Don't Kill The Mellinger

Twitter Tuesday: Chiefs run defense, Andy Reid showing off, Sal Perez is tired, MU, KU

With 3:38 left in the game, Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Allen Bailey (97) stopped Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch (24) on a fourth down and 1 during NFL action on November 14, 2014 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. The Chiefs won 24-20.
With 3:38 left in the game, Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Allen Bailey (97) stopped Seattle Seahawks running back Marshawn Lynch (24) on a fourth down and 1 during NFL action on November 14, 2014 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo. The Chiefs won 24-20. The Kansas City Star

I’m not sure how much traction this got, but in the last week a major story broke that will impact how sports are played, governed, watched and digested when NBA commissioner Adam Silver announced his support of legalized sports betting with an op-ed in the New York Times.

In a lot of ways, the issue of legalized sports betting is like the issue of legalized marijuana in that it is a matter of when and not if.

If we were starting from scratch, it’s hard to imagine we would determine that alcohol should be legal but pot not. It’s hard to imagine we would determine that the natural and ancient bridge between sports and gambling should be closed, particularly when parts of Europe, particularly the UK, have shown how to benefit from it and regulate it. Especially when fantasy football is as mainstream as soda, and our outdated laws have simply exported sports betting to offshore websites which suck up the revenue.

Silver is major pro sports’ newest commissioner, and it’s a safe bet — see what I did there? — that the next commissioners in the other leagues will be closer to his stance than their predecessors.

Our society and culture are very clearly moving in the direction of legalized betting, just like legalized marijuana. Same-sex marriage is a few years ahead, but there will be a time that kids born today will grow up and be amazed that these things used to be illegal. It’ll be like teenagers today, asking how we lived before the internet and cell phones.

Silver has some significant self-interest here. Legalized betting means additional revenue streams, and by taking the stance now he’ll be remembered as the forward-thinking commissioner who got things going.

Won’t be long before kids are asking us old folks questions like, Wait, so sports leagues were actually turning down money?

The eating recommendation is the Porchetta at Pigwich, and the reading recommendation is Joe Posnanski on Buck O’Neil’s birthday. Even if you’re like me and have read Joe on Buck many times before, this is just a lot of fun.

As always, thanks for your help and thanks for reading. Let’s do it:

Well, mostly, I feel two things.

The column wasn’t writing off the season. It was pointing out what the Chiefs could still get out of this season without making the playoffs.

The column was very stupid.

I got far too caught up in the stat about only nine of 100 teams making the playoffs after an 0-2 start since the current division format began in 2002, and put far too much weight into the Titans game.

The further we get away from that, the less sense it makes. One thing that’s easy to forget is that the game — a limp blowout loss, at home, in the season opener to a crappy team — came after a mostly forgettable preseason. At that point, there was no visual evidence that the Chiefs would be anything other than terrible. The upcoming schedule looked brutal. Derrick Johnson and Mike DeVito were out for the year.

I don’t know how to explain that Titans game. I think some of it was an emotional letdown from the team after those injuries, but that feels a little weak since the Chiefs were already getting beat before those injuries, and no matter what, there’s no excuse for rolling over in a season opener at home.

I’m not sure the coaching staff had a great sense of what their team was in that game. I think they’ve made some adjustments, most notably in shorter drops and quicker passes on offense to scheme around the offensive line’s inconsistencies. I think they’ve made better use of Travis Kelce, and I also don’t entirely believe Andy Reid’s mea culpa after that Titans game about not using Jamaal Charles enough.

This is pure speculation on my part, I want to be clear about that, but I don’t think Charles was healthy in that game. I think that’s why Reid didn’t use him more, and I think he was covering that up in the postgame.

Pretty much every team in the NFL has a clunker game. It still makes no sense for it to come in the season opener, at home, against a crappy team but that’s clearly what that was for the Chiefs.

They’re not talented enough to wow anyone, or overwhelm opponents. But their parts fit together. They’re extremely well coached, and have found a nice combination of leadership from stars and moments from others.

I tweeted this the other day, but if you add up all the receiving yards from the Chiefs’ six receivers on the roster — Dwayne Bowe (509), Donnie Avery (156), Junior Hemingway (104), A.J. Jenkins (93), Frankie Hammond (31) and Albert Wilson (24) — they would collectively rank eighth in the NFL. Right between Jeremy Maclin and Julio Jones.

I think the idea of This Is How You Win In Today’s NFL is usually an overblown storyline. There are certain unassailable tenets of winning, like turnovers and pressuring the quarterback and avoiding stupid penalties, stuff like that. And, certainly, teams that have big-armed quarterbacks and dominating receivers are at an advantage, but I don’t see why there can only be one way to win in the NFL.

The Chiefs would love to have better receivers, just like the Royals would love to hit more home runs. But there are always different routes you can take to get somewhere.

The two biggest problems with having bad receivers, as I see it:

You’re getting nothing from an important position group, which puts more pressure on the others, and makes it harder for you to adjust if what you’re doing doesn’t work.

If you fall behind, it’s harder to score quickly.

Those are real concerns, especially No. 2, because nobody really talks about this but for everything the Chiefs are doing right on defense, only the crappy Jets have forced fewer turnovers. So far, that hasn’t been much of an issue, but it will be if and when the Chiefs fall behind by more than a touchdown.

He won’t win coach of the year, probably, not with Bruce Arians around, but I’d argue that what Reid and his staff have done this year is better than last year’s nine-win turnaround.

I’m not buying this, and if this is A Thing, I’d like to poke a little hole in the theory that teams struggle the week after playing the Seahawks, and not just because that sounds fishy on the surface. This season, the week after playing the Seahawks …

… the Packers beat the crappy Jets.

… the Chargers beat the Bills (in Buffalo).

… the Broncos beat the Cardinals (but had a bye week after losing in Seattle).

… Washington lost at Arizona.

… the Cowboys beat the Giants.

… the Rams lost to the Chiefs.

… the Panthers lost to the Saints (at home).

… the Raiders lost to the Broncos.

… the Giants lost to the 49ers.

Regardless of previous opponent, isn’t that about how you’d expect all those games to go? That’s an aggregate 4-5. The Chargers winning at Buffalo is no small thing, and I don’t care that the Panthers are bad, you never feel good about losing to the Saints outside the Superdome.

Now, I do think there is something to the road team having a hard time on the short week, though I think I’ve seen some history that indicates the actual effect isn’t as big as you might imagine.

But more than all of that, I think the Chiefs are playing the Raiders. The Raiders. They are 32nd in scoring, and 27th in point prevention. They are winless, 10 games into an NFL season. Chances are decent that they’ll win at some point, but guys, if you lose to the Raiders you shouldn’t be blaming your previous opponent or a short week of preparation.

I know we’re not supposed to talk about this in Kansas City, but I think the no rushing TD thing is getting overplayed a bit. There probably is something to the idea of the Chiefs stiffening up near the goal line, and this is, more or less, the same group that only gave up nine rushing touchdowns last year.

But, well, this is the part people aren’t going to like hearing: it’s not a great run defense.

They’re giving up 4.8 yards per carry, which is more than every other defense in football other than the Giants. They haven’t been burned by it yet because they do tighten up near the goal line, they play the pass very well, and they’ve usually played with the lead.

A lot of that I do think is the absence of Johnson and DeVito. Both those guys, especially DeVito, play the run very well and the whole Next Man Up thing only goes so far.

There is an honor in not giving up any rushing touchdowns 10 games into a season, and I’m not trying to take away from that, but I feel like people are making a mistake by translating that into an argument that the Chiefs have a great run defense.

Which is a long way of saying: 7-3 with six guys named Tom at wide receiver is more impressive.

Everyone knows about Amari Cooper, of course, and hopefully everybody also knows he’ll be long gone by the time the Chiefs pick. And I want to be very clear about two things here:

I am not a draft expert.

I am very dubious of people who present themselves as draft experts, particularly those who don’t do it full-time.

That said, Jaelen Strong looks pretty good and right now — a thousand years before the May draft — profiles as the kind of guy who might be available toward the end of the first round.

Also, the Chiefs should draft Kelvin Benjamin and sign Emmanuel Sanders as a free agent if it’s not too late.

I’ve thought this a few times this season, actually, and I mostly mean that as a compliment to Reid and his assistants. Bill Snyder is one of the best college football coaches of the last 25 years, and he’s made it largely by winning games when the other team had more talent, and in some real ways outplayed them. He has given K-State, ahem, a decided schematic advantage.

These Chiefs play a lot like Snyder’s teams do, and not just because the last three wins have come while being outgained. They play to their strengths extremely well, don’t make a lot of mistakes, and seem to make the important plays.

Two fundamental differences: Reid doesn’t try to wear a Super Bowl XXXIX windbreaker on the sideline and, let’s be honest, Bill Snyder would not stand for Jamaal Charles mocking Michael Bennett’s Ravishing Rick Rude sack dance, awesome as it was.

I get the feeling that the Royals think of keeping Sal from playing baseball the way I think of keeping my dog from jumping all over people when they come over. It’s a wonderful thought, and if it could be pulled off everyone would be better for it. But thinking something and getting something done can be two very different things.

After the last game of the regular season, when Sal had caught something like 51 games in the last 30 days — give or take — and the Royals finally had a day off before the Wild Card Game, I asked Perez if it would be nice to have some rest.

He said he was not tired, and loved to play baseball whenever he could.

I asked if all the work — he caught more games than anyone in baseball, and his offensive production fell off a cliff as the season wore on — had taken a toll on his body.

He said he felt great, same as the first day of the season. Not tired, he insisted.

So then I asked what he would do with his day off after a light workout with the team early in the day. His answer was different than something you might hear from someone who was not tired.

“I will go to my house and my bed and I will sleep in my room for the rest of the day. I will sleep until the next day. As soon as I get home, I will sleep. I will go to sleep at nine, and wake up at noon. Oh my gosh, maybe more than that.”

So, yeah. If I ran the Royals, I would desperately want Perez to rest. And I would make very certain that Ned Yost understood that the star catcher with a major knee surgery in his past and lots of club-friendly seasons left on his contract was not to make a run at Ripken’s record.

But I also think those types of things are much easier said than done. The guy wants to play, and when he’s outside the Royals’ control, he’s probably going to find a way to play.

The amazing Fangraphs has a thing where it computes a player’s production with the going rate on the open market, spitting out a dollar figure for what that player is worth in any given year. It calculated Perez worth $17.9 million in 2014, and $18.6 million the year before. He made $2.5 million in those seasons, total, which you may notice is less than what he was theoretically worth.

If we use Fangraphs’ calculations here and say Perez has been worth an average of $18.2 million over the last two seasons, and figure that baseball revenues and salaries (as well as Perez’s production and value, because he’s only 24 years old) will only increase, I think a somewhat conservative estimate to a hypothetical free-agent contract this offseason would be six years and $120 million.

Perez is under club control for the next five years, for a total of, um, $23.5 million, and that includes an escalator that was triggered by certain measurements of his awesomeness the last three seasons.

Well, can we just all agree to be adults and not pretend the Royals will sign Jon Lester? They can’t even afford James Shields. I know there was the report by Jeff Flanagan about some reps from Lester’s agency being in Kansas City, and I like Flanny, but at the time his reps were in town the Royals’ decision makers were either in Arizona for the GM meetings or in the Dominican watching Tomas work out. Also, Lester has the same agency as Michael Morse, who is MUCH more likely to be a Royal next year than Lester.

I’m mostly speculating here, but the Royals’ chances at Tomas are also very small. Their opening comes if Tomas, like some have written, is looking for a shorter contract so he could sign another (bigger) deal when he’s 28 or so. If that’s the way it goes, the Royals might be able to get in the neighborhood of some other teams and try to sell Tomas on their strong international program and presence of guys like Perez and Alcides Escobar in the clubhouse. But they’re also going to be bidding against some large money teams, and if Tomas does decide he wants to sign a shorter (four years or so) contract to cash in later, he’s going to want to put up big numbers and Kauffman Stadium is a bad place for a power hitter to put up big numbers.

If they could get him, though, he would seem to solve so much for the Royals.

I was talking earlier about this year being a better coaching job than 2013 for Andy Reid, and if Mizzou gets back to Atlanta next month I think you might be able to say the same thing about Gary Pinkel. Mizzou lost a lot off last year’s team, and planned on having DGB this season.

They’ve been fortunate, obviously, with how the divisions are drawn up and that was an ugly loss to Georgia at home. But what Mizzou has done everything else they’ve needed to do. The win in College Station was particularly impressive.

There’s a lot there to pick apart, and that’s going to come in something as high-profile as SEC football. Maty Mauk is completing just 52.9 percent, and his decision making isn’t always there. South Carolina was 13th in the country when Mizzou won on the road, but the Gamecocks’ only wins since have been against Furman and Florida (which fired its coach afterward). Indiana’s only other wins this year are against Indiana State and North Texas.

But none of that is Mizzou’s fault. The Tigers schedule aggressively in the non-conference (last week’s BYU announcement is the latest example) and have beaten everyone they’ve faced in the SEC except Georgia.

Of course their record would likely be different if they had to play Alabama and the Mississippi schools. But my life would be different if I was 7 feet tall with a 40-inch vertical leap^. All that matters is how we play the hand we’re dealt.

^ I’d have less leg room on the plane, for instance.

And with the hand it’s been dealt, Mizzou is two winnable games from making a second consecutive SEC championship game. Raise your hand if you saw that coming.

If your hand is raised, you are a liar and should stop.

I guess it depends on how former you’re talking here. It’s not the sport I grew up watching, the one where the best players stuck around a little longer. It used to be you could watch teams grow through the years, not just the months. I liked it more back then, but those days aren’t coming back any time soon, so it’s a little like talking about how rap music used be better when I was younger or some other silly thing that makes me feel very old.

I still love college basketball, and, for instance, am intrigued to see the doubleheader tonight with Kansas-Kentucky and Duke-Michigan State. I like to see how the hype measures up with reality, and I like watching wildly talented basketball players go with so much hanging around the margins — the passion of college sports, the guidance of famous coaches, and of course the understanding that these guys are largely playing for their future.

I dig the unknown. I dig the idea that I might remember watching those games tonight the way I remember watching Kentucky beat KU a few years ago, when even in November I was fairly certain that it was one of the best teams of my adult lifetime and that Anthony Davis was a freak of nature. It’s fun to get an early eye on guys you’ll be watching for the next decade, in many cases longer.

Like I say, I love it. But if you come back with, “Yeah, but it’s hard to invest in a one-year player and it’s so corrupt with coaches making millions and players having to wait and blah blah blah,” well, I can’t argue that point with any passion.

Sheahon Zenger is absolutely doing the right thing by waiting. The KU A.D. has nothing to lose here. When he admitted an obvious mistake by firing Charlie Weis, part of the deal was getting an extended look at Bowen in the job. There’s no logical reason to cut that short. You don’t need to extend this too long after the season, but Bowen’s not going anywhere.

Why not take a few home run swings at candidates, see what you come up with?

What Bowen is doing is pretty simple: he’s raising the bar, making it harder on Zenger to hire someone else. I happen to think Bowen should be the guy, for a lot of reasons, and I thought this when they made the switch. It’s time for a guy like him. KU should see what one of its own can do. There’s value in a man who truly believes in a place, which is an entirely different thing than KU got from Weis.

I also think it helps that Bowen would work for cheap. KU’s paid a lot of money to a lot of football coaches lately.

And Baylor beat TCU, right? And they have the same record?

Seems pretty straightforward to me.

Beer Kitchen. Get the mac and cheese with burnt ends and jalapeños with something off their delicious beer list, then congratulate yourself on reading this blog.

To reach Sam Mellinger, call 816-234-4365 or send email to smellinger@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter: @mellinger. For previous columns, go to KansasCity.com.

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