Jared Allen. How we miss thee. I don't know if I can bear to watch the Vikings' playoff game this Sunday, because it's a brutal reminder of some of the key mistakes the Chiefs' front office made under Carl Peterson. But it also got me to thinking about the 4-3 defense and how close the Chiefs might have been to fielding a very good defense in 2009.
For the record, I support Clark Hunt's decision to hire the man most believed was the top General Manager on the market. And I am fine with Scott Pioli's decision to build the defense he is familiar with. Hiring Romeo Crennel is definitely a big step in the right direction. Still, I think after reading this analysis, you'll agree that the Herm Edwards version of the Chiefs defense was actually not as far away as many might think.
Which begs the question: now that the Chiefs are firmly committed to the path of building a 3-4 defense, was that really the right path to take?
It would be remiss of me not to start with a plug for Herm Edwards and a jab at Carl Peterson's front office. Herm was an absolute lightning rod for criticism when he was in Kansas City and that's a shame. To blame the Chiefs' recent struggles on poor drafting and personnel moves under Herm Edwards' watch is incredibly short-sighted. The biggest contributors to the Chiefs' recent struggles were: 1) poor drafting during the Vermeil years that failed to bring in young replacements for the franchise; 2) lukewarm success in the free agency market before Herm came in; 3) the flawed assumption that older players could play until they were 50 years old. But it didn't stop there.
Carl Peterson was still steering the ship after it crashed. Instead of dismantling the team the minute Herm Edwards stepped into office, Peterson instead insisted on eeking out one last run, to hell with the consequences. Little by little, the Titanic started to tilt. Willie Roaf left. Trent Green, Tony Richardson, Will Shields and Priest Holmes fell out of the equation. Suddenly, the Titanic tilted completely upright. In the process, Peterson's moves also hamstrung the Chiefs in unforgivable ways. His notorious lowball tactics forced Jared Allen out of Kansas City---one of the biggest blunders in the team's long history. Meanwhile, he was perfectly content to sign Larry Johnson to a long-term deal, nevermind his checkered history on and off the field. He hired his head coach and two coordinators from within his network instead of looking to the outside. Nevermind that Solari ran a wide open offense and Gunther Cunningham wasn't a Tampa 2 guy. And oh, by the way, Solari is not coordinating offenses in the NFL anymore and Gunther Cunningham has laid a gigantic goose egg so far in Detroit.
Under Herm's watch, the Chiefs made a big, bold step in the right direction in 2008 when they took a sledgehammer to the decrepit ship and decided they were going to build a brand spanking new one from scratch. It really leaves me to wonder, if Carl Peterson didn't meddle and allowed Herm to rebuild sooner, allowed him to openly interview outside candidates for the Offensive and Defensive Coordinator position, and never got rid of Jared Allen, where would the team be today?
So on the one hand, the Chiefs took longer to rebuild because of mistakes made during the Carl Peterson era. But credit Herm Edwards for forcing this team into the right direction and getting the team moving in the right direction in 2008. It undoubtedly made the switch to a 3-4 much easier. The question is, should Scott Pioli have made that defensive switch at all? I remember arguing that the Chiefs' 4-3 defense was in such a state of disrepair that it didn't matter if the Chiefs switched over. In looking back, the Chiefs' defense actually could have been very good from the get-go. And I'm starting to question whether switching over to the 3-4 is just another example of Pioli trying too hard to mold the Chiefs into the Pats' image instead of building off their strengths or if it really is the approach that will ultimately yield the superior defense.
The 4-3 Defense That Could Have Been:
First, let's point out the obvious. If Peterson didn't stupidly push Allen out of Kansas City, the Chiefs would have lined Allen up next to Glenn Dorsey, with Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr shutting down at the corners. Woof. But let's put Jared Allen aside for a moment.
Even without Jared Allen, the Chiefs were in position to draft a few more playmakers. With their first pick, they could have taken Aaron Curry or Brian Orakpo. They didn't, in large part because Curry and Orakpo weren't nearly as attractive options for a 3-4 defense. With the second pick, they could have taken Rey Maualuga or James Laurinaitis. The 4-3 defense would have looked something like this (in the most ideal situation. And yes, I realize that suggesting that the Chiefs draft Orakpo is a hindsight argument).
LBs: Demorrio Williams - James Laurinaitis - Derrick Johnson
And that's completely disregarding potential free agent pick-ups. I would think that the Chiefs would have been much more aggressive in 2010, especially with Herm Edwards realizing his job was on the line. I don't know about you, but that looks like a pretty mean defense, especially if they had a different, better defensive coordinator calling the plays.
It's too soon to judge whether Pioli made the right decision to move to a 3-4. I do have some concern as to whether the Patriots' two-gap version of the defense might be slightly outdated. And I think what's going to put a lot of pressure on Pioli to build a great 3-4 defense is the consideration of what he sacrificed to move the team there. The team took a step backward to get to the 3-4---I'm okay with that point. The question is whether his version of the defense will fare better than the version he could have built with the pieces the Chiefs already had. I don't think that's nearly as easy a question to answer as people think, especially after you take a quick look at that 4-3 lineup that could have been.
Pioli will need to spend the next few years justifying that this was the right decision. And if that 3-4 defense is nothing short of spectacular by then, we can legitimately question whether Pioli destructed a perfectly good, working defense in exchange for an inferior defense he was more comfortable with.