From the FanPosts. -Chris
Following up on my head to head offensive breakdown in the division, I'll look at and rank, in my opinion, the defensive players in the AFC West. This one will be a little more difficult with trying to factor in schemes and rotations (nickel packages, goal line), so I'll try to break down positions but put the comparison in what they do for each team (i.e. 4-3 DE and 3-4 OLB as "pass rushers"). I'll do my best with this, but if anyone has any ideas about how to make it better perhaps, feel free to share. Here we go.
In order by rank, in my opinion:
Pass Rushers (DE, OLB):
- Oakland has found something special in their front seven getting after the passer, unfortunately for everyone not a Raider fan, because now they won't shut up about it. Wimbley was just outside of the top 10 in sacks in the AFC (and some argue was over-rewarded for it), Seymour continues to wreck havoc, Shaughnessy quietly went about his business, and Houston was a very solid rookie. Oakland was tied for second in the NFL with total sacks, and have retained everyone of those front seven pieces. Troublesome, to say the least. KC has Tamba, which is enough in it's own right (and some might try to argue that he too was over-rewarded for his accomplishments last season), but Gilberry did his thing in a limited role, and is pushing to get a bigger role this year. Included with KC is Justin Houston, though while a rookie, I can see him pushing for extended time at the OLB just to get Hali some help in pass rushing. SD retains their sack leader, Phillips, but lost a big part of their pass rush with Kevin Burnett going to Miami. They signed LaBoy away from San Fran to help. English hasn't been anything near what his 1st round draft status would indicate, and SD will need someone to step up in their front seven to help Phillips and Garay keep the pressure on. Denver was the league caboose in sacks last season, as Dumervil was lost for the season to injury. They drafted Miller very high in hopes they can greatly improve the pass rush with Elvis coming back healthy. Time will tell if Miller can live up to the "DT" comparisons and if Dumervil can rebound from missing all of last year.
D-line run stoppers (DT / 3-4 DE / NT)
Oakland - Tommy Kelly / John Henderson / LaMarr Houston
- SD always seems to put together a tough run stopping defense, and last season was no exception, as they were ranked 4th against the run. Castillo has been doing it for years, Cesaire was a pleasant surprise, and Garay held his own in the middle with 48 tackles. They drafted Liuget in the first round to help continue that tradition. KC was the most improved run defense last season, as Dorsey and Jackson are really coming into their own as run stoppers. Gregg comes in as the tough vet to help rookie Powe develop, and Gilberry has put on weight to attempt to become a 3-down linemen instead of a situational pass rusher, and will need to greatly improve on his run defense to get there. The losses of Ron Edwards and Shaun Smith along the d-line may be discussed if the run defense takes a step back this season. As strong as Oakland was rushing the passer last year, they are perennially one of the worst rush defenses, ranking 29th last season. Kelly and Houston can get after the QB, but they must find a way to play the run much better. Henderson is a big truck of a man, and clogs the middle, but doesn't play well in space and can easily be maneuvered out of the play. The addition of Warren and Bunkley in Denver is just the start of their long climb out of 31st against the run. They have limited ability at DT and are switching back to a 4-3 from a 3-4, so they have a lot of work to do at improving the interior of their d-line.
Pass coverage LB (4-3 OLB, 3-4 WILB, 3-4 SOLB):
KC - Derrick Johnson / Andy Studebaker
Oak - Quentin Groves / Kamerion Wimbley
Den - D.J. Williams / Von Miller
- This category is pretty much KC and everyone else. Kansas City might have the very best coverage LB in the entire NFL in DJ, as he continues to boost his passes defensed number by a LB every season. Studebaker has shown tremendous ability in pass coverage, as he was regularly one of the nickelbackers, and has a nose for the ball. Oakland gets the benefit of the doubt being number two based solely on bringing back the same group as last season. Groves is decent at pass coverage, while Wimbley is more of a pass rusher. The Oakland secondary was usually good enough to allow the LBs to focus more on the run game or blitzing, but times they are a-changin' in Oakland, unfortunately for them. SD and Denver both have a whole lot of uncertainty with their LBsin pass coverage. It appears that Denver will run DJ Williams and Miller out there, which will put Miller squarely as the pass rusher until he develops into more than that, and Williams has had a lot of success as a WOLB. Currently, the Chargers haven't re-signed Stephen Cooper, and if they don't, their WILB and SOLB don't look to be filled by any more than a rookie, a player coming back from a serious injury, or an underwhelming English. Suffer pass defense, suffer!
Run-stopping LB (4-3 MLB, 3-4 SOLB):
Oak - Rolando McClain
Den - Joe Mays
- SD gets the close edge here over KC. Spikes has had a long career at ILB, and should continue to be a veteran leader for the middle of the SD defense with a stout Barnes pushing behind him. The loss of both Burnett to Miami and Siler to KC hurts the interior, but Spikes should hold the spot until someone else is ready. In KC, Belcher is a decent run stopper and gap filler (when he picks the right gap), and the addition of Siler to push Belcher should hopefully propel one of them to a 3-down linebacker, but as of now, they are both strictly run stoppers, and both decent enough at it. McClain in Oakland was ok in his rookie year, amassing 85 tackles, but he must greatly improve his play recognition, gap filling, andblock shedding if he wants to help improve a long history of bad run defense in Oakland. Denver runs Mays out as the MLB in their new 4-3, as he earned a lot of praise last year as a hard-hitting ILB, so odds are he will win the starting spot.
Cornerback 1 / 2 / Nickelback:
- Wow, what a group to try to rank. Very very tough to find the best of the best in this group, and I challenge anyone to find a division with a better group of corners. I'll let the homerism waft over me for this one and put KC with the best group of corners. Flowers is one of the best tackling corners in the league, and is on his way to becoming one of the elite all-around CBs. Carr's passes defensed number is top notch for a #2 CB, though he can continue to show improvement, and Arenas really started to come on for a defense that is in the nickel close to half their defensive plays. Jammer and Cason in SD led a defense ranked first against the pass, as they both do their jobs consistently without much deviation. Gilchrist is a strong rookie that has gotten a lot of reps through camp at the #2 so far with Cason getting fully healthy. This will be invaluable to getting on the field regularly during the season. Oakland is getting Johnson back healthy from an injury-plagued season last year, and signed Routt up for a big contract that probably should have gone to Nnamdi. They both have a big challenge to continue to keep Oakland ranked in the top third of pass defenses, as we will truly find out how much of that was Asomugha's presence. Champ is still going strong in Denver, though he has lost a few steps, and Cox was a surprising rookie that forced Denver to trade away Alphonso Smith, a 2nd round CB in his second year. Cox practically forced Goodman to the nickel position, but having a vet like Goodman as the nickelback isn't a bad thing, but Denver has a lot of work to do to improve their pass defense.
Strong Safety / Free Safety:
- Many argue that safeties are becoming interchangable, that both need to be able to cover well and play the run effectively. For teams to be successful, I would argue that the safeties have to be the most athletically skilled and intelligent players on their respective defenses. Berry represents that as just a 2nd year player, and is already arguably the best safety in the division. Lewis is a supremely intelligent player that was reported to be in full knowledge of the defense and was lining people up correctly in his rookie year; he can continue to improve his coverage skills, but is already becoming a leader of his defense. Weddle was a top safety target in free agency this year, and SD was lucky to re-sign him. He's a young, skilled centerfielder with good instincts and physicality. The signing of Bob Sanders was definitely a stop-gap to help young Darrell Stuckey along and fully healthy without rushing him on the field in his 2nd year, but we all know what a healthy Sanders can do (but not too worried about him staying healthy). Mitchell has been a slow developer in his 3rd year, and looks ready to take over for Tyvon Branch at SS, although Branch was decent in his position last year. Huff remains as the free safety, and has been ok in his career, but is definitely the veteran presence for a secondary without it's superstar. Keeping them focused on carrying on their success will be a challenge, to say the least. Denver's safety situation is currently as clear as mud. Dawkins is still on the roster, but is coming to an end. They drafted Rahim Moore to eventually replace Dawkins at FS, and if he's ready this year, that could push Dawkins to SS, where he would replace Bruton, who has been nothing more than a backup. Pass defense hasn't been, and probably won't be a strength in Denver anytime soon.
Alright! Chiefs aren't looking too bad with their starters in a lot of positions within the division. Key positions, like QB, will need to gain some ground to call us elite, but we are well on our way. Again, with this post, please let me know if you would be interested in a weekly opponent breakdown like this, and/or how it might be done differently. Thanks for reading, and go Chiefs!