Posted: Friday September 17, 2010 10:49AM ; Updated: Friday September 17, 2010 4:28PM
Peter King
Peter King>GAME PLAN

Haley making all the right moves for Chiefs; 10 things to watch for

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Dexter McCluster and Todd Haley
Dexter McCluster celebrates with Todd Haley following a 94-yard punt return touchdown against the Chargers.
AP

One week is way too small a sample size to judge a team, obviously. And we're not going to really know about the Kansas City Chiefs until they come back from their Week 4 bye and play two straight roadies at Indianapolis and Houston. But there they are, alone in first place in the AFC West after their 21-14 win over division favorite San Diego -- with a winnable game at Cleveland coming up.

There was a lot to like Monday night -- the rebirth of Derrick Johnson (game-high 12 tackles) and the production of the rookie class, most notably all-purpose back Dexter McCluster (second round) and tight end Tony Moeaki (third round), who scored two of the three touchdowns. Also, safety Eric Berry (first) and cornerback/returner Javier Arenas (second) played like seasoned pros.

Look a little closer. Look on the sidelines. There was a big difference there, too.

Coach Todd Haley stopped micromanaging every detail of the team in the offseason, importing a proven offensive coordinator, Charlie Weis, and defensive boss, Romeo Crennel. Haley handed Weis the offensive play-calling duties, but retained final say on that front. And this distribution of duties might have made the difference in the decisive touchdown of the game. Might, I say, because you can never tell how games can turn on decisions like the one Haley made late in the second quarter.

Last year, during breaks in the game on the sidelines, Haley would have been deep in conversation with quarterback Matt Cassel, going over the Polaroids to discuss defensive coverage and how to beat it. Now that's Weis' job. So during one of San Diego's drives, Haley looked over and saw Arenas with his hands on his thighs, bent over, obviously winded; he'd been playing all nickel snaps on defense for the Chiefs.

"Put McCluster back on punt returns,'' Haley told special teams coach Steve Hoffman. Hoffman looked at Haley like he had two heads. Arenas had returned two punts in the quarter, one for 36 yards and one for 24. You want me to take Arenas off returns?

"Why?'' Hoffman said. "Javier is doing a great job!''

"He's tired!'' Haley said.

"I understand it wasn't a normal decision to make,'' Haley said this week. "But because I wasn't buried over on the bench coaching Matt, I could make a lot of observations the other night. And when I saw Arenas wearing himself out in the middle of the second quarter, I just thought we could use our resources better.''

McCluster returned the next Mike Scifres punt 94 yards for a touchdown. Longest punt return in Chiefs history. The winning touchdown, as it turned out.

"I had a lot of fun coaching the team the other night,'' Haley said. "The team.''

Weis has settled into an anonymous role with the Chiefs. He doesn't do interviews -- the Chiefs denied me permission to speak with him this week -- ostensibly so he can focus on his job and not the media and public things he struggled with during his five-year tenure at Notre Dame. From all reports, quarterback Cassel likes Weis, the former tutor of Cassel's pal Tom Brady, and they're working well together. Haley said he enjoys the back-and-forth coach discussions with Weis. Then he mostly allows Weis to call the game they've discussed during the week.

There were a couple of exceptions Monday. On fourth down at the San Diego 39 with nine seconds and no timeouts left in the first half, on a rainy and windy night, the Chiefs had a few options. They could throw a Hail Mary or try for a quick throw to the sidelines to get 10 to 12 yards closer for a field-goal try. Weis favored the Hail Mary. Haley flashed back to the Dallas disaster just before halftime the previous night, when the Cowboys should have played it safe but Tony Romo took off running and pitched to Tashard Choice, who had the ball stripped, resulting in Washington's only touchdown of the game.

"I just thought the businesslike decision, up two scores on a lousy weather night, would be to dump it to the back and maybe we'd get in field-goal range with a second or two to kick it,'' Haley said. "We did it, and it didn't work, but I just didn't want to take any chances there that could have cut into our lead. But for the most part, I'm going to bend to the other coaches because they're the ones who've put all the work in, all the time in.''

Haley said he's "really enjoying working with Charlie. When he interviewed, I wanted to know how he was going to react to being in a situation like this. I said, 'You've been the boss of a lot of people for a long time. How will you handle this?' I mean, there's probably not a more high-profile job than Notre Dame coach in our business. But it's been great. I have not had a single doubt about it since we've been working together.''

One other thing I found interesting, and unprecedented to the best of my knowledge, about the Chiefs this week: On Monday morning, 10 hours before the game, he put the players through a 20-minute "workout'' (largely a yoga-type stretching period) at their training facility.

"Trent Dilfer [of ESPN] was here doing the game on TV,'' Haley said, "and at our production meeting the day before the game, I told him I was thinking about doing something to loosen up the players on the morning of the game. His eyes lit up. He said, 'I always felt crappy playing on Monday night.' You know, you sit around for seven, eight, nine hours, doing nothing. Right then, I decided we were going to do something. So Monday morning, our strength and conditioning coach, Mike Clark, got them out on the field for what I'd call a 'dynamic stretch.' Just enough to get a little sweat going.''

Did it work? Who knows? But last year, Haley pressed so many of the wrong buttons. This was a week that was a long time coming for the Chiefs -- a week when the coach made the right moves with players good enough to win a big game against a quality team. The times might be changing in Kansas City.

 
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