KANSAS CITY, Mo.—Over the past few weeks, Chiefs fans have begun to see why coach Todd Haley was so excited about the free agent acquisition of wide receiver Steve Breaston.
Breaston's slow start mirrored that of the Chiefs, who were outscored by a combined 89-10 in blowout losses to the Bills and Lions. Breaston had three catches for just 33 yards in those games. But Breaston has emerged in the last three games as a potent complement to Dwayne Bowe.
The Chiefs, 2-3, have steadied themselves in a three-point road loss to San Diego and victories over Minnesota and Indianapolis. Breaston has stepped up with 11 receptions for 196 yards and two touchdowns over that span and heads into Sunday's game at Oakland feeling increasingly comfortable working with Chiefs quarterback Matt Cassell.
"It's always about developing that trust with your quarterback," Breaston said. "It doesn't just happen overnight. I'm the new guy here. Coach Haley knows me, but not everybody else does. I just think it's a matter of me continuing to be a reliable option for Matt."
Breaston spent four years at Arizona and developed a rapport with Haley in 2007 and 2008 when Haley was the Cardinals' offensive coordinator. After Breaston became available in the free agent signing period, Haley envisioned the diminutive wide receiver as a player who could take some pressure off Bowe.
When the Chiefs lost tight end Tony Moeaki in training camp because of a season-ending knee injury, the need for pass-catching production from Breaston was magnified.
"There's an adjustment period for anybody, but especially skill-position guys," Haley said. "I just think he's getting more and more comfortable playing in our offense. He has shown he's a pretty good player in the league and that's why I was so excited to get him here."
Breaston's body of work over a three-game span will give the Raiders defense plenty to think about in preparation for the Chiefs. Bowe led the Chiefs with 72 receptions last year, but no other Chiefs wide receiver had more than 22. With Bowe having 23 catches and Breaston adding 14 through five games, the trend toward wideout balance is evident.
"The more plays you make, the more trust you get from Matt," Breaston said. "He'll keep coming to you. I just have to keep getting open and keep doing my job."
Breaston will be competing against a Raiders' secondary that no longer revolves around All-Pro cornerback Nnamdi Asomugha, who has moved on to Philadelphia. Even without Asomugha, film study has convinced Breaston that Oakland's secondary is still formidable.
"They are the same, from what I see on film," Breaston said. "They still press you and play physical out there. They're very aggressive and the corners like to get their hands on you."
Besides Bowe and Breaston, it's possible the Raiders might see another intriguing Kansas City wideout in the mix. Jonathan Baldwin, a 2011 first-round draft pick, is a possibility to make his regular season debut after recovering from a thumb injury.
Haley said Thursday that Baldwin's availability will be a game-day decision. If Baldwin is activated, it could force the Chiefs to drop a player who has been valuable on special teams.
"There's a lot more that goes into it than just Jonathan Baldwin," Haley said. "There's some different roles that people have to play."
Baldwin expressed an eagerness to help the team after missing the opening five games, but added that he understands Haley faces difficult roster decisions.
"I'm getting a lot of pointers from Bowe and Steve," Baldwin said. "Those guys have been doing it for years. All I can do is keep working hard and, when my number is called, just be ready to go."
The Chiefs were victimized twice last year by an Oakland team which went through the AFC West 6-0. If they can win Sunday, the Chiefs could go a long way toward erasing the national skepticism which surfaced after an 0-3 start.
"Every game is important, but especially in a situation like this," Breaston said. "Going into that environment, it's a tough place to play. But we could come out of there 3-3 with a lot of momentum on our side. We just have to go to Oakland with a mindset of making it happen."