Today, we are going to take a look at the defensive line rotation for the Kansas City Chiefs on their bye week, from their expectations, their execution, and a look into what we can expect for the rest of the season.
At the beginning of the season, the Chiefs went out and drafted a true nose tackle in Dontari Poe. This would be the first time in the recent switch to a 3-4 defense that the team went after a young guy to anchor the front three for several years to come. Anthony Toribio was expected to start, but Poe was expected to be in the rotation, as well as help out in the nickel/dime packages as a pass rusher. With another year of development from starters Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey, as well as pass rusher Allen Bailey and new acquisition Ropati Pitoitua, hopes were high going into the season that this Chiefs defense would come out firing the way they ended the season.
...and then the season started.
Poe was limited in his NT rotation, playing pass rusher in the sub packages, and not getting results. Toribio went out early due to injury, forcing Poe to team with Jerrell Powe in the nose tackle rotation. Poe has played increasingly more and more snaps as the season has gone along, now featuring as the starting nose tackle and playing the bulk of the snaps as that position. He's not played perfectly, but already in this young season he has picked it up and his development on the field is showing up in the rushing yards between the tackles. His pass rushing ability is less than desirable, so he'll need to continue to learn to use his speed and strength to get behind the line and create havoc.
Tyson Jackson went into this season as a shutdown run defender, teaming up with Justin Houston to create a very difficult edge to run near. As this season has gone along, some of that has been lost, it seems. He found himself early having to move laterally to help Poe at the point of attack, but more recently has been able to play out in a normal 5-tech position. He's still arguably the best run defender of the group, but has seemed to plateau at this point. His pass rush is still fairly nonexistent, even though he's gotten more and more snaps as a subset pass rusher due to injuries.
Dorsey found himself in a similar situation to Jackson, but he is on a contract year, and has been saddled with high expectations since coming out of LSU as a feared pass rusher. Yet again, his role in the 3-4 defense has muted some of these abilities. He's still a good run defender, but with the schemes the team tries to run to free him up and with Tamba Hali on his other shoulder, he wasn't able to turn in penetrating plays before his injury.
Bailey started the season dinged up, and the subset defense suffered a bit in his absence. After coming back, the pocket has collapsed somewhat, but there's no sacks from him as of yet. He was asked to step in for spot duty as a 3-4 DE when both Dorsey and Ro'Po went down with injuries, and he performed below average.
Ropati has been a bit of a boom or bust candidate on this team. He's made some thunderous tackles behind the line of scrimmage, and he's got two sacks to his name this year. He's taken advantage of the schemes Romeo has put him in and tried to create destruction, with some success. On the other hand, he's also given up a few big, big plays by not respecting his gap as a 3-4 DE and allowing free men to get up the field to the linebackers. He's definitely been a surprise, and if he can clean up his miscues, might very well be the find of the offseason on this team.
Most won't see a lot of the down and dirty work by the defensive linemen, and even when they do, it's not all that sexy to the normal football fan. There's been a multitude of plays set up by the DL for the linebackers to shoot the gaps and make the plays. If you've seen DJ come barreling through the line to blow something up in the backfield, then you've likely seen a highlight by the defensive line. As mentioned above, Ro'Po had a couple of sacks (one great one where he completely blindsided Phillip Rivers), there's been a couple of good pressures (Poe's almost-safety in the Ravens game comes to mind), and both Poe and Jackson have batted down a handful of passes this year on the line.
The first one that comes into my head was the Allen Bailey implosion that allowed Ray Rice to rumble for big yardage in a winnable game. He got blown off the line (no anchor) and allowed a free man (no double team) that created a huge hole for the running back. In that same game, Poe and Jackson allowed free men on consecutive plays near the end of the game that allowed the Ravens to close it out.
Looking back, it appears the new guard has brought more to look forward to than the old guard for the rest of this season. A guy who wasn't expected to contribute immediately by both fans and the coaching staff has stepped up and claimed the starting NT position. At this juncture, he's not a liability. As the season goes along, his development will be something to watch. Ro'Po has found himself a spot on this team as well, being one of the few to identify 1-v-1 matchups and make something out of them. Jackson has been his usual self: low risk, low reward. The rest of the DL have been generally lacking, but the rest have been dealing with injuries and getting back to 100% as the season has come along. It will be interesting to see how a healthy Dorsey and a 100% healthy Toribio change the landscape on this team.
What do you guys think? Have they performed adequately? Who has stuck out as performing above average for you?