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For The Kansas City Chiefs: "It's The Defense, Stupid"

It looks like the Kansas City Chiefs got a steal by signing Steve Breaston. That's great news. Supposedly the Chiefs are looking into Le'Ron McClain too. Even better news. But I'm not sure I can say that it's great news. Not yet, at least.

What seems evident to me is that the Chiefs are trying to stack the deck...on offense. They have not hesitated to fill every single offensive gap with quality players.

They're so committed, in fact, that they want to have not one, not two, but three top-notch receivers. Not one, but two outstanding running backs. With the first pick of the 2011 draft, they picked Jonathan Baldwin. They brought in two free agent veterans on the offensive line in Ryan Lilja and Casey Wiegmann. They brought in Thomas Jones as a veteran No. 2 back and may be taking a look at Le'Ron McClain. The Chiefs are one right tackle away from having their offense filled with quality players at virtually every position. Even the depth positions.

But while it's exciting to me that the Chiefs are trying to get better on offense, I'll hold my applause until I see clear commitments to improving the defense.

More after the jump.

One interesting outcome of the modern day salary cap is that teams are forced to pick their sweet spot and pick their poison. Teams are typically either one-dimensionally outstanding on offense or on defense, or they choose to be slightly above average at both. On the rare occasion, you get a team that is outstanding at both. That's a large reason why the Steelers have become so unstoppable over the past decade.

In most cases, a team learns to find some kind a way for their weak dimension to complement their strong dimension. The Jets and Ravens complement an outstanding defense with a ball control offense where they run the ball down your throat and control the clock. The Saints won a Super Bowl by complementing their outstanding offense with an average defense that was very good at creating turnovers.

Long story short, it may be possible to become great at both offense and defense, but I think all teams should strive to be great at least on one side of the ball. Because the one thing we should have learned over the years is that even very good defenses can become exposed in the playoffs. Especially when you square off against gamers like Big Ben or Tom Brady. Same with a very good offense. Sometimes you squeeze by with a Matt Hasselbeck, but most of the time you need a Brady, Brees, or Warner.

People who have read my work over the past two years know that I have been pretty critical of Matt Cassel. Over the past year, I've grown to like him. Still, I am not at all convinced he's a Quarterback who can single-handedly carry a team on his shoulders. Until I see otherwise, the only way I can see the Chiefs winning a Super Bowl under his leadership is if if Cassel becomes a very effective game manager that plays mistake-free and effective while the running game and defense carry the load. The Chiefs could be in very big trouble if they ask him to be Drew Brees or Peyton Manning.

So the question becomes, over the next 5 years, what do you see as the approach to building a Super Bowl team? Do you build a great defense? A great offense? Or do you try to be balanced and do both very good (but not great)?

Why the Chiefs are best positioned to win through defense?

There's no doubt that last year, the offense was brutally inconsistent, particularly in the passing game. So much so that they held back the running game. When teams put eight men in the box, your passing game needs to be nails to take that guy out of the box. So the school of thought is, if the offense fills our gaps with better players, that will make them less of a liability.

Here's the problem with that statement.

A few years ago, I criticized Gunther Cunningham because he always blamed his team's defensive struggles on a lack of talent. Nevermind that leaders should elevate the play of their units. The Patriots, Colts, and Saints are not afraid of losing productive offensive players to injury or through cuts. If Tom Brady can make the AFC Conference championship game with Jabar Gaffney and Reche Caldwell, Matt Cassel can win a playoff game with Dwayne Bowe and Chris Chambers. If Cassel needs terrific players throughout the offense, then you either need to build outside of the passing game or find a quarterback who can.

On the flip side, the defense was clearly one of the Chiefs' strong points last season. They did so while starting two rookies and fielding two players who were liabilities at critical positions (nose tackle and outside linebacker). That tells me that the Chiefs have athletes on defense that are capable of elevating the play of subpar pieces. That's the kind of unit I want to build my team around.

So while the Chiefs have been so quick to fill in every single offensive spot with quality players, why aren't they doing the same on defense?

The Chiefs gave Casey Wiegmann a nice, hearty contract extension, but not Shaun Smith? A productive defensive lineman who was dying to stay in Kansas City? Even Ron Edwards. While I'm not a fan of him as a starting nose tackle, no doubt he was quality depth.

As free agency chugs along, will the Chiefs finally commit to bringing in a nose tackle like Aubrayo Franklin?

Are they going to do the right thing and pay whatever it takes to keep Tamba Hali and Brandon Carr in Kansas City?

If the answer to any of those questions is "no", then I believe this offseason was an enormous failure, even though they brought in two potentially terrific receivers and maybe a terrific fullback.

This is a big offseason for the Chiefs. What the Chiefs do this offseason is going to determine if the Chiefs are committed to stacking the deck on defense, stacking the deck on offense, or trying to live with very good play from both sides of the ball. I really hope they do the smart thing and focus on defense. Until I see that commitment, this offseason still has a "yet to be graded" mark from me.

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