Don't Kill The Mellinger

Twitter Tuesday: Chiefs memories, Royals predictions, and a new fiasco

Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe fumbles the ball into the end zone
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Dwayne Bowe fumbles the ball into the end zone The Kansas City Star

I’ll remember the 2014 Chiefs season as a missed opportunity.

I’ll remember it for the high of blowing out the Patriots on Monday Night Football, with a sellout crowd chanting “Let’s Go Royals,” and the low of losing to the Raiders on Thursday Night Football, with what was ultimately proven to be a playoff spot at stake.

I’ll remember these Chiefs as being good enough to beat the top playoff seed in each conference, and bad enough to lose to the Titans (in the season opener at home!) and Raiders.

I’ll remember Eric Berry’s diagnosis, Andy Reid’s play calling in Buffalo, Justin Houston’s run at history, Latavious Murray’s easy 90-yard sprint, Anthony Fasano catching a touchdown on his hind parts, Dontari Poe turning into a point guard with that crossover move for a sack against the Chargers, Sean Smith’s exaggerated celebrations, Travis Kelce’s emergence, Jamaal Charles’ brilliance, Mike McGlynn’s struggles, Josh Mauga doing as well as he’s capable, the rising debate around Alex Smith, Dee Ford’s earnestness, Cairo Santos’ game winner in San Diego, Kelce’s game loser in Arizona, and Allen Bailey establishing himself.

We’ll all remember the incredible achievement of going an entire 16 games in a league set up for passing without throwing a single touchdown to a wide receiver. I’ll certainly remember Dwayne Bowe getting inches from the goal line in the last game of the season, the ball knocked out by what I have to assume was a forcefield, only to be picked up in the end zone by a tight end.

But, yeah. Mostly, I think we’ll all remember this as a missed opportunity. Not necessarily a step back — 9-7 isn’t nothing, especially having to adjust around injuries to Derrick Johnson and Mike DeVito and the shocking diagnosis of Berry – but not progress, either.

This week’s eating recommendation is the buffalo chicken mac and cheese at the awesomely named Eat Me, and the reading recommendation is Judy Thomas with a jaw-dropping story of forgiveness.

The hero is Diane Schiefelbein, who organized a group called Teen Club, which helps people in the area with developmental disabilities like Down’s Syndrome and autism try new things and have new experiences they may otherwise miss. Diane was nominated by her son.

Please keep those nominations coming. I’d like to keep this going.

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

1. Offensive line, in particular the left guard spot. Mike McGlynn and Jeff Linkenbach were basically turnstiles for most of the season. According to the awesome Pro Football Focus, McGlynn was the NFL’s worst guard this season, and third-worst lineman overall^. Zach Fulton was also bad at right guard, but he was a sixth-round rookie, so it’s hard to be too harsh there.

^ PFF had McGlynn at -32.6, and horrible in multiple ways — below average as a run blocker, pass blocker, and screen blocker. PFF had Panthers tackle Byron Bell (-33.4) and Falcons tackle Jake Matthews (-34.3) slightly worse, but those guys played 208 and 137 more snaps, respectively, so McGlynn was more efficiently worse than them, if you’ll allow me to butcher the language.

Rodney Hudson was pretty good at center, and only the Chiefs know what they have in Donald Stephenson. Nobody wants to hear it, but Eric Fisher did show signs of improving, and I believe will be much better next year after his first offseason getting stronger (instead of rehabbing). Even if the Chiefs feel like they count on Jeff Allen returning healthy, there is still a lot of work to do here.

The breakdown of the offensive line, and the guards in particular, held the entire offense (and by extension the team) back. It meant Alex Smith didn’t have as long to throw, the receivers didn’t have as long to get open, and Jamaal Charles took even more of a beating than usual.

2. Wide receiver. This is more obvious, and something we’ve gotten into before. Dwayne Bowe has clearly lost at least a step, but could still be a serviceable No. 2. The Chiefs sat out a loaded draft class of receivers last year – more on this later – and missed on a pursuit of Emmanuel Sanders. Alex Smith’s weakness with the deep pass is well known, but the Chiefs need someone who can stretch the field and make plays after the catch, providing more space for Travis Kelce and Anthony Fasano to work the middle of the field, and the backs to do their thing with handoffs or short passes.

3. Defensive back(s). Sean Smith had a really good year, and is a great fit for what the Chiefs try to do defensively. Jamell Fleming showed some nice signs, too. Husain Abdullah took another step forward, and Kurt Coleman showed enough in limited work to stick around. But the Chiefs need more than that, especially with the uncertainty around the awful diagnosis for Eric Berry. Ron Parker had flashes of both promise and frustration, Marcus Cooper continued his slide, and Chris Owens was basically a first down whenever the opposing quarterback needed it.

The Chiefs also must assess where Derrick Johnson is, and continue to add depth throughout the roster.

I assume a bedcrapping is worse than a bedwetting, but either way, I think that’s a bit harsh and hyperbolic.

They didn’t make progress, which is I think what you’re getting at here, and that’s frustrating when the primes of stars like Charles, Justin Houston and Tamba Hali are going by. There is no excuse or reason to lose to the Titans at home, particularly in a season opener and with such a limp, disinterested effort. There is also no excuse or reason to lose to the Raiders, ever. Win either of those games, obviously, and we’re talking about a playoff game.

But I also think the Chiefs accomplished more this year than I expected. I had them going 6-10 before the season, and wrote the stupid column that they had no chance at the playoffs after week two. They absorbed two critical injuries in the season opener, played most of the season without Berry, and still managed to allow the second-fewest points in the league. They beat each of the No. 1 seeds in the playoffs. Hard to call that a bedcrapping. Or wetting.

But the NFL cannot be about minor victories like that. This is about winning, and winning in the playoffs, so in the more important context this is an enormous missed opportunity.

You want to be either building or winning, and the Chiefs did neither this year. That sucks. But they’re not that far away.

So I assume you mean to rank them in order of inexcusable-ness. Descending order:

Titans 26, Chiefs 10. Just a total no-show, in both effort and game plan.

Raiders 24, Chiefs 20. A forgiving sort would point out that this was a road game four days after beating the Seahawks, and that the Chiefs played much better and had a chance to win at the end. A realist would point out that the Raiders stink, and that Shawnee Mission East could’ve done a better job on Latavious Murray’s 90-yard touchdown run, so zip it.

Cardinals 17, Chiefs 14. This and the Steelers game were pretty good microcosms for the Chiefs’ season — points of pride buried under mounds of missed opportunities. And stop whining about the officials already.

49ers 22, Chiefs 17. Alex Smith missed what would’ve been a career highlight, throwing an interception in a two-minute drill.

Maybe 7-9, 6-10, something like that?

I know it’s fun to have a quarterback controversy, but the Chiefs don’t have one. Daniel performed like a solid backup quarterback: 16 of 28, 157 yards, no touchdowns or interceptions. Didn’t win a game, and didn’t lose a game. He performed adequately, especially without much practice time, and having a backup quarterback you feel comfortable with is a luxury most teams don’t have.

Bet’s not turn him into Rich Gannon.

As long as we understand this is all hindsight, and that any team’s draft can be improved in one way or another with retroactive scouting … quite a bit.

Benjamin — who went to the Panthers 28th overall, five picks after the Chiefs took Ford — caught 73 passes for 1,008 yards and nine touchdowns. Each of those marks would’ve led the Chiefs, and we’re talking about all players, not just receivers. Those are, basically, Bowe’s numbers from the years Bowe was really good.

Now, it’s obviously not as simple as taking him from Carolina and putting him with the Chiefs and adding the stats together. Most obviously, Benjamin probably wouldn’t have had those numbers with the Chiefs. Depending on how much you look at PFF’s numbers — and I look at them a lot — Benjamin graded at -6.2. I didn’t watch much of the Panthers this year, so I can’t say for sure, but that grade is a surprise.

Even if you dock Benjamin 10 percent — and that may be steep considering that Alex Smith and Cam Newton performed similarly as passers this year^ — those 66 catches, 900 yards and eight touchdowns sure would’ve helped the Chiefs.

^ Nerd alert: PFF had Newton at +4.2 overall in the passing game, and Smith at +4.3. Smith had the higher passer rating (93.4 to 83.1), and Newton the higher QBR (56.85 to 49.4).

It’s worth pointing out here that I think Dee Ford will be a very good player. He’s talented, and by all accounts an outstanding worker who cares. But he also played 16.6 percent of the snaps.

Again, this is hindsight, but you’d have to figure the difference this year would be worth a win, and we’re talking about the playoffs this week.

I think that’s overblown. Receivers have been productive in Andy Reid’s offenses, and, besides, money is usually the best recruiter.

There’s no question that the Chiefs might be in position that they would lose some “ties” — sort of what happened when Emmanuel Sanders figured he’d be better off with Peyton Manning in Denver — but in general I would think the opportunity to be a No. 1 receiver on a team in desperate need for one would be pretty appealing.

But, if you’re thinking like I’m thinking, it’s worth remembering that Jeremy Maclin is sending signs that he wants to stay in Philadelphia. Randall Cobb, particularly with the John Dorsey connection, could make some sense.

Because sports are fun?

Look, I linked to that stupid column I wrote after the second game about how the Chiefs had no chance at the playoffs. That’s the alternative to what you did, I suppose, sort of giving up hope that the Chiefs could win anything and instead trying to look for signs of long-term progress, like this is the 2011 Royals or something. The Chiefs didn’t make the playoffs, of course, but following them would’ve been a lot more interesting and fun if you recognized that they still had hope instead of giving up on the playoffs after week two like some dummy sports writer.

The Chiefs always had hope because the NFL is built for all teams to have hope of at least getting to the playoffs, and, hey, if you’re in the playoffs you never know…

We all watch and consume sports in our own ways, and that’s how it should be, but if you can’t find hope when your favorite team has a very good coach and some other promising stars, sometimes I wonder what the point is.

Depends on your budget, and whether you’ve been to London.

If you have the money (and job flexibility) and haven’t been to London, that’s where I’d go. I’ve only been once, for the Olympics a few years ago, which is a very different experience than a vacation. But it’s a great city. Very accessible, great food, obviously a ton of history. The people are friendly, self-deprecating and funny. If you can go for a week, maybe take in a soccer game, soak in the city and some of the rest of the UK and Europe, that’s a hell of a thing.

But Green Bay is fantastic, too. It’s stuck in the 1980s, and I mean that in the most awesome way possible. I haven’t been to every NFL stadium, but I’ve been to enough to know Lambeau is unique. It’s the purest, least corporate, experience in the league and I’m not sure it’s close. Milwaukee is cool, too, very underrated.

Well, here’s what I’d do if I was Ned Yost:

1. Sit down with Sal, tell him a dirty joke to break the ice, and then show him video of what he looked like when he was fresh:

… and what he looked like as he wore down:

2. Take full responsibility in the most honest and flattering way possible, telling Sal that his dip in production — a .765 OPS before the All-Star break, and .579 after — was completely my fault, because I played him too much, which I felt like I had to do because he’s so awesome. I would tell him that we just needed his talent in the batting order and his skills behind the plate, and that he was such an important part of Yordano Ventura and Danny Duffy having such good seasons.

3. Tell him that an important part of our offseason was to ensure we had some lineup flexibility that would help keep him fresh. I would tell him — though he’d already know – that we never felt like we could keep Billy Butler out of the DH spot for any length of time, but either way, that I should’ve known better and that I did his offensive numbers a disservice by wearing him down.

4. Go back to flattering Sal, telling him there’s no way we’d have had the season we did without him, and that, hey, he wasn’t too tired with that game winner in the Wild Card game, huh?

5. Compliment Sal’s shirt.

6. Take a deep breath. Convince myself that this wouldn’t be as hard as I was letting myself believe it would be.

7. Tell him that in 2015, he will catch no more than 125 games, a number that would’ve put him 14th in baseball last year. Stress that we are doing this only to keep him fresh and lively and productive, and that in addition to the 125 games catching we’ll DH him 15 more. That means he’s only sitting 22 games, which, when you think about it, is fewer than one a week.

8. Listen politely as Sal swears he wasn’t tired, that he never gets tired, that he would play doubleheaders every day if he could and still have the energy to fake interview his teammates and chase Lorenzo Cain around the clubhouse with his phone afterward.

9. Watch and nod and smile as Sal does 500 pushups and a thousand jumping jacks to convince me that he is impervious to ever getting tired.

10. Stick to my plan, and catch him 125 games, and 15 more as the DH. This means Kendrys Morales will be my DH for around 130 games, which, after you take away the games at a National League park, gives me seven more to give Alex Gordon a rest while keeping him in the lineup.

Here’s what I expect Ned Yost to do:

Steps 1-9 are the same.

10. End up playing Sal 145 or 150 games at catcher.

11. When asked what the heck I’m doing, subtly clang my American League champions ring on the table, snort as loud as possible, maybe grab my junk and say, “Because that’s what Ned wants to do. AL Champs. Boom, Yosted, next question.”

That’s a good line, and I’m a horrible gambler, but I’d take the over. I’m optimistic. At the moment, I actually think they’ll win the division. I think Detroit is going to take a step back — particularly if we can assume Scherzer is signing somewhere else — and I don’t think the White Sox or Indians have enough.

Shields and Butler will be tough to replace, but if you look at the numbers, Butler didn’t give them much offensively overall and Ventura and Duffy were at times better than Shields.

Nothing’s certain, of course. Morales may be done as a productive player. Alex Rios is 34 years old and hit four (4) home runs playing in Arlington last year. Nobody in baseball circles will be surprised if Ventura or Duffy or both get hurt next year.

But the Royals will still have a great defense (the outfield defense should be even better), perhaps the game’s best bullpen (which should keep some stress off the starters) and there’s obviously some room for improvement offensively from Moustakas, Hosmer and Infante (have you heard that before?). The bullpen should be better, actually, if Hochevar can be close to what he was two years ago.

I’m entirely aware that the Royals could crater and lose 85-90 games. But I think they could be even better, at least in the regular season.

Everything’s negotiable. The Royals’ TV deal — which pays them at least $10 million to $15 million less than market value, and that’s conservative — runs through 2019. The last time I talked with someone about this, there seemed to be a belief that the sides may start talking in the next two or three years, but even then, would be giving up some leverage because Fox would already have the next two or three seasons at a bargain price.

It would help the Royals if Comcast or even something like Google wants to add inventory and, of course, if the team continues to win and do big ratings.

I really don’t think there’s anything fans can do. Boycotting the games is silly and unrealistic. Enjoy your team. This isn’t your fight. The Royals are the ones who agreed to this stupid deal in the first place.

My goodness, this is just unforgivable.

I don’t want to be too harsh on college kids who aren’t getting paid, but that’s just an inept finish. But, let’s not disrespect the Pasco Fiasco in the ranks of incredibly braindead finishes. There are better videos, but I kind of like that this one is sort of grainy and hard to make out:

As far as a team-wide letdown, the Texas Southern game is worse. That’s four different things that the Wildcats had to get wrong.

But five years from now, I believe the Pasco Fiasco will still be the standard for a few reasons.

First, it was a conference tournament game. The game, as much as any game can, mattered. Texas Southern was a non-conference game in December. Second, the idea of a celebration like that backfiring is too delicious to ignore. At least the K-State guys on Sunday were trying.

And third, let’s be honest, “Pasco Fiasco” has a nice ring to it.

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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