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Column - Jonathan Rand

Breaking the mold

Nov 13, 2008, 8:40:28 AM by Jonathan Rand - FAQ


It’s hard to respect a 1-8 record, but the Chiefs’ offensive resourcefulness is another matter.

With six games in the books, coordinator Chan Gailey, out of necessity, made his quarterback instead of a running back the hub of the offense. This was a radical move, considering coach Herm Edwards had constantly preached the virtues of a power running game and Tyler Thigpen, the last quarterback standing, was raw and struggling.

But running back Larry Johnson, who was supposed to be the offensive hub, was yanked off the active roster by Edwards after five games because of off-the-field issues. Thigpen became the starter by default when both starter Brodie Croyle and backup Damon Huard were lost for the season in a 34-10 loss to the Tennessee Titans on October 19.

It was then that Gailey adjusted the offense to mimic the spread formation run by Thigpen at Coastal Carolina. Given his inability to stay in the pocket, his off-target throws and a passer rating of 44.3, it was hard to imagine that any offense could significantly boost Thigpen. Oh, and did we forget to mention that the pass protection had been woeful?

What’s transpired since shows how much we all know. While the offensive adjustments have not quite turned a frog into a prince — or produced a win for that matter — the improvement is impressive.

Thigpen’s passer rating for the last three games stands at 104.6, boosting his overall rating to 76.3. After throwing four interceptions and appearing lucky to avoid throwing twice that many, he’s thrown 124 straight passes without an interception.

More significant is the shot in the arm that Thigpen has given the entire offense. The Chiefs’ offensive points in last three games – 17, 27 and 19 – are their highest totals for the season after the 33 scored against the Broncos in their lone victory.

The Chiefs averaged just 257.3 yards over their first six games but 351 over the last three. They threw just four touchdown passes and eight interceptions over the first six games but have thrown seven touchdown passes, including six by Thigpen, with no picks since.

Whether or not Thigpen develops into the franchise quarterback the Chiefs were counting on Croyle to become, barring injury we’ll be seeing him and this offense the rest of the season.

“I think you adjust to what your players do well,” Edwards said.

“If it’s about the system and not the players, you end up going down the wrong road. You start out with a system but the system has to be adjusted to the players you have. Tyler feels very comfortable in what he’s doing and I think he has given us the best opportunity to move the ball, get first downs and score. We’re rolling that way and we’re not turning back.”

Edwards, who lost backup running back Kolby Smith for the season two weeks ago, said Johnson will play Sunday against the New Orleans Saints for the first time in five games.

“You’re going to give him the ball, but he’ll blend into the offense,” Edwards said, leaving no doubt that the offense now revolves around its quarterback.

This offensive flexibility is striking because it didn’t seem to exist in Edwards’ first two seasons. The offense under coordinator Mike Solari was wedded to running between the tackles, no matter how many defenders were in the box nor how badly the offense struggled.

Gailey arrived this season with a reputation for being resourceful, and if he can keep getting promising results with a half-filled toolbox, just consider what he might accomplish if given most of the tools he needs.

Granted, three games do not make a season and this offense is not exactly a juggernaut – only three NFL teams have scored fewer points. Yet it’s so darn refreshing to see some imagination.

The opinions offered in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the Kansas City Chiefs.

A former sportswriter and columnist in Kansas City and Miami, Rand has covered the NFL for three decades and seen 23 Super Bowl games. His column appears twice weekly in-season.