Chiefs will proceed with caution
BY KENT BABB
Kansas City Star
The Chiefs are changing, but that's nothing you didn't already know. They're trying to evolve and improve, and Kansas City is willing to explore most anything that looks promising.
This latest change, well, it doesn't feel natural. Not in the NFL and not coming from coach Herm Edwards. The Chiefs are running the spread offense because, unlike most things this season, it was successful Sunday in a loss against the New York Jets. Tyler Thigpen passed for 280 yards. Kansas City went three-and-out once in the first half. The Chiefs scored two touchdowns before halftime, and they hadn't done that all year.
So the Chiefs are moving on with the spread, albeit more carefully in the future, a pro team attaching itself to a college system. They're moving on, even if it comes at the expense of the tried and true power running game the Edwards and most other NFL coaches would prefer.
But the Chiefs are 1-6, and at this point....
"Whatever it takes," Edwards said Tuesday, "we'll do it."
That's coming from a coach who'd prefer to watch a running back carry the ball two dozen times a game, and if that means settling for field goals most times, then so be it.
Edwards doesn't like to risk turnovers. He's not ashamed by that. Passing is a necessity and not always an enjoyable one for the Chiefs' third-year coach. The spread relies on quick passes and screens, often at the expense of rushing plays, and maybe Sunday was the first example that the Chiefs players aren't the only ones who have to evolve.
"I'm comfortable using it," Edwards said of the spread. "I'm comfortable moving the ball and trying to score points."
Edwards said Tuesday the Chiefs tailored their offense to Thigpen's strengths and his comfort. He ran the spread in college at Coastal Carolina, and the second-year quarterback said two weeks ago there was something about the spread that made him feel at home.
But before Thigpen settles in, Edwards wanted to make something clear Tuesday: it can't continue, at least not the way it went down in Sunday's 28-24 loss. Edwards said the Chiefs cannot abandon the run, and part of the reason the spread worked against New York is because the Jets defense wasn't expecting it and hadn't practiced for it. When Tampa Bay plays at Arrowhead on Sunday, the Chiefs won't have the luxury of surprise; Edwards, a former longtime Buccaneers assistant, said he suspected Tampa Bay coordinator Monte Kiffin knows how to stop the spread and has already begun teaching his players the same.
"They'll bring something for it. The first thing you do is bring pressure; try to knock the quarterback down," Edwards said. "I've been with Monte a long time. I know how he thinks. He's going to put pressure on the quarterback. There's no doubt about it."
That's the secret to stopping the spread, and that's what makes Edwards nervous. The Chiefs' offensive line is young, and the coach expects the Bucs to target Thigpen and try to make the quarterback as nervous as the coach.
Edwards squirmed when asked Tuesday whether he thinks Thigpen can read and beat blitzes, something he'll have to do if Tampa Bay is as aggressive as Edwards predicted.
"The guy has only played two games," Edwards said.
So as the Chiefs and Edwards are willing to commit to a riskier offense, for now at least, Edwards would feel better if Kansas City took some of the risk out of it. He said the Chiefs have to call more rushing plays than they did this past Sunday, for balance's sake -- and to keep defenses guessing.
"You have to keep them honest," Edwards said. "I don't think you can live in (the spread). It's like anything else: When people get a bead on what you're doing, the first thing they do is attack you."