I have been doing some thinking and I believe the Chiefs D may be farther along than we think. Due to a little bit of luck and perhaps some smart drafting by Pioli the Chiefs may be ready to trot a respectable, if not above average D onto the field next season. The numbers may not reflect this yet but there have been some tell tale signs recently, especially in the Steeler game have brought me to this conclusion. Allow me to explain.
Let’s start with the Defensive Line, which Pioli obviously took great interest in upon his arrival, spending his first and third round picks on Tyson Jackson and Magee. I noticed earlier someone commented that they didn’t understand why Pioli drafted a backup Defensive Lineman with his third round pick. I have decided that he didn’t draft Mcgee to be a backup but a starter. I am pretty sure, from the reports I have heard, that the new regime didn't think Dorsey was going to work out at defensive end. They certainly were going to give a high draft pick like Dorsey a chance but I think Magee was a guy they liked at that position in case Dorsey flopped moving to end. My guess is that the plan was to try Dorsey out and trade him if he failed to adapt to his new position. Dorsey would have gotten pretty good value in a trade. It was only his second year and he was a very high pick. Dorsey’s emergence has given the Chiefs depth at end as they now believe they have their two starting ends in Dorsey and Jackson and a solid backup who can step up and play in Mcgee.
At the Nose Tackle position the staff was able to develop Tank and Edwards into being at least serviceable. They knew, however, that neither of them was the long term answer at NT and in a season that was unlikely to take them to the playoffs they wisely traded the lineman with the most value (Tank) and kept the cagy veteran to be a place holder until they can find a suitable Nose to lead their defense. Armed with an extra pick due to the Tank trade and with a lot of cap space, the Chiefs should have no trouble filling this void.
On to the Corners. The Chiefs are pretty solid here with Flowers and Carr. Remember these two are only in their 2nd year. They drafted Washington for depth at Corner/Nickel. They have Leggett who while not spectacular is also young and a solid special teamer. So the Chiefs have 4 young Corners with high upside, athletic ability and talent.
At LB I feel they have really turned trash into treasure. They have developed two defensive ends, Tamba Hali and Andy Studebaker into a solid OLB’s. Studebaker still has some proving to do obviously but the early returns are good. This was done by bringing in a guy like Mike Vrabel to show the young guys the way. Corey Mays, who is also very young and had very little playing time in Cinci has developed into a pretty good run stuffing MLB. He has coverage issues but he has shown pretty good sideline to sideline hustle and some limited pass rush abilities. Demarrio Williams is having a fantastic year, racking up 10 tackles in the Steeler win. There has been a lot of complaining about the lack of playing time for Derrick Johnson. However recently I have noticed that there is a rotation at Linebacker. On passing downs Haley rotates Williams and Mays with DJ and Belcher. I think Haley likes using the Belcher/DJ tandem in coverage as well as having DJ in for potential blitzing situation, which we saw him used in against the Steelers.
This reintegration of DJ into the defense seems to be working. Johnson, who has had issues with consistency and whose coaches have often said over thinks his play, has seemed more relaxed in his new role. He no longer has as much pressure on him and the results have been pretty glaring. It seems as though the coaching staff has found a way to maximize DJ’s athleticism and talents while managing his lapses in judgment. They also have created a "team defense" mentality as opposed to just trying to fill the field with "athletic stars" that only perform on occasion. As for Belcher, the rookie appears to be a solid addition not only on Special Teams but as a MLB along side DJ. The kid had 7 tackles against Pittsburgh, one of them being the OT tackle that saved the first down and forced the Steelers to punt. The Chiefs will probably still look for help at LB this off-season with a particular emphasis placed on finding another pass rusher, however, the team seems to be a lot deeper at LB than we may have expected at the beginning of the season.
The position where I think many will agree that Pioli screwed up was at Safety. Obviously Pollard has gone on to have a pretty good season for the Texans and Mike Brown’s play has been less than stellar. While Page has not been a Pro Bowler he has at least been serviceable and if put next to a lights out Safety next season his play should improve. There are quite a few good Safety’s in this years draft and the Chiefs have plenty of bargaining power with an extra second round pick and a couple of late rounders.
All of these things have led me to believe that the Chiefs D is close to turning a corner. Their play has not been great but it has been gutsy and aggressive, especially in the Pittsburgh game. They also did a fairly good job of not giving up big plays in the Pittsburgh game, which has been something that has plagued them. They Defense has been very good at forcing three and outs this year, something we rarely saw last season. The last two games have featured the defense getting huge stops in the clutch to help seal the victory, another shortcoming of last years D. Sure the young defense has its mental lapses and gives up the big play on occasion but this is to be expected of a young group. And lets face it. This is a very young group. But the little things seem to be coming together for them. Getting three and outs, being in the right place at the right time, increased number of sacks with very few legit pass rushers and most importantly, making stops when the game is on the line.
Here is an interesting stat for you from the Pittsburgh game. We all know the Chiefs gave up a lot of yards to the champs but whom do you think punted more? Surely it was the Chiefs with their offensive impotency. If you think it was the Chiefs who punted the most you would be right…and wrong. Each team punted 6 times. The Chiefs forced the Steelers to punt just as many times as the Steelers stopped the Chiefs. Here is the kicker; the Chiefs also forced 3 turnovers with 2 picks and a fumble recovery. The Chiefs D gave their offense the ball back 9 times in this one. Three of the Pittsburgh punts came in the 4th quarter with another in OT.
The Chiefs Defense may be 3 or so players (and probably a coordinator) away from being complete but you have to like the direction they are heading.