KANSAS CITY, MO - NOVEMBER 27: Defensive back Javier Arenas #21 of the Kansas City Chiefs recovers a fumble in the end zone against the Pittsburgh Steelers during the first half on November 27, 2011 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Peter Aiken/Getty Images)
You don't have to be an astute evaluator of NFL football teams to know it's pretty bleak on the Chiefs sideline. Things just don't click right now. The body language of the team spells it out week after week as the team goes through a short span that blows the game apart. Whether it be a Tim Tebow pass to Eric Decker on a blown coverage during the Denver game, a few minute span on either side of the half during the New England game, a three turnover nightmare during the Pittsburgh game, or pretty much everything after the first drive in the Miami game, Chiefs fans find themselves upset and frustrated by their favorite team.
Call me a homer, but I see some serious positives in this team, especially on the defensive side of the ball. "But Kalo," you may say, "This team is 23rd in points allowed, 20th in yards allowed, and 26th in rushing yards allowed. How the *&$% is there anything to be positive about on that side of the ball?"
Well, let me try to sway you...
Probably the most painful parts of this season for me has been watching the blowouts. Sure, the defense has played bad at times, but the most difficult have been those that were pretty much over from the beginning. I look at the allowed points per game and I see bottom third, and I jump to those lopsided losses. Here's the thing, though: of that 24.1 point per game average that this Chiefs defense has accrued, only 4 games have actually topped that number. Those four games were, you guessed it, the blowout losses to the Bills, Lions, Dolphins, and Patriots. In the other 8 games of the season, the Chiefs defense has allowed a downright stingy 15.85 points per game. San Fransisco leads the league in this category with 14.6, and second place is 16.3 (Houston). Now, you can't throw those games out. It just doesn't work that way. However, I can see that when this defense falls apart, it falls apart epically. There's very little "middle ground" with the Chiefs defense: it's either really good or it's really awful.
So why does this team fall apart? At what does the incredible lack of discipline rear its ugly head and essentially defeat this team? Make no bones about it, when this defense goes down by a couple of scores, they rarely respond and get tougher. However, if the defense comes out firing on all cylinders, we get to see a team that holds a dynamic and explosive offense like the Pittsburgh Steelers to a measly 13 points...when they have the ball three times inside the Chiefs 30 yard line! We saw flashes of it early against New England, too, until Brady's Boys punched the Chiefs in the mouth. At times, it is a very legit defense, even without All-Pro safety Eric Berry. Is he the one that is the rallying force when the going gets tough? Why doesn't there seem to be another one to get the defense amped on the team? The defense reminds me of that guy (or girl) everybody knows that really gets into something (playing the guitar, running a marathon, eating healthy). When they start, it's new and exciting, and things are going to go well. However, at some point they bail on it because they get to a difficult part of the process. That's how I feel when I watch this defense, and it's frustrating. I want to see the response. I want to see this defense get punched in the mouth and get back up to deal their own damage. I don't think they're "soft", because they've shown how tough they can play at times this year. However, I do think they lack the motivation to get back out there some games...and that is a problem.
As far as individual player performances go, there are good things happening for this defense. I'm going to hit on a few of those:
Justin Houston is catching up to NFL game speed. The guy has improved steadily as the year has gone along, even with the setback that moved him to a nickel pass rusher for awhile. He has staked his claim on the starting outside linebacker spot opposite Tamba Hali by being strong in run support, decent in pass coverage, and (more recently) gaining more and more pressures on the quarterback. In the early games this year, he had some trouble holding the edge against the run, but he seems to have recognized his body position against the bigger NFL RT's and TE's, now moving to the spot and engaging instead of trying to force the tackle to that spot. He's also been helped quite a bit by DJ in pass coverage. I could see the two of them talking in the early games after some plays about where he should have gone, even if the pass didn't go to his side. Now he appears to be locking down passing lanes, identifying and protecting his zone/man, and recognizing when there's not a need for him in coverage for a late pass rush. He's not up to the level of a Von Miller, but he's coming around fairly quickly. That's impressive, considering the amount of responsibility a strongside outside linebacker has in the Chiefs' 3-4.
DJ's negative plays are even fewer and farther between this year. The knock on DJ for years has been that he's a "yo-yo player", meaning that he'll have one beyond outstanding play immediately followed up by a badly missed tackle or coverage. Those "bonehead" plays decreased significantly last year, and he earned himself a Pro Bowl nod because of it. This year, those plays have dwindled to even fewer. They're not completely gone, but he's substituted even more "superstar" plays instead. The goal line stand against Oakland. Jarring the ball loose at the last second against New England. Game after game of him shooting the gap and making the stop or disrupting the play 4-5 yards behind the line of scrimmage. He's everywhere, in almost every game. He's already to the 4th highest tackle total in his career...and he's got 5 games left! He's 11th in the league in tackles, and only two other linebackers in the league have matched or exceeded his pass defense numbers while having more tackles: Patrick Willis and London Fletcher. That's pretty darn good company to be in, and he's leading the AFC by a wide margin in that combo stat. If he made the Pro Bowl last year, I can't see how he doesn't make it this year.
Javier Arenas keeps getting better, in all three sides of the ball. When the Chiefs drafted Arenas, he was picked because of his coverage skills and his return skills. Last year, most were unimpressed with the rookie. This year, he's turned into one of the better return men in the league, and his coverage skills have improved. Add in his new role as a wildcat QB, and he's beginning to prove his worth as a 2nd round draft pick.
There are more positives, sure, but those have been the three that stick out the most to me.
However, there are some serious negatives that stick out in my mind every week that I watch this defense. Here are three of those negatives:
Glenn Dorsey, where are you? The "playmaking penetrator" on the defensive line is not showing nearly as much as his now backup, Amon Gordon, or his strong side compatriot, Tyson Jackson. This front seven is built around Tamba Hali and Glenn Dorsey getting themselves free with 1-on-1 matchups, and while Tamba is drawing double teams, Glenn isn't doing much with his single blockers. He's just not getting past his man very often, and in a front that shades in his direction more often than not to get him that matchup, it's becoming obvious. With Gordon in the game at Dorsey's defensive end position, the defensive line becomes a bit less predictable, and that has created some openings for Jackson and Gregg to make plays, as well as Gordon to show what he can do in that spot. It's unfortunate, because I enjoy watching Glenn play, but it appears that there may be other options this team needs to try.
Jovan Belcher is still too tentative. I see the ability for Jovan to be a quality inside linebacker. I have for a couple of years now. However, it's still just inconsistent flashes here and there, and that's just not good enough. He's finally got a nose tackle in front of him that is doing a marginal job, and he's playing behind a line-eating defensive end who has been healthy all year...and yet, he's still lacking. His pass coverage ability is just as weak as it has always been, so he's not on the field in those situations. However, he still delays too much when shooting the gap. The fans see DJ careening headlong into the backfield, making plays often, yet I struggle to recall very many instances where Jovan has been destructive this year. He can't drop into coverage, and he's struggling to really attack against the run yet again this year...I think it's time to try and find some serious competition for him.
Brandon Flowers: Jekyll or Hyde? Brandon Flowers leads the league in passes defensed Not the division, not the conference, the ENTIRE NFL. He's been a rising star for years now, and his numbers are showing it, right? Well, kinda. Brandon Flowers has been thrown at MUCH more than he has in previous seasons, and part of this is because a decent number of games this year, he's been the second best corner on this team. He's been torched by fast receivers, posession receivers, and tight ends this year...very atypical of the Flowers we have watched the past few years. And yet, at times, he plays like a man amongst boys. So who is he, really? Is he the guy that has a league leading 21 pass deflections? Or is he the guy that's been burned for touchdowns for a career high this year?
So what do you guys think? What's your reason for the Chiefs defense collapsing under some early pressure? Your positives? Your negatives?