was delivered by Denver (55 carries, 255 yds.) was too much for the Chiefs to sustain, and despite Tebow completing only 2 of 8 passes, the Broncos won in a much more convincing fashion than the 17-10 score and effectively stacked the deck against the Chiefs the rest of the way.

Strength: Pass Defense. The combination of formidable front seven with the likes of Tamba Hali, Glen Dorsey, Tyson Jackson & Derrick Johnson and an athletic young secondary make the Chiefs one of the tougher teams in the league to pass on. Despite losing safety Eric Berry to an injury in training camp, the Chiefs were able to put up a Defensive Passer Rating of 79.06 (7th) and a meager 212.9 passing YPG allowed, good for 4th in the league.

All this despite only amassing 29 sacks in 16 games, which was 10 less than the previous season. Still, the Chiefs were fairly adept overall at forcing Negative Pass Plays (sacks + INT): thier No. 6-ranked Defensive Hogs were also No. 6 in the NFL at forcing NPPs (10.14%).

One note of concern is the 6.67 Real Passing YPA the defense gave up in 2011 (24th). But the secondary will continue to be a point of strength for K.C. in the near future, which is great when considering they welcome Peyton Manning to a division that already has two QB’s in Phillip Rivers & Carson Palmer that are capable of being elite.

Weakness: Scoring Offense, Rush Defense. The Chiefs lost Pro-Bowler Jamaal Charles in the 2nd game of the season, which placed the burden of the offense on Matt Cassel’s shoulders. Without his safety valve in Moeaki, Cassel was unable to ever get into a rhythm before being lost for the season himself in Week 10. For the season, Kansas City’s quarterbacks (Cassel, Palko, Orton) posted a combined 73.06 Passer Rating (28th) and a Real QB Rating of 66.71 (26th). The Chiefs averaged a laughable 13.1 points per game and 23.46 YPPS (Yards per point scored, or Scorability as CHFF Insiders already know). Only St. Louis was worse in those categories, making Missouri the “Show Me Some Pink Slips” state.

Despite having a defensive front 7 stocked full of first-round draft picks, the Chiefs remained soft against the run in 2011, allowing 132 YPG (26th) on 4.16 YPC (14th).  Glen Dorsey, although a solid player, has never quite lived up to what the Chiefs hoped for when they took him with the 5th overall pick in the 2008 draft. He has as many sacks (4) as he has seasons under his belt, and doesn’t command a double team often enough from his 3-4 end position to free up the linebackers.  96 of the 508 (18.9%) rushing attempts against the Chiefs went for first downs, a stat that helped lead the NFL’s 24th best average time of possession with 29:04 per game (down from 30:20 in 2010).

General off-season strategy/overview: Regardless of being shunned in the Peyton Manning sweepstakes, Kansas City has been one of the most active teams in free agency so far this offseason. Peyton Hillis, Eric Winston and Kevin Boss were all brought in to help the anemic offense. The return of Charles & Moeaki as well as further development of the “Killer B’s” (Bowe, Baldwin, Breaston) at wideout should make the Chiefs “O” less offensive in 2012. The secondary lost Brandon Carr to the Cowboys, but the acquisition of former Raider Stanford Routt takes away the sting, in addition to the always pleasurable chance to stick it to Oakland. The services of Kyle Orton were not retained, but keeping with the theme, another former Broncos QB, Brady Quinn, was brought in and is the projected backup behind Cassel. Left Tackle Eric Winston is one of the prize additions in all of free agency and will give Cassel a much better chance at remaining upright for 16 games.
Kansas City’s general manager, Scott Pioli, is confident that Cassel is the answer at quarterback and has now given him ample playmakers. Look for the Chiefs front office to target a defensive tackle or outside linebacker early in the draft and then focusing on the best available players on their board. With Eric Berry’s recovery still in question adding another safety would also make sense.  Despite looking so awful at times during 2011, the organization believes they have assembled a roster with enough talent to win the division again and compete for a championship. Pioili & Crennel are trying to recreate the “Patriot Way” that helped them each earn three Super Bowl rings while members of the New England organization.

Totally premature 2012 diagnosis:  In 2010 the Chiefs completed a worst-to-first turnaround, Todd Haley was hailed a genius and Pioli was lauded as the brilliant G.M. everyone thought he was. What a difference a year makes. In 2011, Kansas City went from first-to-worst (There’s no awards banquet for that), Haley was fired midseason after losing control of the team and repeatedly being embarrassed between the lines, and Pioli himself became mired in a controversy that portrayed him as an uber-paranoid control freak with intimidation tactics that had many wondering if the Arrowhead on the side of the helmet was going to be replaced with a hammer and sickle.
2012 should be a bounce back year for Kansas City. With the refocused leadership of Romeo Crennel and what has to figure to be a healthier squad, there’s no reason to believe the Chiefs can’t compete until the very end in the AFC West. San Diego will be on the rebound as well, and with Peyton Manning replacing Tim Tebow in Denver it would figure that the defending West champion Broncos are the team to beat. The Chiefs will have the benefit of a fourth place schedule to work with, playing Indianapolis & Buffalo in addition to the NFC South and AFC North. They may not have depth to win the division but should be playing for a wild-card berth on the last weekend of the regular season, which would be a welcome step back in the right direction for a team that hasn’t won a playoff game since January 14th, 1994, when their quarterback was named Joe Montana.