The Kansas City Chiefs defense once again came up huge in Week 6 against the Oakland Raiders. Kalo talks toughness and compares this week's game to previous years.
Say what you will about being the best defense statistically in the NFL -- I'll leave that argument to box score watchers -- I have yet to see a defense this year that personifies "tough" better than the 2013 Kansas City Chiefs.
This city loves defense. Nobody can deny that, and that love hit its height with the outstanding defenses during the 90's. That's what earned Arrowhead the "Loudest fans in the NFL" title then, and then again this past Sunday. The crescendo of cheers at an impending sack or interception could be felt through the television this week, and it's so very, very fitting that the noise record came down on a sack. And, perhaps more importantly, the Chiefs showed a toughness that hasn't been consistently there since those great 90's teams.
Over the past three years, Chiefs fans have witnessed some pretty talented defenses. After the initial switch to the 3-4 defense in 2009, the Chiefs ranked 30th in total yardage allowed and 29th in points. 2010 brought defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel and rookie Eric Berry into the mix. Just like that, the Chiefs leapt to 14th in yardage and 11th in points. It was good enough for a playoff berth, but from a toughness aspect, something was missing. In the final two games of the year, Oakland and Baltimore came into Arrowhead and physically dominated those Chiefs teams. In that Oakland game, the Raiders went 6-0 in the AFC West and ran for 209 yards against a pretty good Chiefs front seven. The Baltimore game was more of the same. There was a question of "tough" going around some circles regarding the Chiefs, which wasn't helped by the 2011 campaign. The stats for 2011 weren't bad, going 11th in the league in yards allowed and 12th in points allowed.
However, the Chiefs lost Eric Berry (and Jamaal Charles) for the season, and the offense was putting up the 2nd worst points per game in the league. Glimpses of solid defensive play were surrounded by bad body language and a feeling that they couldn't win games by themselves. Close games would get to 4th quarter and teams would just "out-tough" the Chiefs. After Crennel took over, glimpses of that defense became full games of the defense. They were finishing games and beat a very good Green Bay Packers squad and the playoff-bound Tim Tebows late in the season. However, Oakland once again came into Arrowhead late in the season and beat up the Chiefs in between those two wins.
Hope was high going into 2012, but those questions had not been answered. And they weren't. The Chiefs got "out-toughed" by almost every team on their schedule, with the exception of the Carolina Panthers (week of Belcher suicide) and the second half/overtime of the New Orleans Saints game. They quit at the end of games. They struggled in almost every aspect, and when the offense hung them out to dry, they'd give up. Once again, Oakland dominated Kansas City, this time in both meetings. The team just lacked a consistent "tough" mentality, and Oakland had it when they played the Chiefs, especially in KC.
Flash Forward to 2013. The Chiefs are playing suffocating defense, taking the ball away, and sacking the quarterback. Through 5 weeks, no team had scored more than 17 points on them, and they hadn't ever played by more than a touchdown behind a team. However, standing between the Chiefs and a 6-0 record was a team that had their number in KC. A team that had "out-toughed" the Chiefs several years in a row. A team that physically found the weaknesses in KC's armor. And on Sunday, the Chiefs finally found a way to "out-tough" the Raiders at home.
You see, from my point of view, I had seen flashes of brilliance in seasons past. I knew that there was talent on this defense. I knew that on most Sundays, the Chiefs were going to be able to take it to another team's offense, and that the other team wasn't going to be putting many points on the board. Even though I knew these things, I had a creeping doubt in the back of my mind that wasn't going to go away until after this Raiders game. Playing against Oakland is never easy. You know they're going to hit hard, play a little dirty, and figure out ways to get into your head. That's what they do, and it works. It breaks teams.
Sunday started no differently than previous years in Arrowhead: Oakland got after the quarterback and stifled the offense. The Chiefs defense responded. Teams traded defensive blows in an ugly game until finally, Oakland broke the game open with a slant route in front of rookie Marcus Cooper (filling in for Brandon Flowers) that went for a 39-yard touchdown. This time, however, the defense responded. They got tough. They backed Oakland up in their own territory the next drive, (thanks to a one-handed sack by Tyson Jackson), stuffed a couple runs on the last of the half, got sacked again by Tamba Hali on the first drive of the second half, and threw an interception to Quentin Demps. That's right: after the touchdown, Oakland's offense punted from its 20 yard line, its 23 yard line, again from the 20, intercepted at the 19, and punted again from the 23. That time period spanned both Kansas City offensive touchdowns, in part due to the fantastic field position they were given by the defense.
The Raiders did finally get a little better field possession on the ensuing drive, but a 3rd and 2 sack by Tamba Hali led to yet another 3-and-out by the Oakland offense. The next drive had Oakland completing a 13 yard slant pass once again, in front of rookie Marcus Cooper, and getting the ball to the 41 yard line. From that point in the game onward, the Kansas City Chiefs quelled all doubt about the toughness of this defense. With 10:46 left in the game, and only up one score, the Chiefs defense finished with 5 sacks, 2 interceptions, and 63 total yards. Oakland crossed into Kansas City territory for the first time since their second quarter touchdown with less than 10 seconds to go on a QB scramble while the Chiefs were in the prevent defense.
That, fellow Chiefs fans, is the very definition of toughness. A team that has recently come in and roughed up on many of these Kansas City players wasn't allowed past midfield after they scored. As tight as the screws have been over the last few weeks, these Chiefs found a way to tighten them even further when the offense needed it. Rather than rolling over or giving in to bad offensive play, the defense stepped up even more with Demps' interception to put the Chiefs up 7. And when the offense couldn't move the ball again, Marcus Cooper grabbed an interception to set up a field goal on the very same slant play he'd been tagged on twice before. And when the game was winding down and the Raiders weren't put away just yet, Husain Abdullah slammed the door shut with a pick six. Those are three guys who weren't with the team last year, and those are three guys who weren't going to fall into the doldrums of playing well with no help. They're tough. It's not just the new guys, though: Tamba Hali made Pryor run for his life all game long. Eric Berry and DJ prevented the short passes and picked up sacks along the way. Dontari Poe and Tyson Jackson shut down the run, and Justin Houston spied Pryor. The whole team locked down.
That's what's been missing over the past couple of years on defense: the toughness to step up and win the game themselves when the offense isn't quite getting it done. As of week 6 of the 2013 season, I fully believe that they can and will continue to do this as the year goes along. I'd love to watch the offense click and not have to watch the defense save their hides, but against this Oakland team that's had their number, I'll gladly accept the defense finally "out-toughing" the Raiders in Arrowhead.
Photos: USA Today Sports