Ahh another week without the CBA being finished. Yay! That means no real new issues to discuss! And here I was afraid I'd have an easy time thinking of something worthwhile to write about. Dodged that bullet (wipes brow).
I've been thinking about our core players since writing this piece about our salary cap situation. In case you missed it and don't feel like making the effort right now, it basically states we have more than enough money to re-sign our key FA's without putting us over the cap (and now that I've said in one sentence what it took me 1,881 words to say several weeks ago, I'm a little depressed. Let's move on).
The open-ended question at the end of that story was this: does Scott Pioli feel we have the core in place to win a Super Bowl? I didn't address the question due to time and space constraints (again, I'd already banged out 1,881 words. I'm assuming none of you were thinking, "aww crap, this was way too short!"), so I'm going to delve into that today. Specifically, our defense.
Since I didn't want to make it seem as though this is all based off my own opinion (which, by the way, it is. Sue me), I went back and looked at the defenses of the last five Super Bowl winners to see what they were made of. Why the last five, you ask? Isn't that number a little arbitrary, you ask? Well, let me answer your question with a question... Why is it that when I spent two hours with my son teaching him how to properly field a ground ball (I actually sold my soul by the time it was said and done. I'm not proud of it, it just happened), he tells everyone he "just learned by watching the other kids"? What's up with no credit given to Dad? You answer my question, I'll answer yours. In the meantime, let's talk about what I found.
Without exception, every single defense on the last five Super Bowl winners had a distinct strength. A trait that set them apart from other teams. Not all those defenses were great, but they were at least solid and had one viable strength they leaned on to get to and win the Super Bowl. In that sense, they were kind of like Hulk Hogan. He wasn't really any good as a wrestler (slow, stiff, couldn't sell anyone's moves), but the "Hulking Up" schtick was so great it overshadowed his shortcomings.
That would describe the Saints defense and Colts defense in their respective Super Bowl years. They weren't great defenses, but they got the job done. The Saints got it done with a knack for creating turnovers at the right time and the ability to pressure the QB, and Colts had great overall speed on their defense that limited what other teams could do on turf in a stadium.
The Packers, Steelers, and Giants are all a slightly different story. These were legitimately great defenses. But again, they each had a distinctive strength that set them apart. In a not-so-wild coincidence, that strength was rushing the passer. In today's increasingly QB-dominated league, it seems the team that can apply pressure generally wins the day.
Another trait I found on those defenses is that none if them possessed a glaring weakness that couldn't be overcome through either defensive scheming or a superstar player hiding the weakness. An example of this would be Colts and their porous run defense, which was overcome by the return of Bob Sanders (a superstar in run support when healthy).
So now that we've delved into past SB-winning defenses (barely, but still), let's look at what our Chiefs bring to the table. Is this a team that can win us a Super Bowl?
Now, I could do a player by player breakdown, but let's face the facts: everyone who reads this knows our players well enough to not need a snapshot handed to them. Also, I don't want to. So instead, let's look at the two traits I discussed with other SB winning defenses: a defining strength and glaring weaknesses
None. Crap, didn't think we'd fall short this quickly, did you? The sad truth of the matter is that as of right now, the Kansas City Chiefs defensive unit does not have a single elite strength. We're not bad against both the pass (17th in the league) and the run (14th), but nothing too special in either case. We do an all right job getting after the quarterback (11th in the league in sacks), but again, we're hardly elite. To put it bluntly, we're consistently average.
I've felt for a while now that we need to develop a defensive identity. We need something that stands out about us. Not just one player like Tamba Hali, but an overall strength to the defense that sets us apart. My personal choice would be pass-rushing. Like I stated earlier, teams that do well in the playoffs are teams that can get the opposing QB on the ground multiple times. But more on that in a moment. We need to get to the more uncomfortable part of the discussion...
I've talked about some of this stuff here and here, but it's time to rehash for the sale of this story. Like many of you, I'm kind of a homer. Sure, I try to apply reason and logic and stats to all my opinions, but at the end of the day I try to paint every Chief in a positive light. So when I look at our defense I don't see any glaring weaknesses, because I see the glass half full with every player.
Sounds nice right? Well, yeah, but it's also naive and shortsighted. The bottom line is if we didn't have a couple of glaring weaknesses we would've been a better defense last year. Because we've got more than enough talent on that defense to be great. So what were those weaknesses?
Well, as much as I love him and as much as it pains me to say it, at times Big Ron Edwards was a glaring weakness for us. Now don't hang me just yet. I love Big Ron, and he was forced (yet again) to take WAY too many snaps for a guy his size and age. He did pretty well for the situation he found himself in. But let's face it, he was overwhelmed late in the year as the snaps wore him down. Barring a scheme change to a 4-3 there is NO WAY to hide a tired NT who is getting handled by one offensive lineman all too often.
Our other glaring weaknesses last year were at SOLB and SILB in that order. Mike Vrabel has provided us with all the leadership and happy feelings and all that stuff. That's wonderful, thank you Mr. Vrabel. But anyone who I could beat in a foot race and applies no pressure to the quarterback does not belong in the NFL as a starter. I mean c'mon, Vrabel's slower than LeBron James is to take blame for a loss (ba-dum chh!)
SILB is currently manned by Jovan Belcher, and seeing as we didn't take anyone in the draft to replace him we can assume (at least for now) that Todd Haley and Romeo Crennel have confidence in him. And hey, he's come a long ways for a small school UDRFA. Kudos. But until he can learn to fill the right gap consistently and cover ANYTHING, we'll be forced to sub him out on 3rd downs and he will be at best a minor liability on the earlier downs. Everyone remembers how John McGraw got burned by Todd Heap against the Ravens, but the reality is we shouldn't have to sub in a safety on 3rd downs. We ought to have an ILB capable of at least holding his own in coverage.
So currently, we don't have a definitive strength AND we have a couple of (at least potential) glaring weaknesses on our defense. No wait! Don't light yourself on fire yet! Stay with me here... we've got a shot at this.
I believe Pioli may view defense in a way that is somewhat similar to mine (hey, we've all got dreams). And I think you see us addressing both issues in our latest draft. Justin Houston (and perhaps Allen Bailey) are Pioli's way of saying, "our strength as a team is going to be rushing the Bejesus out of the quarterback". Jerrell Powe is his way of saying, "We need to get ourselves another Big Boy up there to help out". And the Jovan Belcher issue? Well, there's always prayer, right?
Like I said, at the end of the day, I'm a homer. But when I look at our defense up and down, I see a core that is either in place or one player away. Of course, I could be wrong.
(Crap, I just said in 3 sentences what I'd wasted 1500 words on... I really need to work on brevity)