Don't Kill The Mellinger

Twitter Tuesday: Hypocrisy, Alex Smith, Albert Wilson, Sprint Center and Sporting

Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward (97) sacked Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) in the first quarter to stall a drive Sunday at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. The Steelers beat the Chiefs 20-12.
Steelers defensive end Cameron Heyward (97) sacked Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) in the first quarter to stall a drive Sunday at Heinz Field in Pittsburgh. The Steelers beat the Chiefs 20-12. The Kansas City Star

If we’re honest with ourselves, we all probably have some hypocrisies.

I like to pretend I’m fairly healthy, it’s just that my eating habits are a string of cheat days. I hate the way the NCAA is set up, but adore college basketball and football. I don’t want my son to play football, but would love for him to be a football fan and want to watch games with me.

I am also a sports writer, whose job depends in no small part on people in and around sports talking, and I find Marshawn Lynch’s refusal to talk to reporters to be some combination of funny and endearing.

In case you haven’t seen it…

This somewhere between Rasheed Wallace’s both-teams-played-hard-my-man interview and Bryce Petty’s we’re-just-ready-for-OU as entertaining and pointless postgame interviews, and will surely be one of those permanently referenced lines around sports.

My only complaint in these things is that I want the reporters there to see what’s going on and start asking about North Korea, or their favorite taco place, or whether they flush the urinal before going. If we’re going this far, might as well turn it into a fully formed circus.

This week’s reading recommendation is Rand Getlin and Dan Wetzel on why the NFL’s rookie salary cap is backfiring, and I know I said I was done with the eating recommendations but I finally tried the awesomely named Chicken Macaroni & Cheese and it is the truth.

The first weekly hero — and, again, I don’t know how long this will last — is a personal favorite, actually, nominated by a reader but an easy pick for me. It’s Wendy Peterson, who helps run the Safe Harbor Prison Dog program, which matches unwanted dogs with prisoners at the Lansing Correctional Facility. With some training, the dogs become more attractive for adoption and the program has been shown to reduce the recidivism rate in prisoners. I adopted my dog from Wendy and Safe Harbor, and am so thankful for what they do.

Anyway, I’d love for this to catch on. Please continue to nominate people in and around Kansas City doing good by sending an email to smellinger@kcstar.com.

Thanks for reading, thanks for your help, and, well, thanks for asking…

I can’t tell if this is serious or not, but I want to repeat something I’ve said a few times in the last month or two: cities that win THAT Wild Card game, and watch their baseball team end a 29-year playoff drought with THAT kind of run, becoming a national darling along the way are not allowed to complain about any silly thing like Shuttlecocks or sports gods hating them.

I realize the Chiefs turned in a historic playoff collapse last year, and are now putting the finishing touches on another late-season fade, and, of course, that charmed Royals playoff run ultimately ended in disappointment and Bumgarner-ment in game seven of the World Series.

But, come on. Let’s be reasonable. What the Royals did is at least worth a short statute of limitations on complaining about how Kansas City never gets to have fun.

My favorite scenario: the Chiefs, Bengals, Browns and Jaguars all win this weekend, making the Bengals the AFC North champions and No. 3 seed in the AFC. That would also make the Chiefs the No. 6 seed, which would set up a Chiefs-Bengals playoff game, which would mean the first playoff win in at least 20 years for one team or the other.

But to answer your question, of course it matters (as much as any of this matters). I understand the spirit of your question, and we agree the Chiefs are unlikely to do much if they scrape their way into the playoffs, but doesn’t them having a chance beat 8-8 and talking about the draft already?

We can talk about draft positioning and the strange theory that getting into the playoffs would somehow fool the Chiefs’ decision-makers into thinking the roster is flawless, but at their base, sports are supposed to be fun, and having a week to think about and then watch a playoff game is more fun than having a week to sit around and complain about everything that went wrong.

Because, we all know — there’s going to be plenty of time to sit around and complain later.

I think there’s something to this. They are limited with playmakers on offense, no matter what you think of Alex Smith, and there are only so many ways that these receivers can be “schemed” open. There are only so many ways you can spread the field horizontally, throw 30 yards in the air to get five yards downfield, and score points without any real threat of a big play.

I also think Jamaal Charles is playing hurt, Travis Kelce may be wearing down, and the offensive line is getting tired. This is oversimplifying and perhaps playing games with end points, but the Chiefs averaged 28.8 points in the six games between beating the Broncos and beating the Jets. Since then, they’re averaging 19.1 points in seven games, going over 24 just once, and that was against the Raiders at home.

There was a three-game stretch there, against the Raiders, Broncos and Cardinals, where teams were basically going all-in to stop Charles and the run game, pressing the Chiefs’ receivers at the line of scrimmage, daring them to go deep, and pressuring Alex Smith with a lot of stunts on the defensive line.

As Terez pointed out, the Steelers played the Chiefs much differently, giving the receivers plenty of room at the line of scrimmage in a classic bend-but-don’t-break strategy. Honestly, it’s one of the last ideas I’d have to play against the Chiefs, who don’t get many big plays and entered the game No. 2 in red zone efficiency.

But, Mike Tomlin not only looks way cooler than me, I believe he knows more about football than me. The plan worked.

I’m improving the offensive line, most specifically at guard, where Zach Fulton, Mike McGlynn and Jeff Linkenbach have been atrocious.

I mean, I know it’s not fair to point out one specific play, particularly when judging offensive linemen, but watch Linkenbach here at left guard against Cameron Heyward.

It’s also interesting that toward the end of the game on Sunday, McGlynn played right guard instead of Fulton. But, either way, while so much of the concentration has been on Eric Fisher — and, yes, I still believe he’s getting better — the biggest falloff from last year is missing Jon Asamoah and Geoff Schwartz at guard.

The truer answer is that the Chiefs have too many flaws — and, let’s be honest, a window that’s not staying open for much longer — to feel like there’s just one area to count on. They also need to add depth in the secondary and wide receivers who can stretch the field and make plays, most obviously.

But they do play the pass fairly well as is, and I mention offensive line in this answer because I think it’s easier to find wide receivers.

Like, you know…

Seth here is asking questions he knows the answer to, but I’m also including the question to point out that Wilson would’ve had a big touchdown catch against Pittsburgh if the ball is better thrown.

If you’re feeling forgiving — and ’tis the season! — you can make a case that the timing of the play was thrown off by Steelers cornerback Antwon Blake illegally putting his left hand on Wilson just as the receiver is making his break, but, I don’t know, from what I see that would be a pretty weak call.

That’s a play that Smith need to connect. The line gave him time there. He just overthrew it and, of course, if they connect in stride that’s a touchdown and the Chiefs are up 13-10. Different game.

Even as it stands, Wilson has 12 catches for 209 yards over the last three games. I know you can’t count on finding great receivers as undrafted free agents, but it’s a lot easier than finding good linemen.

Beer, or vodka and soda with a lemon — not lime. Don’t overthink it, don’t get one of these mai tais or daiquiris with a thousand grams of sugar that are just going to fill you up and hurt your beach game. Keep it simple.

Also, yes, we all noticed that you’re on the beach and we are all very impressed. It’s rainy and cold here.

Well, that’s an excellent line, so well done there.

Look, the Chiefs offense stinks right now, and whenever an offense stinks it’s going to be largely placed at the feet of the quarterback. Maybe that’s not fair, maybe it is, but it’s definitely reality. We can all pick out plays like this one, too, that …

… could have been touchdowns (Dwayne Bowe, top of the screen) but instead are checkdown throws that if executed perfectly turn into first downs (this one didn’t).

But I also see a play design that appears to have Smith look the safety off to one side and then put the ball in a playmaker’s hands on the other side. Without knowing the concept behind the playcall, it’s hard to know who to blame. Maybe Smith screwed up his pre-snap read and should’ve anticipated Bowe breaking open. That’s entirely possible.

And despite the big passing numbers — Smith’s second 300-yard game with the Chiefs, and the first since the playoff game — watching live I didn’t think Smith played very well. I don’t think he was bad, necessarily, and I do think he gets credit for working in the face of a ton of pressure, avoiding turnovers, and mostly being accurate with his passes. But that Wilson pass has to be completed, and I don’t think all of the pressure was the offensive line’s fault. I can think of at least two sacks, I believe, that are on Smith.

Chiefs fans are very split on Smith, it seems^, and I’m on the pro-Smith side of it in no small part because of this argument: you want to get rid of him? Fine. But who is available who you think is better?

^ One interesting thing about the Smith split: it seems like the most and loudest criticisms of him are on twitter. I suppose you could say that the most and loudest criticisms of a lot of things are on twitter.

You want to trade for Jay Cuter? Brian Hoyer will be a free agent, how’s that sound? Michael Vick? Josh McCown? Josh Freeman?

If you want them to draft someone, you’re probably looking at Brett Hundley, Dak Prescott, Bryce Petty, someone like that, which of course means using your first or second pick on someone who does not play wide receiver or along the offensive line.

Charles carried nine times for 29 yards, and caught five passes for 48 yards. That’s 14 catches, which still isn’t enough for someone with his talents, but he did have the fumble and I’m also utterly unconvinced he’s playing anywhere near 100 percent.

He’s missed some time in each of the last three games, and in the Raiders game, even asked to take some time (the ankle, not the head). I don’t know that I’ve ever heard of Charles ask to take a few plays off, so you know something is going on.

I’ve talked to executives at each of the three pro teams about this, actually, and probably spent more time thinking about it than I should. It’s interesting that guys at each franchise say essentially the same thing — that Sporting does a tremendous job connecting with fans and with brand building, but also has some significant and key advantages here when compared to the Royals and Chiefs.

The most obvious is that Sporting is so new, and is coming from such a small profile, that it can take chances and push the envelope on certain things where the Royals and Chiefs just can’t. This is a different thing than saying the Royals and Chiefs can’t do a better job, but it’s not just as simple as, “the Royals and/or Chiefs should just do what Robb does and they’d be totally awesome.”

For instance, if I was in charge of the Royals or Chiefs in community or fan relations, I’d want to do a lot of what Sporting does with technology, with putting its metaphorical arm around its most loyal fans with freebies and buy-ins^, and try to emphasize as much as possible the local history and bond.

^ I worded that awkwardly, but Robb/Sporting do a great job in soliciting fans’ opinions about franchise decisions. One that’s often brought up is whether the team should hold certain friendlies at Sporting Park (better atmosphere) or Arrowhead (lower ticket prices).

But if Robb was running the Chiefs or Royals, I don’t think he’d be on twitter talking about deals the team was trying to make. If Robb owned the Chiefs, I don’t think he’d be in the parking lot tapping kegs.

This is a tangent, but I just thought of it — one way you know the Royals, Chiefs and Sporting are sincere when they talk of a mutual respect is that Robb has never once trolled the Royals or Chiefs about their parking prices.

Which, by the way, the more road games you go to the more you will understand that the Chiefs’ parking prices aren’t bad at all.

Amazing, isn’t it?

The people at the Sprint Center are rightfully proud of the fact that they’ve turned a profit for the city without having an anchor tenant. That’s great. Kansas City needs more profit. But where it gets silly is when not having an anchor tenant is sometimes presented as a good thing. If I worked at the Sprint Center, it’s absolutely the case I’d be making. And no matter what, they can point to the profit they’re turning as a bit of “scoreboard.”

Because, we’re all adults here, right? Tonight, the Trans-Siberian Orchestra performs at Sprint, and I’m sure it’ll be a wonderful show. I really do dig that one song. But after tonight, Sprint has just one event in the next 24 days. And it’s on a Tuesday.

NBA teams have about 45 games left, so let’s call it 23 home games. The last day of the regular season is April 15. That’s 114 days. The Sprint Center is open for 83 of those days, including 17 Saturdays or Sundays.

The idea that the Sprint Center is somehow better off being empty instead of full of somewhere between 13,833^ and 18,972^^ fans with wallets 41 regular season nights plus preseason and playoffs is so ridiculous I can’t believe that anyone believes it.

^ That’s the Pistons’ average attendance, last in the league.

^^ Sprint Center’s capacity for basketball.

I mean, maybe Kansas City is right and everyone else is wrong. Maybe Madison Square Garden would be better off without all those Knicks and Rangers games slowing them down, and we all know that Staples Center is just a waste of space giving the Lakers, Clippers, Kings and Sparks all of those key dates. Just throwing away money.

It’s such a ludicrous thing to say or think, I just get aggravated when I even think about it. The purpose of arenas is to host events, so why wouldn’t you want to host all the events you could? Why would you just give away 50 or so nights a year?

Again, it’s great that Sprint Center is still turning a profit. That’s truly a wonderful thing for Kansas City. And I understand that, typically, NBA and NHL tenants get sweetheart deals in terms of concessions and other revenue streams. But you can’t convince a functioning adult that having thousands and thousands of people certain to be in your building dozens and dozens of times a year is a bad thing.

Besides, I’m quite sure the people across the street at Power and Light and other businesses downtown could use the pop.

I know this is corny, but it’s the absolute truth. I have everything I want. This has been the best year of my life, professionally and personally, and opening even one Christmas present will feel completely unnecessary. I’ve dreamed for years about having Christmas at my house, with my wife and a child, and being able to do that this year will be something I will remember and cherish the rest of my life. I’m luckier than I deserve.

That said, last year my wife got me a bottle of Blanton’s. Fingers crossed.

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

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