In case you missed it: Part 1 of Nick Jacobs series on the Chiefs roster, the offense.
In the second half of our breakdown, we take a look at the defensive side of the football for the Kansas City Chiefs. It was a strength for the first nine games of the season, but came crashing down in the second half of Wild Card Weekend.
Very few linemen in the NFL have his combination of size and speed. Poe had some growing pains his first year in the league as he became overwhelmed with all the angles he had to account for in run blocks. He would have to drop his knee this way if they came from the opposite angle. Basically, Poe had to think instead of attack.
He came back a stronger player in 2013 because he didn't have to think as much. He was able to use his natural ability to attack. He was capable of bench-pressing a lineman into the quarterbacks lap at times and he was stout against the run. He rarely let linemen get to the second level to block his backers. Poe began to utilize combo moves and set up lineman for sacks.
He had a great season. The problem started later in the year. Poe rarely got rest. You could see he began to wear down. Not many players on the team were asked to take as many reps as Poe. He fought through it and had a solid season. The future is bright for him but he could use a breather at times.
DeVito was a big signing from the New York Jets and immediately you could see why the Chiefs brought him into KC. He was able to bench-press a majority of linemen he went against. Rarely was a team able to set an edge against Devito. He is without a doubt the strongest defender on the line.
DeVito is limited in his pass rush moves but his bull rush is all he needs. With strength like his, it is easy to collapse the pocket. If the Chiefs ever moved to a 4-3 system, DeVito would be a very good 1-tech. When DeVito is in, the runner is not going to see the edge on his side.
Jackson had his best season as a pro. He was allowed to attack and get up field. He didn't get driven 10 yards off the ball anymore and did a much better job of holding his ground. Jackson was also able to take advantage of some one-on-one pass rush opportunities.
Once Justin Houston went down to injury, teams ran at Jackson and Eric Berry. Houston was very effective in shutting down the run on Jackson's side. I'm not sure if a return to Kansas City will happen for Jackson. KC would be better suited to invest the money elsewhere. They unfortunately have enough tied up in Poe and Devito. I believe Jackson could flourish as a 3-tech in a 4-3 system.
Bailey saw an increase of reps this season. With Bailey, what you see is what you get. He can come in during pass rush situations. He will give you the occasional smack, dip and rip. He will provide some bull rushes but he is a liability in the run. Teams were able to kick him out on blocks when running at him. Bailey seemed to give up his gap and allowed teams to run through his vacated spot. At this stage, Bailey still isn't giving the consistency you would hope for.
Catapano was stunted early on in camp when he sustained his calf injury, which put him a couple weeks behind in his development. You can see promise with Catapano as a pass rusher but it is going to take him time to build up his strength. The moves are there though and that is a good foundation. I like his form on bull rushes and swim moves. He hustles on every play and has a good motor. There is promise with him.
I did not put Jerrell Powe or Jaye Howard on the list because I didn't see enough of them. Overall the team may need to find a defensive end in the off-season. The Chiefs need to decide if they want a stout run defender or a good pass rusher. I believe the Chiefs could use a pass rushing defensive end. The team needs to take some pressure off of Houston, Poe and Hali. The Chiefs may also need to find some rotational players who can help take some snaps away from Poe and DeVito.
Houston is the best player on the Chiefs defense. He is a rising star like Dontari Poe. He is unique in the strengths of his game. He can shut down an edge better than any player on the team and he can fight through a double team and still make the tackle. He has improved in a number of ways in his pass rush. Houston knows how to bull rush, swim, set up a defender out wide then cut back underneath with his acceleration. He can smack, dip and rip with the best. Houston has athletic ability you just can't coach. He has improved at play recognition and his overall strength.
Houston is on the verge of becoming one of the premiere stars in this league. If he can add another pass rush move or two and build up his strength, he will be there.
There is a reason every team accounts for No. 91 on each play: Hali demands you respect his pass rush ability. He can't set the edge like Houston but he can get upfield in a hurry. Hali can bull rush you. It is very tough to get a good punch on him because he will beat you in a hand fight. When he is allowed to get around the corner, he will make the QB pay and smack the ball out.
What I would like to see from Hali is a multitude of pass rushes. Tackles expect him to attempt to beat them to the corner, so set them up out wide and cut underneath. They will either have to hold or allow their QB to get crushed.
I want to see Hali push his game to the next level. He played hurt a handful of games this season but showed toughness and gritted it out. Unfortunately, Hali is closer to the downside of his career. The question will become how long he can push it before father time catches up with him. His body has taken a beating over the years; sooner or later he is going to wear down and now is the time to find his future replacement for when he hangs it up.
Zombo did an admirable job filling in during injuries. He provided the team with a high effort player. Zombo is limited in his pass rush but his effort helps keep it from being a noticeable drop off. He was solid against the run. Unfortunately teams picked on him when he was in coverage. The Raiders went after him with multiple mismatches and burned him. His biggest impact was on special teams. Zombo provided the team with a solid blocker.
We got a chance to see Moses when Hali and Houston both went down. Moses was a guy who could give you a handful of reps. He clearly wasn't use to playing an entire game. I just didn't see enough there.
He has a lot to learn about the technique of pass rushing but the athletic ability is there. Once Martin got the call up, he took advantage of the opportunities. In the first return by Quintin Demps out in Oakland, Martin's defender got away from him on the return but he chased his defender down and cut off his angle to Demps. Martin could have been lazy and blocked in the back. Instead he refused to be denied his block and helped setup a big return.
He showed some promising pass rush abilities in San Diego. He also did a great job on a play of disengaging from his block and making the tackle.
Over the next season or two, this Chiefs will need to find depth to develop. Martin may already be that guy. The loss of Houston and Hali was tough to overcome in their San Diego defeat at home. At times, it would have helped to rotate others in to give Houston and Hali a break for a handful of plays. Now would be the time to find a player to eventually replace Hali when he retires.
DJ had one of the better seasons in his career. He showed aggressiveness in attacking downhill. He did a very good job of shooting the gap and for the most part had good run fits. Johnson improved at disengaging from blockers. He continues to show the range from sideline to sideline in stopping the run.
The thing I would like to see him improve on is his zone coverage. There were times during the season when he needed to carry his zone a little bit further for the safety. That can be fixed with an increase in reps. Johnson owes a big thank you to Mike Devito and Dontari Poe. They kept his jersey clean a majority of the season and forced runners to take on Johnson without a lead blocker.
Jordan is a solid backer. He does the job asked of him. He doesn't make a ton of mistakes. He gives you everything he has ability wise. Jordan is limited in his coverage ability. Again you don't have to worry about him giving up a big run by freelancing. He had solid run fits. Jordan gives you a solid player, who can be a great backup but will never take over a game.
Nico Johnson became a mystery this season. During pre-season it was an interesting battle between he and Jordan. They both made plays and both were willing to blitz and pushed each other to perform at their best. But Johnson just rarely saw the field this season. He had struggles with his coverage skills. It seemed uncomfortable for him to drop back. Johnson seemed to be at his best when allowed to attack downfield. I'm still not sure what this team has in Johnson but luckily we have the time to find out.
The third linebacker in the crew with a popular last name. Johnson made his mark on special teams this season. He was a solid performer on that side of the ball. He had solid effort in the Chargers game. I was impressed with his run fits and willingness to tackle. I'm interested to see more of him in 2014.
The Chiefs need to find another backer who can cover and help Derrick Johnson in run support. They need a backer who can quickly blitz or drop into zone coverage. They are sound in their run fits. The backer must also be able to lay a hit on the crossing route.
Flowers still remains the best corner on the Chiefs roster. He has the ability to set a QB up when given the time and help deep. Flowers has the aggressive attitude you want in a CB. He seems very comfortable when asked to press. Flowers is willing to make the tackle when called upon in run support. He also does a good job at tracking the ball when allowed the time. I would continue to keep him outside as a corner.
Smith was known as a gambler coming in. You knew he was willing to gamble for an interception and may get burned at times. His comfort zone is press coverage. He seems to get lost when playing zone coverage. Smith also needs to work on not biting on the jab step / outside fake. Once the tape was out on getting him to bite, many receivers ran similar fakes at him. He would over-extend on the outside route and allowed receivers to cut underneath on him. It will be interesting to see if Smith can get comfortable in zone and fix some of the fakes he bite on.
Cooper became the whipping boy of Chiefs Nation. Fans got down on him very quickly after Peyton Manning tested him. Cooper has the quickest foot speed on the team. His days as a wide receiver translated very well. Cooper has one of the better recovery speeds on the team.
The thing most people forget is how little experience Cooper has at corner. Not only was it his first year in the NFL, it was also his first true experience at testing the corner waters. There are a lot of nuances in playing the corner spot. You have to learn how to press, what to expect from a receiver when you turn your hips a certain way, what angle to take when the ball is coming, the ability to track a ball in the air, while maintaining speed, how to use the sideline to your advantage and how to pass off a route to your teammate in zone coverage. Cooper has the athletic ability to achieve all of these. It is going to take consistent reps at the position to do it. He doesn't have years of experience in college to fall back on. He is learning on the job at the highest level. I see a lot of promise in Cooper.
When he didn't see the field after the Giants game, the writing was on the wall: the days of Robinson in Kansas City were going to be short lived. Robinson is a veteran who understands how to play the game. The problem is father time has caught up with him. He doesn't have the same athletic ability. Robinson had the right attitude. He never used the media to express his frustration. He put in the work, did his job and tried to be a positive influence in the locker room. I anticipate the team and Robinson parting ways this off-season.
You can tell Parker came from Seattle. He has this attitude in his play. He plays with aggression and without hesitation. He made a great play on a ball in Oakland for an interception. He had a very good open field tackle on Ryan Mathews in San Diego with his head in front of the ball carrier. He had a proper form tackle and brought Matthews down. He had a very good corner blitz against the Cowboys that lead to a strip sack on Tony Romo. He also had another interception against San Diego when the receiver fell down. Parker showed some solid instincts and wasn't out of position when his number was called. I see a lot of promise with Parker.
Unfortunately, we only got to see him for a handful of plays. Once he broke his collarbone on the first day of rookie training camp, the season went out the window for him. Commings continued to train and got a chance to return against Denver. He had a solid form tackle in the game and that was his season. It will be interesting to see what he can do in year two.
The team is going to need to find a couple of corners. Above all else, they must find players who have quick feet, can press and track a football when it is in the air. The players cannot be limited in press or zone. They need to ability to perform both.
Lewis had a down year. Since the shoulder injury he sustained during pre-season against the Rams in 2012, Lewis seems to have lost confidence. He seems uncomfortable in tackling with his shoulder. He seems lost in zone coverage. Lewis struggles with taking proper pursuit angles. He just hasn't been the same player since his rookie season. I don't anticipate Lewis, a free agent, returning in 2014.
He is now headed into year five. If you take his ACL injury into account, it will be year four. I'm still not sure what exactly the Chiefs have in Berry. He is obviously athletically gifted as very few players in the NFL have his range or speed. He can blitz from anywhere on the field. When he has the ball in his hands, he becomes a lethal playmaker. Not many defensive backs have his vision on an interception return. He seems comfortable helping in run support. When Berry is allowed to keep the field in front of him, he seems to have a better chance at making a play.
At times when he was put at inside linebacker on sub-packages, opposing teams went after him. They ran right at Berry and got the mismatch of an offensive lineman blocking him. Teams would audible to runs at him. The Colts picked on Berry when he was one-on-one against Coby Fleener, testing him out with a back shoulder fade. At the moment of truth, Berry was looking inside to the safety instead of at Fleener. Andrew Luck was able to hold Berry on two touchdowns. First was the Hilton TD where Berry bit to his right and Luck went the opposite way to Hilton for the TD. Secon, the TD to Fleener, Lewis was bracketing on Hilton. DJ needed to carry his zone coverage further until Berry was in position. Both missed and Fleener had a TD. Another TD, the HB screen to Donald Brown out of the diamond formation, Berry wasn't sure if Fleener was attempting to run a route or block.
These are all things that Berry must fix headed into this season. He needs to get better at recognizing where the ball is, finding it and attacking it. This is a crucial year for Eric Berry. It will be interesting to see how the coaching staff chooses to utilize him this season. Either way his cap number needs to come down with a restructure.
Demps had trouble this season when they tried to keep him deep. He doesn't have the ability to change directions quickly. and he would get caught flat-footed on his pursuit angles. Demps needed to turn and run quicker on some deeps balls so receivers didn't get behind him. I believe he and Berry should have switched this season. I think Demps would have given a physical presence near the line of scrimmage. He could have jammed the tight end, helped in run support and provided an aggressive blitzer. When he is near the line of scrimmage, he seems to have a comfort level in that area.
On special teams, Demps was a huge contributor. He is an aggressive runner and doesn't hesitate. He will run downhill and has no problem running you over. I believe he is an asset to this team, if utilized properly. If you allow him to help as a strong safety, near the line of scrimmage in sub-packages and returning kicks, you will see a solid contributor.
When given the chance, Abdullah shined in his role. He had a nose for the ball in his Wild Card performance. He helped set the offense up with great field position multiple times. When he is allowed to play in zone coverage and jump a route, his skill-set shines. Abdullah is another player I would bring back. He can be utilized in sub-packages and zone coverage.
The Chiefs are going to need to invest in a couple of safeties. They need smart safeties, which requires discipline. The safeties need to take proper pursuit angles, they must be fast enough to cover ground quickly when a ball is in the air, and they need safeties who can run a 4.5 or lower. And they must be able to track down a football.
Chiefs 2014 free agents
DE Tyson Jackson
LB Akeem Jordan
LB Frank Zombo
S Kendrick Lewis
DB Husain Abdullah
DB Quintin Demps
LS Thomas Gafford
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