Kansas City Chiefs 2013 Season Predictions: The Defense, Part 1

Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE

Because it's the offseason.

You know what's more meaningless than predictions made during preseason games? Predictions made during training camp. You know what's more useless than predictions made during training camp? Predictions made during voluntary OTAs in May. Know what's more useless than predictions made during voluntary OTAs in May? Not much.

But it was recently brought to my attention by a friend of mine that predictions are where it's at these days. So much like offseason lists (and don't think we're done with those yet), I find myself willing to bow to the pressure of the collective and jump into the prediction fray. Maybe at some point I'll make a ranked list of predictions, but I'm not sure the world's ready for such a thing yet.

The Kansas City Chief's defense is a complete mystery to me. We (yes, I refer to the team as "we." Sue me, it makes it more fun for me) ranked 20th in yards given up per game and 25th in points given up per game. That crap is disgusting. Only 13 takeaways were forced by our D all year. 27 sacks (29th in the NFL). By those standards, they sucked (notice the seamless switch to "they" when it was something I don't like? Kind like when my kids act nuts. Then they're my wife's kids. It's a great system).

Of course, there were some extenuating circumstances (otherwise known as "excuses" to the more cynical of us) surrounding those statistics. Our offense was terrible on an almost unheard-of level. 13.2 points per game was not only the lowest number in the NFL by 2.4 points per game (a pretty significant number, all things considered), it would have been the lowest number in the league last year too. The offense also ranked close to the bottom in 1st downs and 3rd down conversions. Blech.

All year, we told ourselves "this defense has some talent on it." And it would seem that belief was confirmed at the end of the season, with Eric Berry, Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson, and Tamba Hali all getting Pro Bowl nods. Now to be fair, the Pro Bowl doesn't mean a whole lot. But when 4 of 11 starters make it, you shouldn't absolutely SUCK, right? In fact, when I scan our entire defensive starting 11 I see a lot of players I like. So what gives?

I have no idea, but theories abound. Several of the ones I tend to favor are...

1) Romeo Crennel and his passive defensive scheme does not lend itself well to a crap offense.

2) The talent is overrated here because we're homers (can't rule this out)

3) The offense put the defense in a ton of tough spots. We went over that above

4) Key players were used foolishly for most of the year

5) Certain formations that didn't maximize our talent were over-used (shifting to dime every time an offense brings out one extra receiver is just... yikes)

If I were to pick, I think it was a major combination of all of those factors (except 2, because I'm not ready to revoke my homer card just yet) that created a borderline perfect storm of ineptitude on defense last year. I believe, despite what occurred last year, that we've got talent. Especially after adding a significant amount of talent in the secondary, a unit that was uneven last year (although I stand by my opinion that Javier Arenas was solid for most of the season. Good luck Javy).

I mean, look at the lineup.

Defensive Line

Tyson Jackson, Dontari Poe, Mike DeVito starting.

Linebackers

Justin Houston, Nico Johnson/Akeem Jordan, Derrick Johnson, Tamba Hali

Secondary

Brandon Flowers, Dunta Robinson, Sean Smith, Eric, Berry, Kendrick Lewis/Sanders Commings/Hussain Abdullah.

That's a lineup I'm comfortable going to war with. I know, I know, not everyone shares my feelings about TJax, and there are more than a few who are skeptical about our DL in general. But you can't argue with that LB corps. That's one of the better groups in the NFL. And while both Nico and Akeem have their limitations, I believe either of them are capable of being better than what we had at the position last year. The secondary? I like the depth and the competition at our weakest spot in the secondary last year (free safety, for those who were too busy doing other things to see that position kill us over and over last year).

Anyway, I didn't set out to write a 700-word drought of Kool-Aid (even though I did). I set out to make some predictions! Of course, I can't guarantee those won't be laced with Kool-Aid (yep, I've apparently condensed it to drug form at this point. Don't leave your cups unattended, people). Since we're already a ways into this, how about we cover the defensive line and talk about the rest of the defense another day?

Prediction #1: Tyson Jackson will have 7+ sacks, 8+ QB hits, and 20+ QB hurries this year.

Dipping a toe in the pool is for pansies. I'm diving in the deep end of a shark tank naked wrapped in uncooked steak with paper cuts all over my body while barking like a seal (so pretty much a typical Friday night before I got married and had kids. Now I rarely make the seal noises. You just slow down, you know?).

How do I defend such an indefensible position, you ask? Well, I'll walk you through it. We actually need to go back to February of 2012. The Chiefs had just finished a pretty "meh" season (well, we thought it was a terrible season at the time. That was before we had this last season to compare it to) and it was time for player breakdowns. I decided to start with ol' TJax. After watching a TON of his snaps, I wrote a very, very, very long column about what I saw (side note, this was so long ago that I was still allowing PFF's grades to enter my columns as more than just a starting point. Oh, the things we learn). After watching the guy a ton on film, I walked away thinking two things...

1) TJax saw a ton of double teams and is just a flat-out strong dude (to say it briefly).

2) When asked to bull rush at the QB TJax could do some things. It's just he was hardly ever doing that, choosing instead (on the rare occasions he was rushing the passer and not busy 2-gapping) trying "finesse" moves that are better suited for a guy 50 pounds lighter.

Since that film review I constantly pushed the idea that if TJax were put on the interior of our DL on obvious passing downs and told to do nothing but bull his way to the quarterback, he would be an asset on passing downs. Naturally, I was laughed at and ridiculed for such outlandish ideas (Arrowhead Pride can be a cruel mistress at times).

I was undeterred, though. And last season, lost amidst the total and utter suck that was our team, was a glimpse of redemption for me and my boy TJax. Midway through this season, TJax finally, finally got a shot on the interior DL on 3rd downs. RAC (for reasons known only to him) had until that time used Dorsey or Ropati next to (most often) Dontari Poe in those situations. However, for the last 6 games TJax played the line on obvious passing downs consisted of Houston/TJax/Poe/Hali. Houston and Hali didn't always have their hand in the dirt. But this was the "core four" that was sent after the quarterback.

And what did my boy do with the extra pass rushing snaps? He stopped trying to play like he's Von Miller and used some old fashioned power instead. And the results were promising. 3 sacks, 1 hit, 3 hurries, and 2 batted passes in that time. Now no one is going to confuse that with what J.J. Watt was doing last year, but it's not anything to sneeze at (also, could someone explain that expression to me? Please? Why would I sneeze at something I didn't think was impressive?).

Extrapolate those numbers over a full season and you've got 8 sacks, 3 hits (OK, I admit, that one isn't so great), 8 hurries and around 5 batted passes. Again, we're not talking all-world numbers. But they're solid enough to impact the game.

Throw in the fact that we're going to have players attacking gaps more than minding them this year, and I believe TJax is going to be a VERY pleasant surprise for his non-fanboys. I'm telling you, the man is STRONG. Tell him to just shove his way forward and there aren't many OL who are going to be able to hold him back one-on-one (which will allow him to at least make things uncomfortable for QB's, what with having their own OL in their lap). And he may well see plenty of those one-on-one's thanks to my next prediction.

Prediction #2: Dontari Poe will continue to improve but will be largely overlooked by the majority of national media and most casual Chiefs fans.

Poe's rookie season was... decent. He didn't flame out by any means, but he wasn't any closer to dominating. Many (myself included) were just impressed that a guy with his lack of decent coaching prior to the NFL was able to come in and play at an average level. The only serious film review I've done of Poe so far is one snap-by-snap breakdown against the Carolina Panthers. The takeaway from that small sample size was...

1) Poe, much like TJax, is a very strong man. The Panthers center was almost never able to handle him individually

2) In that one game at least, Poe drew double teams a TON, and even a couple of triple teams.

I'm not predicting a "breakout" season from Poe (although that would be nice). But I do predict that he will take a solid step forward and become a guy who is almost constantly double teamed. Of course, all the casual fans will see will be the "ripple" results of that, which is why I don't believe he'll get a lot of recognition (kind of like TJax didn't get recognition for taking on a ton of double teams and only got attention when he snagged a few sacks last year).

However, if our defense is to take a significant step forward, Poe needs to progress and not stand still as a player. He could stand to benefit even more than TJax with a more "attacking," gap-shooting system, given that he looks quite a but more athletic out there (despite outweighing TJax by something like 35 pounds. go figure). Look for him to be an unsung contributor this season.

Prediction #3: Mike DeVito will be closer to what many claimed Glenn Dorsey was than what Glenn Dorsey actually was.

Full disclosure; I've been saying Dorsey is overrated as a run stopper for awhile now. I was all on board the "Dorsey is a great run stopper" hype train (thanks in large part to my at-the-time over-reliance on PFF's subjective "grades") until I took the time to review his snaps after the 2010 season. And I walked away... underwhelmed. Didn't see him drawing many double teams, didn't see him getting push ever against individual OL, and didn't see a guy with any ability to rush the passer whatsoever (even when single-teamed). And every time I reviewed tape after that, I saw more of the same.

Now, I'm not trying to hate on Dorsey. I was oddly sad to see him leave to the 49ers, and I hope he finds more success in that system than he did here. Dude always seemed to put in the work and played hard. I'm just saying that he was constantly overrated as a run stopper and double-team-drawer. Enter DeVito.

I don't expect DeVito to be a gamechanger for us. BUT... based on what I've heard from Jets fans there's a chance we're getting exactly what most claimed we had in Dorsey: a very good, hard-nosed run defender who offers basically nothing in pass rush. Of course, I reserve the right to change my mind if I find a way to access his game tape and discover he's better/worse than I thought.

Prediction #4: Neither Jerrell Powe nor Allen Bailey will reignite their career in our new system

I say this with a great deal of pain, because both of those guys (I believe) have a ton of potential. But for whatever reason, it's just not translating onto the field.

This really isn't all that bold a prediction, but I can feel my inner homer trying to kick in, whispering sweet nothings like...

"You can't really tell what DL guys are going to be like until year 3! Stop having unreasonable expectations!"

"Both of those guys were taken based on physical talents and were known to need work on their technique. Of COURSE they didn't set the league on fire early on."

"You can't expect anyone to do all that well considering the giant mess that was last season. Give them a chance!"

"Now that we're moving to a more attacking system, Bailey/Powe's skill sets will be PERFECT! They're gonna blow up as solid rotational guys now that they'll be shooting more gaps, you just wait!"

I feel myself wanting so badly to believe all these things (and am currently fighting a strong urge to write a 4000-word column on why they COULD be true), but I need to fight those instincts. I've been hurt before by both of these guys. I refuse to let them make me hope.

Prediction # 5: At least one of my predictions will be completely inaccurate.

Let's all hope it's prediction #4, amirite?

(For mailbag questions, email me at MNchiefsfan@hotmail.com or tweet @RealMNchiefsfan. All topics welcome,, I'm not here to judge)

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