A few weeks ago, I talked a little bit about Charlie Weis' system and the type of players he'll likely target in free agency and the draft. This week, I wanted to focus on Romeo Crennel's defense because I think there's a misperception that all 3-4 Defenses are built alike.
Note: I'm mostly going to shy away from making predictions about who the Chiefs are going to draft or pick up in free agency. I want to instead focus on the kinds of players the Chiefs will focus on. If you want to create mock drafts based on this analysis, then fire away.
While 3-4 defenses play fairly similar styles of defense, the philosophies are very different. That's especially true in the front 3. Let's go into a little more depth.The system that Romeo Crennel will undoubtedly bring to Kansas City is the Fairbanks-Bullough system, the same system Bill Belichick has run in New England for years. What really distinguishes this system from a lot of other 3-4's is the focus on enormous defensive linemen. Their linemen play 2-gap defense. That's a stark contrast to a scheme like Wade Phillips' in Dallas, where the linemen play a lot of 1-gap. And unlike Dick Lebeau's zone blitz defense in Pittsburgh, Crennel's linemen aren't expected to be multi-dimensional DEs who can pass rush as well as cover. That helps explain why a player like Tyson Jackson was not on Pittsburgh or Dallas' radar, but was on Cleveland's.
It's also important to note that Romeo's defense has a reputation for being a "bend don't break" defense. They're going to give up some small plays, they're going to keep the opposing offense off the field, but they're not going to give up a lot of big plays and they're going to keep large scores off the board and make big plays when they count. That's a scary concept, given that Chiefs' fans have dealt with a "bend then snap-in-half" defense for years, but it's a reality we'll have to deal with.
Today, I'll focus on what I earmark as Romeo's lesser priorities.
Defensive End: The lone responsibility of a Defensive End in Crennel's system is to play 2-gap defense. That's why it doesn't matter if Tyson Jackson is a below average pass rusher--he's not expected to be. That's why it doesn't matter if Glenn Dorsey can't cover--he won't ever have to do that
At 3-4 DE, the Chiefs are actually in a decent place. They took a lot of flack for drafting Tyson Jackson and maybe they reached for him, but it's pretty clear that he's the type of DE that fits right in for this defense. His primary job is to occupy blockers. Granted, some critics would suggest that a defense that relies on DEs who aren't playmakers is a bit outdated. I don't know the answer to that. Maybe it is and maybe that's part of the reason that the Patriots haven't dominated on defense as they did in the early 2000s. But it's clear that this is the path the Chiefs are going to take, so again, all we can do is cross our fingers and hope for the best.
Inside Linebackers: Last year, I was very opposed to the Chiefs drafting Aaron Curry and I still stand by that opposition. I frankly think the ILB position is a lot easier to fill and slightly less important in value than a lot of other key positions. I've heard some people suggest that Romeo Crennel and the Patriots love athletic linebackers. Yes, but mostly at the Outside LB position, which is a completely different animal. Look at some of the players they've plugged into that ILB position over the years. Gary Guyton? An over-the-hill Junior Seau? I might even argue that if you put Tedy Bruschi in any other scheme, he wouldn't look all that great. Apart from Jerod Mayo is a bit of an exception. Other than Mayo, most of the ILBs the Patriots have played have been smart, instinctive players who aren't going to wow you with their talent.
From that end, I think a guy like Rolando McClain will lose a lot of positional value going into the draft in a Crennel-run 3-4. You need a guy with athleticism and you need a player that's smart, but I just don't think it's that difficult to find a good linebacker later in the draft who possesses those same skill sets. Arguably, a lot of 4-3 defenses are going to be looking for extremely multi-dimensional MLBs like McClain who have a complete skill set. In a 3-4, you can have a tough attacking "role playing" ILB and another coverage "role playing" ILB. You don't necessarily have to pay a premium for a LB who can do it all.
The Chiefs' ILBs will fare much better with a Nose Tackle who takes on the 2-3 blockers he's supposed to take on (Ron Edwards typically took up one blocker, and not even that well). Less blockers at the second level, less blockers occupying our ILBs. Pretty simple equation. And as the Chiefs' young DEs mature, the Linebackers won't be asked to nearly as much. So our ILBs will be upgraded as the Defensive Line matures and improves.
I personally don't see how Derrick Johnson fits into this defense. If I'm looking for a 3-4 ILB, I'm looking for a guy who has the toughness to shed blocks in run support first and the smarts to be in the right spots at the right time second. I look for athleticism third. DJ is very weak on both the first two points, which is why I believe he's fallen out of favor with the Chiefs' coaches. I just don't see the Chiefs jumping through hoops to protect him. Mays, on the other hand, is a decent attacker and moderately smart, but his athleticism is way below where it needs to be. I see Mays as a role player moving forward, if he isn't phased out entirely. That leaves Crennel with Jovan Belcher and Demorrio Williams. I see Belcher as a souped up version of Mays and Williams as a less athletic version of DJ, but at least Demorrio won't make many mistakes. Both definitely have a place in this defense and I think they could serve well as stopgaps. I question whether they're both undersized given that the Patriots' defenses in the past have typically relied on 240-250+ lb'ers. The Chiefs could use two new starters, but in the short-term, they can survive just fine with one major upgrade or two mild upgrades. I see Romeo treating this as more of a luxury position than a position of priority.
Cornerback: This is a position I was a bit on the fence about because I'm not entirely sure what to think of Brandon Carr at this point in his career. But for now, I think I can comfortably say that cornerback is not a major priority. In my next post, I'll talk a little bit about why a nickel back is an absolute priority and why that might actually put Joe Haden in play, but as for our starters, I'm going to lean into saying we're fine.
Stay tuned for more later in the week....