Out-of-Town Q&A: Kansas City Chiefs

We tracked down Kent Babb, who is in his third season covering the Chiefs for the Kansas City Star, to answer three questions about this weekend’s opponent for Redskins Plus.

How has quarterback Matt Cassel looked, and has he so far been worth the big offseason investment?

Before the Chiefs’ last drive this past Sunday, he was somewhere between a question mark and a disappointment. The Chiefs went out on a shaky limb when they signed him to that big contract, and it’s no secret this team has been desperate for a franchise quarterback for a long time. Cassel didn’t answer all the questions on Sunday, and there were times that he looked as shaky as ever. But on the last drive of regulation, he made passes and led the offense like an elite quarterback. It was an odd time for a glimmer of hope: The Chiefs had two starters missing from their offensive line, momentum had clearly swung toward Dallas, and Cassel faced an enormous amount of pressure to score a touchdown in two minutes. Coaches don’t know what got into him, but they sure liked it. That was the first time, if only for a series, that Cassel made good on the potential the Chiefs saw in him when they traded for him and offered that huge contract.

What has the Scott Pioli era been like, and how big a mess did he have to clean up?

The mess was huge. Now, Scott hasn’t done everything right since he got here, and who knows yet whether Tyson Jackson will ever justify being the No. 3 overall pick this year. But the job ahead of Pioli and Todd Haley was staggering. The roster was in shambles, players had horrible work habits, and they hadn’t won consistently in years. This team doesn’t remember how to win games, so for a long time, players were just going out to practices to get through them and sometimes doing the same in games. Pioli had to identify those players and get rid of them, and then he had to try to reinforce for the future by trading Tony Gonzalez, a player who was as popular in Kansas City as Len Dawson or George Brett. Pioli faces some pressure of his own, being the right-hand man of Bill Belichick and all. People in Kansas City expect him to be perfect, and that might not always be reasonable. But Pioli is certainly putting in the work, and he’ll need to fix what his predecessor, Carl Peterson, spent a decade breaking.

Who or what on this team has been the biggest surprise — either positive or negative?

For me, it’s that Larry Johnson hasn’t been productive at all. He’ll turn 30 in November, which is a frightening number to running backs, but he has looked sluggish and slow at times. It’s hard to watch him now and consider that, just three seasons ago, he was considered one of the NFL’s best running backs. Larry doesn’t have a very good offensive line blocking for him, but it’s not all the line’s fault, either. But I think, whether Kansas City people like it or not, the days of Larry Johnson as an elite running back are over.

Want more from Kent? You can check out his Chiefs coverage at the Kansas City Star’s blog, “Red Zone” (http://chiefsblog.kansascity.com), and you can find him on Twitter at @kb_kcstar.

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