Aaron Rodgers is having the best season an NFL quarterback ever had. Don’t take my word for it. Google it. Kurt Warner and Tom Brady said it, not me. Mind you, they said it before Rodgers was dismantled by Romeo Crennel’s defense last Sunday, but I doubt either would revert their position now (particularly Brady, who knows better than any other quarterback the value of a Crennel D). As it stands, four quarterbacks ostensibly have a shot at taking down Dan Marino’s high water mark for single season passing yards. Given that Rodgers is bringing up the rear of the ostensible list, one could reasonably surmise he’s not even having the best 2011 season of any QB, let alone the nine decades of seasons prior.
What, then, is Rodgers doing that’s special enough to attract the attention of two signal callers with Hall Of Fame numbers? Easy. He’s burying the competition (current and historical) in passer rating. How exactly is he posting those unearthly numbers? The answer to that is equally easy. He’s throwing a lot of touchdowns and not very many interceptions. He’s throwing so many touchdowns, in fact, that he has an outside chance of breaking Brady’s record setting 50 TDs in a single season. He’s also establishing a foothold by which to chip away at some very key career records. At present, he holds the league record for career passer rating. Next season he’ll threaten Steve Young’s four consecutive seasons of 100.0+ passer rating. If he holds pace, he can fairly set his eyes on his predecessor’s career touchdown mark.
Thus far, however, he’s 0-1 against the Kansas City Chiefs. I’m okay with that. The Chiefs haven’t fared well in recent years against other top flight QBs. It’s nice to see them win one by sheer dominance instead of chance and opportunism. If one was to try to identify the source of that dominance, a few obvious names come to mind. Derrick Johnson. Tamba Hali. Justin Houston. Romeo Crennel.
My pick? Kyle Orton.
Nothing about Kyle Orton is special. He’s a middle of the road QB with a middle of the road arm, middle of the road vision, and middle of the road field presence. His place in the lineage of post-Trent Green Kansas City starting quarterbacks, however, is unique: he’s the first one that has any business starting a game in the National Football League.
That’s not meant to take anything away from the performances of DJ, Hali, Houston, and a whole slew of their teammates. Without solid play from several Chiefs defenders, the Packers would have scored nearly double what they did. The flip side of that? Put them on the field for 32 minutes instead of 24, and double probably becomes a conservative figure. That offense is designed to light teams up for 30-40 points. What Orton accomplished by spreading the field and consistently moving the ball was to effectively deny them the opportunity to develop rhythm.
What does this mean moving forward? First and foremost, it may mean that I owe Bill Muir a box of Omaha Steaks. It raises major questions about the distribution of playcalling responsibility for at least the prior 13 games, and possibly further back than that. Perhaps it even offers some insight as to why Charlie Weis was in such a hurry to leave (in light of recent events, his geo-familial explanation doesn’t hold much water). I look at Muir’s lack of success elsewhere in his career (he’s a double threat, having been equally bad as a defensive coordinator in Indianapolis two decades ago–a veritable iron man of coaching fail) and assume the bulk of the responsibility for the revitalization of the offense falls on the shoulders of Orton and QB coach Jim Zorn, but that could be way off base.
Second, it may mean that Scott Pioli will have a revelation and pull his head out of his ass regarding his misplaced loyalty to Matt Cassel. I won’t spend too much time pontificating on the inner workings of the Chiefs’ front office, but one thing seems abundantly clear: neither Todd Haley nor Charlie Weis nor Chan Gailey wanted Cassel. The common thread between those three is that they’ve all coached a Super Bowl offense. Pioli hasn’t; ergo, maybe he should defer to their collective judgment. I never like to see an athlete’s career altered by an injury, but Cassel’s case is a bit different. He’ll return to playing shape easily enough. All the injury has done is shine a spotlight on how bad of a job he was doing.
Exactly how bad of a job was Cassel doing? Well…. A few weeks ago, there was legitimate, contentious debate among Chiefs fans as to which quarterback was better: Matt Cassel or Tyler Palko. These discussions were only slightly less offensive to the senses than the similar arguments that took place in 2009 contrasting Cassel and that other Tyler guy (I, for one, enjoyed watching Thigpen play, but he was a gimmick player whose modest success was the direct result of working with a coordinator that knows a thing or two about designing a playbook around a gimmick player). Pioli’s loyalty to Cassel may appear to have been blind, but Pioli himself is not blind, and I think he’s astute enough to see that it’s better to admit a mistake and attempt to right the ship than continue to keep trying the same thing again and again, anticipating a different outcome. If he isn’t, well…. he’ll probably find himself out of a job. Maybe by then Haley will be gainfully employed and willing to offer his old pal a referral.
Third, if the Chiefs win either of their remaining games, Romeo Crennel’s title should be stripped of the “interim” qualifier. This is particularly true if the team takes down the Broncos on their own turf in Week 17 as they did under Haley in 2009. If Crennel goes down as the guy that crushed both Aaron Rodgers and Tim Tebow, make no mistake–he’ll be a head coach somewhere in 2012. I’d rather that somewhere be here than elsewhere. The players respond to him, the fans respect him, and I’ll hazard a guess that those five Super Bowl rings he earned are indicative of a wealth of football knowledge that Kansas Citians would like their team to be able to tap into.
Besides, if he goes elsewhere, consider where elsewhere is likely to be: Miami or Indianapolis. Teams that could very likely end up on next year’s schedule. Kansas City’s recent luck against jilted ex-coordinators? Not so great. Let’s take a page from the Mel Brooks playbook and head that one off at the pass, and maybe in the process we’ll find out if RAC has room in that trophy case of his for ring number six.