Are the Chiefs setup for a fall?

June, 7, 2011
6/07/11
4:00
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KC Joyner isn’t sure we’ll see a repeat playoff performance by the Kansas City Chiefs in 2011.

[+] EnlargeMatt Cassel
John Rieger/US PresswireThe Chiefs need Matt Cassel to hit more deep passes if they hope to return to the playoffs next season.
In an ESPN.com Insider piece, Joyner points to quarterback Matt Cassel’s struggles to complete long passes as a major reason why he thinks the Chiefs -- who went 10-6 and won the 2011 AFC West title after winning a grand total of 10 games in the previous three seasons combined -- could slip this season.

Here is some of what worries Joyner about Cassel: His metrics in this category range from mediocre to abysmal. His 10.2 vertical YPA (vertical being defined as passes thrown 11 or more yards downfield) ranked 20th in the league last season. His 9.0 stretch vertical YPA (defined as passes thrown 20 or more yards) was even worse, as it ranked next to last among qualifying quarterbacks (175 pass attempts needed to qualify). (Note: these numbers include attempts and yardage totals posted on pass penalties such as defensive holding, illegal contact, pass interference, etc.)

Many might come to Cassel's defense by pointing out the subpar state of the Kansas City wide receiver/tight ends corps last season. It would seem awfully difficult to put together an effective vertical passing game when mediocre pass catchers such as Chris Chambers, Terrance Copper, Verran Tucker, Leonard Pope and Tim Castille all post at least 10 targets, as was the case last season.

Some will point to the addition of former Pitt wide receiver Jonathan Baldwin in the first round of the 2011 draft as a reason for optimism here.

However, the primary counter to that statement would be that Baldwin's first-year learning curve could be steep, given that a) the lockout could prevent him from getting much practice time prior to the start of the season and b) Scouts Inc. said that he is inconsistent and erratic in many areas.

Throw in the fact that Baldwin's 15.51 yards per reception average last season ranked him 68th among FBS pass catchers and it shows just how far he has to go before he can be considered an answer to the Chiefs' vertical receiving woes.

My thoughts? Cassel’s inability to complete the deep pass is clearly an issue. That’s why Baldwin was drafted in the first round. Kansas City recognized the issue and tried to fix it. That’s what good teams do.

The key is how fast Baldwin can make a difference in this area. Joyner points out the learning curve and he’s right, but he will be given every chance to succeed.

This season surely will not be easy for Kansas City. It is now the hunted. It has a tougher schedule than it did in 2010. But, in the end, this is a balanced team with good coaching. The Chiefs appear to be headed in the right direction, regardless of potential obstacles.

Bill Williamson | email

ESPN San Francisco 49ers reporter

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