Kansas City, Mo. It may not matter how banged up quarterback Matt Cassel’s ribs got in the Chiefs’ preseason finale when the Buffalo Bills come to town today.
The Chiefs still have speedy running back Jamaal Charles, rugged Thomas Jones and most of the pieces that formed the NFL’s best rush offense in 2010. And despite adding a couple of new faces, the Bills still have most of what formed the league’s worst rushing defense last season.
Even an injured Cassel can hand the ball off just fine.
“That’ll be our challenge going in,” Bills coach Chan Gailey said. “We’ve got to stop the run.”
Charles emerged as one of the league’s brightest stars last season, rushing for 1,467 yards, the sixth-best total in franchise history. Jones provided a different look in his first season with the Chiefs, gaining another 896 yards. And now both are running behind former All-Pro fullback Le’Ron McClain, who was brought in as a free agent in August to help a retooled offensive line.
They’ll be going up against a Bills defense that struggled mightily last season.
Without anybody plugging up the middle, they were gutted for more than 200 yards rushing eight times, including 274 yards in a 13-10 overtime loss to Kansas City last October.
“Of course it’s a big pill to swallow. You’ve got to go out there and you’ve got to stop the best running team in the league right now,” rookie defensive tackle Marcell Dareus said. “For us being the worst and them being the best, we really have to see how much we’ve improved.”
Improving against the run is the biggest reason the Bills selected the 340-pound Dareus out of Alabama with the third overall pick in the draft. In all, Buffalo spent seven of its nine picks on defense, including cornerback Aaron Williams (second round), linebacker Kelvin Sheppard (third) and safety Da’Norris Searcy (fourth).
Buffalo also signed veteran linebacker Nick Barnett after losing Paul Posluszny to free agency, and took a gamble on Shawne Merriman to regain his once-dominating “Lights Out” form.
The linebacker didn’t play a snap for the Bills last season after aggravating a sore Achilles tendon in his first practice, but he’s looked good in the preseason despite a nagging groin injury.
“We’ve got a task this week,” Merriman said. “They’re one of the best rushing teams in the league, and it’s no better test for us to go out and have a good game against guys who are not only known as the best, but they’re physical and they’ve got two great backs who can make things happen.
“It’s going to be a challenge for us to go out there and play well.”
Assuming the Bills gang up on the run, Cassel will be winging the ball for the Chiefs.
The Pro Bowl quarterback was hurt in the second quarter of their preseason finale against Green Bay last Thursday night when he was sacked by 340-pound defensive tackle Howard Green. Cassel walked gingerly to the sideline and did not return, but he practiced all week and pronounced himself fit.
“You never want to see anyone else doing your job,” he said, “and you know that if you play this game long enough, there’s going to be bumps and bruises. And if you feel good on Mondays after a game, you probably didn’t play much on Monday. You’re not always going to feel your best.”
The Chiefs felt pretty lousy most of the preseason — for reasons besides injuries.
They were shut out in their opener by the St. Louis Rams and lost all four games in mostly lopsided fashion. Coach Todd Haley played most of his starters into the fourth quarter against Green Bay in an attempt to build some rhythm, but all that seemed to happen was Cassel got banged up and tight end Tony Moeaki went down with a season-ending knee injury.
The Chiefs still lost 20-19 playing mostly against the Packers’ second team.
“We have no choice, man, we have to come out there and make plays,” McClain said. “We have a lot of weapons, but we have to take it from the practice field to the game on Sunday.”
Gailey was the Chiefs’ offensive coordinator under Herm Edwards in 2008, when Gailey was tasked with overhauling one of the least-productive units in the NFL.
He was kept on when Edwards was fired and Haley hired from Arizona, but the two clashed quickly.
Haley fired Gailey just 13 days before the Chiefs opened the 2009 regular season.
Gailey doesn’t appear to have forgotten.
“When you’ve been somewhere and they fired you, if you said it didn’t mean a little bit more, you’d be lying,” he said. “But I want to win them all. This is one of 16. I want to be 1-0.”