What are a few words you would use to describe this season? Because I have a few.
Unfortunate. The first few weeks of the season, everyone would agree with this. Three of our star players went down with season-ending injuries, and we got destroyed in our first 3 games. Honestly, it was depressing and we were all looking forward to Luck. But Kansas City was not done yet.
Hopeful. After the shitty start to the season, we won 4 straight. Including a glorious comeback versus Indy, a blowout in Oakland, and a miracle in San Diego. But after a few bad losses against Miami, Denver, and New England. But we are not afraid! After a bad loss to Pittsburgh (the one that got away, but Palko threw it away) and a bad loss to New York (just a bad game overall), we dominated Chicago with a suffocating defense. But still, none of us would have truly believed that we would've been the team to shut down Green Bay. But we were. This gave us all hope to make the playoffs. But a heart-breaking loss against Oakland shattered it. Buffalo and Detroit held up their ends, we just couldn't follow through.
Adaption/Transformation. Last year, we were a solely offensive team. The offense was dominating, but defense was pretty weak aside from a certain few. This year with almost all of the offensive players that really produced on IR, the Chiefs were either going to adapt or give up all hope and Suck for Luck. So, after the offense couldn't get on the board after Matt went down (C'mon Cassel haters, admit it. Cassel is 50x better than Palko, at least he could get in the endzone) and the Tyler Palko era started, the defense stepped their game up. After the New England game (aside from the Jets), the defense became arguably the best in the league. But despite the incredible defensive performances, it never occurred to me that we became a defensive team until the second Oakland game. During pregame, the commentator (I forget who it was) said "Kansas City is a shut-down defensive team, a hard-hitting, physical team. The kind of team Oakland really has problems with." And it then occurred to me, "Yeah, we really are!"
I remember going to Silver and Black Pride right after the game to congratulate them, and they said many times that they couldn't establish a ground game because our defense was being too physical. That, was entirely true.
That's also how we brutalized Green Bay. Green Bay is a finesse team that likes to go around the real aspects of football and cheat by running real fast and catching balls. They weren't expecting Kansas City to go out there and really bully them. The defensive backs were harassing the receivers to a point that they didn't want to even catch the ball because they knew as soon as they grabbed it they would be drilled. And the front seven was being way too smart and aggressive for Rodgers to get any time in the pocket or for them to establish any sort of running game.
But are a few good games at the end of the season truly enough to make us elite? After Berry (who was arguably our best defender) was lost, I feel like our defense was straight-up demoralized. But then came the emergence of Derrick Johnson (who could be called the best linebacker in the league besides Patrick Willis) Justin Houston, Tyson Jackson, Brandon Carr and Kendrick Lewis. When they all came together along with former greats like Hali and Flowers, it was a thing of beauty. So I think if we can carry on that defensive swagger onto next year, we will easily be a force to be reckoned with (and we'll need it facing the AFC North next year). So, without further ado, BREAKDOWN TIME!
NT: Kelly Gregg was a pretty good player this year. Nothing extraordinary, but he got the job done in run support up the gut and and even got a sack. But he's an old veteran and will most assuredly be retiring this year or he'll just be dropped in favor of a younger guy... like Paul Soliai. A massive, 6'4 360 pound NT who was a Pro Bowl alternate and will most probably be a free agent this year. Powe will be entering his second year with no playing time, and could use a guy to help him out and learn from (obviously his second job behind goalline fullback). If we can get Soliai or Powe can step his game up, I give NT a THUMBS UP.
DE: This is the thing the Oakland fans kept bringing up. They kept talking about how Dorsey and Jackson were out-doing the guards of Oakland with just pure physicality. That is quite the accomplishment, because you don't get much more physical than Oakland, anywhere really but especially up front. And really, they weren't far off. T-Jax, as fat and lazy and terrible at getting sacks as he may be(all hail Skitzo), he is a great run-stuffer and very strong. He oftentimes commands double-teams, leaving Houston wide open for the tackle. Dorsey is a bit more finesse and not so barbaric in his game, but his run-coverage is very good for a 3-4 defensive end. Right now, I wouldn't be entirely opposed to getting a big and still very athletic defensive end/tackle like Shaun Rogers who is an older, All-Pro guy with still some great ability and can help develope Powe/Dorsey/Bailey. THUMBS UP.
OLB: All the best 3-4 teams have a dynamic pass-rushing combo off the edge. Steelers have Harrison and Woodley, Baltimore has Suggs and Johnson, Cowboys have Ware and Spencer. We have that already, for the most part. Hali is a certified animal as anyone in Kansas City will tell you that he's arguably a top 3 pass-rusher in the league, and when RAC finally decided to let Houston go to work and blitz the QB he actually got some sacks and a lot of pressure. Also, he's arguably better than Hali at run support. Any offense will tell you, running at T-Jax and Houston is a LOT harder than running at Dorsey and Hali. THUMBS UP.
ILB: I always wanted, through all the years for Kansas City to get an elite linebacker just because I'm a just an old school (or just very sadistic) football guy who likes to see big hits and overall carnage. DJ always had the potential through all the years, and it was noticeable. I remember watching a lot of times when he would time the snap count perfectly, jump right through an open gap and due to his lack of maturity forget to break down and miss the tackle completely. However, disruption has always been DJ's thing, and just screwing the play up hardcore can really be almost as valuable as the actual tackle.
But, just like the rest of the defense Derrick finally lived up to expectations and became the linebacker that we were all expecting since he came out of college. Whether it was his 2 interceptions, his devastating hits, his perfect form tackles, his 4 straight stops on the 1 yard line versus Oakland Week 7, his 3 (I believe) forced fumbles (what a thing of beauty, I might add. The ball carrier thinks DJ is attempting a weak arm tackle, but little does he really know Derrick is cocking back his other hand to knock the unprotected ball loose) or his uncanny and very unique ability to dive under a blocker and take out the ball carrier behind him, Derrick won all of our hearts. He's been irreplaceable this season.
But the other half of the ILB equation was little Jovan Belcher, who I personally consider underrated. Maybe it's just the neckroll (I'll be honest, neckrolls are badass. Any player who wears a neckroll automatically becomes 10x cooler. I began to notice Alstott as a child merely because of his neckroll), but I think Belcher is a fine starter. He may be just 230 pounds, but he plays like a giant. His coverage skills are lacking, but his form and ferocity at the point of attack in the run game are second to none. I first really saw him explode during the Chicago game (a good game for all of our linebackers) when he had a seemingly unimpressive 7 tackles but really he was all around the ball. One particular play in general stuck out to me. Marion Barber had a seemingly huge hole in the 4th quarter and Chicago fans saw it and started hollering and cheering and all that nonsense, but in a heartbeat Jovan was there with a helmet planted in Barber's chestplate. Despite Barber's attempts to stay upright (and you know how Barber is, he's not going down easy. Especially to a shrimp like Belcher), Belcher just lifted him off his feet and into the turf, and Soldier Field got dead quiet. Many have called for Belcher to be replaced (by Kuchely, Burfict, Hightower, or D'Qwell Jackson. Couldn't disagree with Jackson, however), and I think that's malarkey, he's just fine. THUMBS UP.
CB: Not much bad to say here. Flowers, Carr and even Arenas are all fine cover/elite guys and good tacklers. I mean, we have arguably the best CB core in the league. THUMBS UP.
S: Aside from depth, we got this pretty much covered. Kendrick has had a very good season, he's a great cover guy with a few INT's and his own forced fumble on Tebow. He'll be FS next year and of course our big hitting safety Eric Berry will be back at SS. Jon McGraw's ok, but otherwise we need some viable backups. For the most part, THUMBS UP.
So, the ongoing question.
Do we have before us an elite defense? I can't help but say yes (not like I'm biased or anything). I mean, take a look.
Run up the gut... DJ, Belcher, Jackson, Dorsey/Rogers/Bailey and Soliai/Powe think that's a cute attempt.
Run to the outside... Dorsey and T-Jax are taking up blockers while Hali, Houston, DJ and Belcher are all over your RB and making the tackle.
Pass over the middle... I'm sorry for the season-ending hit Berry or Johnson will dish out to your receiver.
Short pass... Flowers, Carr, Berry and Lewis are already on top of the ball carrier.
Going deep... Hali and Houston are putting pressure on your QB while you can only hope to lob it up, and get picked off or swatted down.