Don't Kill The Mellinger

Twitter Tuesday: Chiefs fallout, Royals’ signings, Mizzou’s success

Chiefs coach Andy Reid (left) and general manager John Dorsey.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid (left) and general manager John Dorsey. The Kansas City Star

You may have seen where five Rams players came onto the field with the “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” gesture from the mess in Ferguson. And I hope you read the always thoughtful Vahe about it here, too.

I don’t want to get into what happened or didn’t happen when a police officer fatally shot a teenager in a St. Louis suburb in August. I don’t know, and you don’t know. A grand jury chose not to indict the officer, who has since resigned. We all wish none of it happened. I hope we all recognize that there is a distrust of police, particularly in many black neighborhoods, and I hope we all recognize that police officers have a very difficult job and for the most part do it the best they can.

But I’m actually coming at this from a slightly different angle, one that’s not nearly as important as the real-world stuff involving racial profiling, militarized police, the awful act of looting, or any of the other issues bubbling out of this tragedy.

I’m coming at this with a simpler thought. A few, actually.

First, good for the Rams players who used their platform to express something important to them. The “Hands Up, Don’t Shoot” thing has come to mean many different things to many different people, and there is more than enough evidence to at least question whether the teenagers actually had his hands up. The gesture has been adopted as a symbol of sorts for change in a lot of areas. So when the Rams players did what they did, they knew they were opening themselves up for criticism of all kinds, criticism they certainly didn’t need to go seeking, and I applaud them for stepping outside of character. Free country.

Second, the criticism that’s coming their way is just as fair as the players’ demonstration. A grand jury chose not to indict, at least in part because of the lack of evidence we just talked about, and anyone who believes what the Rams players did may antagonize an already precarious situation, or is fogging the facts, or anything else is free to express their displeasure. The police did, which is certainly their right. Free country.

Third, good on the NFL for not punishing the players who spoke out. It is incredibly easy to criticize the NFL, and fairly, for a laundry list of arrogant mistakes they’ve made over the years but here is an instance of the leauge not overstepping its power and actually showing discretion. This is free speech, on both sides.

I know that sports are supposed to be an escape, and there are good reasons to disagree with me here, but I also like that sports provide a platform for voices to be heard and issues to be discussed. Sports can be so much more than an escape, and those opportunities should be cherished, too.

But I think there can be a net gain here if discussions are started, and people who otherwise might never think about certain things take the time. Sports are great for all kinds of reasons. They can unite us, and drive us, and inspire us.

They can also make us think.

This week’s eating recommendation is the cabo beef at Longboards, and the reading recommendation is Tim Keown on the financial requests that divided an NFL star from his family.

As always, thanks for the help and thanks for reading.

Kansas City is a weird place.

One of the awesome and frustrating things about following the NFL is how each game makes for its own story, and by product of both a 16-game proving ground and the way each of those games are often turned on a small handful of plays, it is our country’s greatest breeding ground for overreaction.

The Chiefs got slobberknockered by the Broncos on Sunday night, we all saw that, and with the context of coming after three extra days’ rest and a loss to the crappy Raiders and with so much on the line, is an inexcusable failure.

But the season’s not over. The Chiefs are in a 172-way tie for the second wild card spot, and are only a game the Chargers for the top wild-card spot with a home game (and potential tiebreaker) against the Chargers coming up. They also have the tiebreaker against the Bills and Dolphins.

The Cardinals haven’t lost at home this season and will present the Chiefs with a lot of challenges, but they’re slipping just like the Chiefs. After that, the Chiefs get the Raiders at home and then implication-heavy games against the Steelers and Chargers.

A playoff spot is still very much in their control.

The fear, of course, is that the Chiefs are losing control of what they are.

There is no defending the way the Chiefs played either of these last two games, but I’d still argue that Andy Reid has done a good job with this team. The Chiefs have a formula that sits on shaky ground, the kind of thing that can be rocked by a strong wind, and the Broncos’ pass rush is more than a strong wind.

But, guys. As bad as the losses to the Titans, Raiders and the second one to the Broncos are, this is still the team that clobbered the Patriots, beat the Dolphins and Bills on the road, and outmuscled the Seahawks. They probably need to win three of their last four to keep pace in the playoff race. They might need to win out. But especially if the Cardinals are slipping, it’s still all there for them. This thing is far from over. It’s entirely plausible they could be anything from 11-5 to 8-8^. Sports!

^ I might regret this, but it’s just really hard to imagine them losing to the Raiders at home.

I did think the Chiefs got away from the run too quickly on Sunday, even after going down 17-0. For a lot of teams, that’s absolutely the time to start airing it out, but the Chiefs are an exception because their best big play threat is their stud running back and a passing attack that still — and this is ridiculous — hasn’t produced a play of even 35 yards this season isn’t scaring anyone.

And can we pause for a moment to recognize how ridiculous that stat is? Nothing longer than 34 yards? Thirty-four?

Fifty — FIFTY! — passers have completed passes of 35 yards or longer this season. They include quarterbacks like T.J. Yates, Jason Campbell and Jimmy Garappolo, who combined have thrown 80 passes compared to Smith’s 350. Arizona’s third-string quarterback has completed one pass this season, and it went for 81 yards. Quarterbacks who’ve been benched, or are terrible, or both — E.J.Manuel, Chad Henne, Robert Griffin III, Geno Smith, and Brandon Weeden — have completed passes for 35 yards or longer. Mohamed Sanu has done it. He’s a wide receiver.

Anyway, with that kind of offense — bad receivers and a quarterback whose deep passing has been hyperbolically criticized, but isn’t good — the stud running back should get the ball no matter the score, especially the first two or three quarters.

But, even in a league where there are no perfect teams, I’m not sure we’re talking about the Chiefs’ biggest problem here yet.

Poe had one of his worst games on Sunday. In fact, his Pro Football Focus rating of -3.6 is a career worst. For what it’s worth, in six career games against the Broncos, starting with the first, PFF has him at -0.5, -2.1, 0.8, 2.2, -0.4 and Sunday’s -3.6. Considering his career arc, Sunday is the outlier.

But I’m including this question because it gets closest to what I think is the Chiefs’ biggest problem, and that’s their inability to stop the run. They’ve given up 386 yards the last two games, and C.J. Anderson’s ascent is a nice story and all, but the Raiders and Broncos are in the bottom half of the league in yards per carry.

Missing Derrick Johnson and Mike DeVito means this defense was never going to be what it planned to be at the beginning of the season, particularly against the run. The Chiefs covered some holes the first few months of the season, but those are being exposed now. Mauga made an enormous mistake on Latavious Murray’s 90-yard run in Oakland. One of the things on my list this week is to take a look at what happened in the run game against the Broncos, but my suspicion is it’s a combination of missed tackles and misreads.

After being gashed the last two weeks, the Chiefs are now giving up 4.9 yards per carry, worst in the league. Jamaal Charles is averaging 5.0 yards per carry. The Chiefs are basically turning every running back they face into Jamaal Freaking Charles.

That’s gotta be fixed.

John Dorsey’s answer, I suspect, would be that they were true to their draft board. I think the real answer is more complicated than that, and includes both a miscalculation of how much Ford would be able to contribute this year as well as what I think is the reasonable expectation that Tamba Hali might be playing somewhere else^ next year.

^ Or maybe even retired, if he decides he’s made enough money and wants to do other things.

The one that kills them is Kelvin Benjamin, the big receiver from Florida State, going five picks after Ford to the Panthers. Benjamin has 57 catches for 824 yards and eight touchdowns, all of which would lead the Chiefs.

Dorsey and the Chiefs tried to address the hole at receiver with Emmanuel Sanders in March, and thought they had a deal in place, but once that fell through they had to know that receiver was both a glaring hole and something they’d be fairly criticized for if the season played out like it has.

One of the continuing consequences of missing a position like that is that a problem unaddressed one year becomes a bigger problem the next. The Chiefs are going to end up either drafting for need, or perhaps overpaying for a free agent, neither of which is a good way to build a team.

It’s complicated. We all have our own ways of looking at these things, but I liked (still do) the Alex Smith trade. I thought locking him up long term was the best path. Travis Kelce might be a star. Knile Davis has a lot to work with. De’Anthony Thomas was a nice draft pick, exactly the kind of added value good teams are built on. They’ve done, overall, a very good job at adding depth to a roster in desperate need of it.

The negatives: pretty much everything involving wide receivers, and some key misses on draft picks.

I think overall he’s the general manager of a team in position to make the playoffs two years in a row, something the Chiefs haven’t done since 1995, and this on the heels of that 2-14 civic embarrassment of 2012.

I know a lot of you probably cussed at me for not including Eric Fisher in the negatives, but I think there are two key factors here. First, I still — and I KNOW I’m in the minority here — think he can be a good player. Going from left tackle at a small school to right tackle in the NFL to left tackle in the NFL in a span of two years isn’t easy, and Fisher’s dealt with a lot of injuries in the process. I still think he might be on the John Alt career path, and turn into a good player fairly soon. And the second point on Fisher is that the 2013 draft class was garbage. It was entirely like the Chiefs to pick first overall the year after Andrew Luck and the year before Jadeveon Clowney.

So, overall I’d give Dorsey a good grade. But he has some big moments coming up — namely improving the receivers and line, addressing middle linebacker one way or the other, and signing Justin Houston long-term.

Alabama (over Mizzou) and Oregon (over Arizona) are favored by two touchdowns in conference championship games. If we assume they win, they’re in, of course. Florida State is around a three-point favorite, and if we assume they’ll erase a 31-point deficit with a furious fourth quarter comeback to win, they’re in.

Mississippi State shouldn’t be in, not with two losses, which opens the door for Ohio State or someone from the Big 12.

This would be a fabulous time for the Big 12 to actually have “one true champion,” instead of the rhetoric that’s exposed with the possibility of a tie — “two kinda champions” — but that’s a moot point.

For me, it would come down to Ohio State and Baylor for that fourth spot, and it would come down to this weekend. If Ohio State can show that J.T. Barrett’s injury isn’t a season-sinker against Wisconsin in the Big Ten championship, they have a good argument.

Baylor’s case is weakened somewhat by only beating Texas Tech by two — Bryce Petty’s injury notwithstanding — but I’d still look their way if they could beat K-State convincingly. Everyone has flaws, and TCU is better than anyone Ohio State beat.

I also hope this turns into a six-, eight-, or 10-team tournament soon.

I don’t know how much I buy into that payback thing. I’m sure that if K-State beats Baylor on Saturday, sports writers will get some quotes from some K-State kids talking about that very thing, but I’m skeptical about how real that is.

Aren’t you fired up for every game? Especially the last one? And can’t you find or even manufacture ways to convince yourself that this one is especially important, and that you need to give it your all?

I think it would be much more important for K-State to slow Baylor’s tempo, and be able to string some drives together themselves, than worry about what didn’t happen two years ago.

I know it’s easy to make the joke that with the basketball team struggling and the football team playing in its second straight conference championship game the transition to the SEC is complete, but my goodness, what an accomplishment that would be.

It would be the school’s first conference championship since 1969, of course, and the program’s biggest win since, um, when, exactly? The stat about Missouri, Alabama and Florida State being the only schools with five division titles since 2007 is particularly impressive.

Sports are like this in general, but particularly with Mizzou football there is enough for critics to cling on — the SEC East isn’t nearly as good as the West, the loss to Indiana, the shutout against Georgia, the blah-blah-blah — that what the program has done is being mostly overlooked, especially in the first year of the college football playoff.

Mizzou isn’t as good as Alabama, of course, but that’s such a flawed standard. It’s proven itself to be a consistent winner, developing guys into better players than their recruiting rankings, and consistently producing NFL draft picks.

We’re all probably guilty of this, in one way or another, but it’s so easy to get certain labels in your mind and then hold tight no matter the evidence. The narrative of Tony Romo juxtaposed with his having one of the best fourth quarter passer ratings in NFL history is but a personal favorite example.

Because Mizzou hasn’t won a conference championship, and probably for some other reasons, the credit or recognition has been behind at least what I perceive to be the national consensus. I also think fans generally get too wrapped up in that kind of thing.

There are a ton of schools around the country that would trade programs with Mizzou, lagging recognition or otherwise.

If you read this blog consistently, well, first of all, thank you. I appreciate your time, even if you’re just bored. But also, if you read this blog a lot, you might know that I’m always against statues or other “eternal” monuments for living humans. I just think there are so many things that can go wrong, and Joe Paterno is probably the most obvious example.

I just think you’re setting yourself up for disappointment, and without any real payoff. There’s no big advantage, no compelling reason other than impatience. Put him in the school’s Hall of Fame, give him a job for life, you can do so many things to honor a man without going overboard.

Also, I’m old enough to remember a lot of heat being on Pinkel. A win on Saturday would go a long way to negate the rest of this sentence, but college football moves quickly. Pinkel’s story at Mizzou has plenty of time to grow, either way.

I think I’m going to write something about this — or, at least, related to this — in the next few days, but I’m starting to believe the Royals could do a lot worse than Torii Hunter. He’d likely come on a short deal, and if the Royals believe that his defense could be improved by more rest on his legs and better positioning in the outfield, he could be a smart buy.

The dream scenario for me was Yasmany Tomas. I thought he would’ve solved a lot of problems for the Royals — right-handed, lots of power, plays right field — but only if he’s real. There is an undercurrent in the industry that believes the hype on Tomas, for whatever reason, outdistanced the reality and I think we saw that in him signing a six-year, $68 million contract. That’s a lot of money, obviously, but much less than what was being projected in some places.

Anyway, your question wasn’t about Tomas, but I think it’s worth remembering that he’s a complete unknown while Hunter is more of a certain commodity. You know what you’re going to get, probably, and there’s a plausible scenario where he might be the best option for the Royals.

Like I said, more on this is probably coming in a column.

The move to the West is part of it, but so is a new CBA that will change the way rosters are created and maintained. Gooch mentioned this the other day, but it makes sense to hold tight to your best players and then figure out how to fill out the roster when you know the rules.

Some of this, obviously, is a reaction to the sad-trombone finish to this season. If it was me, I’d have reason to believe the slide was more about guys being worn out than having the wrong mix, but I also think that Sporting in general and Peter Vermes in particular have earned the benefit of the doubt with these types of things.

This was always going to be an offseason of change, for a lot of reasons, but doing it on the way into the Western Conference adds a layer of uncertainty.

The point is that as long as Sporting keeps Graham Zusi, Matt Besler, Benny Feilhaber and the rest the core together, Vermes has shown the ability to find other pieces that best fit into the high-pressure, high-demands system he runs.

Well, I do think Bowen should get the job, but I also think KU needs to call everyone it can think of.

Pelini would bring a lot of positives. He knows the Big 12, could recruit the area, and has a proven track record of winning. He’s also going to make something like $150,000 per month for the next four years to not coach Nebraska, so he can afford, literally, to be picky here. If he’s willing to take over an awful program for what KU is going to pay, great, but I’m not sure that’s reality.

I said this in the column, but KU should look at this search as an opportunity. They can remake their coaching staff and direction and priorities, which is something they’ve needed for at least five years. I just think that Bowen brings a lot that others wouldn’t, qualities that KU is in need of, and that losing the last two games by 75 points is more an indictment about the sorry state of the program than Bowen’s inability to fix the whole thing in two months.

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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