ALEX. HOW CAN THIS BE.
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Hali blasts Pioli regime
I love this.
The Most Important Difference between last year’s misery and this year’s hope is a red-haired man with a red mustache and, most days, a red Chiefs pullover.
In private, he is funny and kind and likes to go self-deprecating with his jokes. But he’d rather not show that side of himself too much. In public, Andy Reid is all about football. He is about execution and teamwork and spreading credit around to the coaches and players.
He won’t spend a lot of his news-conference time talking about himself. He won’t push the idea that he’s The Most Important Difference — even as that’s exactly the feeling you get in conversations with people around the Chiefs.
“With Andy Reid,” linebacker Tamba Hali says, “people forget, he’s a players’ coach, but he’s firm as a coach. If guys are not doing the right thing, he’s going to call you in and talk to you. It’s not about fining you and creating this war…
“It’s more about understanding what we want done around here, and having the players (take) ownership. It doesn’t always have to come from the coaches.
“The difference from before, we had micromanaging. Now, it’s not about micromanaging. It’s about finding a way for everybody to have success, from the head coach, the GM, we’re all working together. We’re not working around (anything) here, tiptoeing around, scared of anything.”
Reid would probably be uncomfortable receiving too much of the credit, and it’s true that the Chiefs’ 4-0 start a year after going 2-14 isn’t all about one man. Reid is the first to talk about his assistants and players. But the Chiefs are as good a symbol as any for how important coaching is in the NFL.
Hali has more to say. More details. More behind-the-scenes examples of the stark difference Reid has helped make, from last year’s depression to this year’s promise. We’ll get to those soon.
But first, some context for what he is talking about.
The easiest thing to see is a sense of order. The Chiefs have a plan, one that fans can identify even when it doesn’t work exactly as expected. You see it on Sundays, but these things don’t happen by magic. They happen because of what these men do Monday through Saturday.
The Chiefs’ greatest strength is their linebacking corps. Reid and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton have maximized this group’s collective impact, the centerpiece of an elite defense, working together in better cohesion than even when respected defensive mind Romeo Crennel was in charge.
Justin Houston (AFC defensive player of the month) and Hali (the NFL’s most effective edge rusher, according to Sports Illustrated’s “Pressure Points” metric) provide relentless pass rush and enough versatility to support in other ways. Derrick Johnson is an All-Pro at the height of his powers. Akeem Jordan is a steady pro whom Reid knows well from their time together in Philadelphia.
From there, Dontari Poe anchors a strong three-man front, drawing and often beating double teams to create extra havoc. All of this allows the corners to play more press coverage, giving quarterbacks more difficult reads and safeties more freedom.
You can see it on offense, too. The Chiefs have flaws. All NFL teams do, the product of a league structured for parity. So if teams have, roughly, the same quality of parts, the difference between them will be determined by which make the most of it.
The Chiefs’ offensive line can’t always protect, Dwayne Bowe hasn’t dominated a game since signing that big contract in the offseason, and they’ve yet to develop a real downfield threat.
But, again, the thing works in harmony and mostly around new quarterback Alex Smith’s strengths. He is particularly good with quick decisions, accuracy with short and intermediate routes and knowing when to break the pocket.
That means protection doesn’t have to hold as long, and Smith can often put shorter passes in stride to allow receivers — particularly Jamaal Charles and Donnie Avery — easy extra yards. Entering this week’s games, for instance, only four teams had a higher percentage of their passing yards come after the catch.
All of this is complemented by (mostly) good special teams and a strong feeling of cohesion that a lot of football teams can’t quite create — not just last year’s Chiefs.
Football inherently presents more of these potential problems than other sports. Divides between offense and defense, young and old, stars and role players. At least so far, these Chiefs are navigating the rocky waters brilliantly.
And as Hali points out, there are clear reasons.
One of the interesting truths about the Chiefs’ turnaround is that it is being done, largely, with the same core of players.
Smith is the most significant change, and the upgrade at quarterback cannot be overstated. Reid and general manager John Dorsey also improved the secondary (Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson) and the bottom of the roster (Sean McGrath and Marcus Cooper, among others).
But mostly, this is being done with the same stars who struggled so much last year. It’s similar to the turnaround in New Orleans, where Sean Payton returned and the Saints are 4-0 after going 7-9 last year. Throughout recent NFL history, dramatic shifts in a team’s offense, defense or overall record often coincide with a coaching change.
In Kansas City, the players don’t see much of a mystery in the better results.
“We spend more time on the field,” Hali says. “We spend time in the classroom, too, but we’re on the field before practice, then we practice, then the classroom and then we’re on the field again after practice to walk through. So we spend more time doing it, instead of just listening to it and seeing it, so it’s more productive.”
The players are part of the process, in other words. Players can get help from other players. They go over what they’re going to do, then they do it, then they watch what they did and go back out to correct mistakes and reinforce successes.
The environment makes a big difference, too. A year ago, there were whispers about certain players not getting opportunities for reasons that had nothing to do with winning games.
There is a trust now, and no matter how the rest of the season goes, that is among Reid’s greatest successes.
Reid is Hali’s fourth head coach in eight seven NFL seasons. He is one of the smartest, most thoughtful men on the team. He knows what works, and what doesn’t. He knows that it’s working now, after years of being broken.
“I’m just saying the way everything was run,” Hali says. “There (were) snitches here, people here, trying to see if you’re not doing the right thing. That’s not what’s going on here. You had guys ratting on each other, coaches telling on each other, not agreeing with each other.
“We had coaches who used to fight each other. Younger guys, but on the field, when (media) are not there. It was a lot going on. These guys we have here, they’re older, wiser men who’ve been around for a while and understand how to work together and put their egos aside.
“That’s what we’re about. We’re not here for, ‘Oh, you’re the only one getting the credit.’ These guys don’t care about that. The only credit we want is the ‘W,’ and we all get credit for that.”
Hali says these words without bitterness or accusation. He is careful not to name names, or blame last year’s problems on any particular person. Those issues were bigger than any one man, and besides, what does it matter anymore?
The Chiefs are winning, and especially for Hali and his teammates who’ve been around long enough, it’s the only difference that matters.