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Kansas City Chiefs preseason, first team defense: Yin and Yang

Craig brings you a player-by-player breakdown of good and bad performances by the Chiefs first team defense.

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports


Hey everybody, I'm back in action again with the return of the Kansas City Chiefs for the 2014-15 season.  If you're unfamiliar with my (semi) weekly posts, I like to sit down and watch the defense while charting the plays, and present my assessment of the game in a generally pleasing manner.  I like to chart double teams, pressures, yards given up per rush/pass at a given player, tackles for loss, and pass breakups.  As seen in the linked post, I also try to highlight a couple plays per game and try to map out what went right/wrong.  However, as the team is in preseason mode, so am I, so this week will be different from the normal post during the season.  This week I'm going to go through the players that got snaps with the first team defense and describe some of the positive and negative things/plays that I saw from them.  Join me as I break down the Chiefs first team defense against the Cincinnati Bengals.

Allen Bailey

If you've followed my musings around the internet for any amount of time, you'll know that I'm not the biggest Bailey fan out there.  I've criticized his run stopping skills, and I've been less than pleased by his pass rushing skills for the amount of snaps he's had in the sub package.  With that in mind, know that I don't say this lightly: Allen Bailey looked pretty good on Thursday.

Know that I don't say this lightly: Allen Bailey looked pretty good on Thursday.  l)

The first time the Bengals ran at Bailey, he had good leverage underneath his man and drove him backwards, displaying that extra weight gained wasn't just for show.  He registered two quarterback pressures, which is one shy of his total for his career. He did have bad leverage on his third run play toward him, and gave up a 7 yarder against a double team in the nickel, so there are some things that he needed to improve.  However, it's a good start for a guy who needs a big year.

Jaye Howard

A fill in for Mike Devito and Mike Catapano, Howard acquitted himself well enough, and he benefitted by playing between Poe and Houston.  He had a decent anchor, and gave up 3 yards per rush over two rushes with the starters.  He was pretty limited in his pass rush with the first team, but that's not surprising at the right defensive end spot.  As in previous years, that position was removed and replaced with an extra defensive back in nickel situations.

Dontari Poe

Poe was his typical self on the night, giving up 2.66 yards per rush at him, despite playing every first team snap.  Typically, the defensive linemen in the nickel situations have larger numbers against the run because they're short handed in the box, yet Poe still averaged a 4-down number.  I was able to find a play where he was doubled and pushed out of the gap, so he's not quite Mr. Universe (oh, who am I kidding, yes he is), but he was solid for the rest of the night.  Perhaps his best play of the day came on the Bengals touchdown against the Chiefs starters.  Jason Campbell was able to find Brandon Tate in the endzone on a well-designed pass play, but he was certainly scared to see Poe had him dead to rights after a beautiful swim move:

Tamba Hali

Tamba had a typical night for him, getting up the field well against the pass, and pursuing from the backside well.  The Bengals never ran at Tamba, but they did throw screen passes his way that he took away some throwing lanes on.  As you can see in the above Vine, Cincinnati repeatedly chipped him in the passing game, slowing up a pass catcher.  As he didn't get run toward, and Cincy chipped him, there wasn't a whole lot to take from Tamba in this game.

Justin Houston

Tamba's counterpart didn't fare quite as well this week..  Justin did see two rushes come his way:  a 4 yard attempt where he set the edge well and the inside linebacker didn't close the gap, and a 9 yard rush where Houston lost contain.  He wasn't asked to drop into coverage as much as we saw him last year, and that bodes well for his sack totals if it continues.  With the Bengals getting the ball out quickly and a lack of blitzing by the Chiefs, there wasn't a whole lot to take from either of the Chiefs starting outside linebackers.  I don't think anybody's worried about these guys, though.

Joe Mays

After the front five, things went downhill this week.  Mays got the starting nod at the strongside inside linebacker position.  He brought good intensity to the game, and notched a very solid sack in which he was able to disengage from an offensive lineman and pursue the quarterback.  Overall, he only allowed 1.5 yards per rush toward him in two rushes, and he wasn't targeted in the passing game.  Those are all great numbers, but he managed to leave two open gaps that could have been shut.  Poe was opening big holes in front of him, but he wasn't as active as he should have been in run pursuit.  I'm sure that will come with time, but some of the instinct and explosiveness that Akeem Jordan displayed last year would have been nice to see out of Mays in week 1.

Derrick Johnson

I love me some DJ, and I'm not ashamed to admit it.  He's great against the run, so much so that I tabulate the times when he shoots through the line out of nowhere to break up a play, called the "DJ Special".  So can someone explain to me why Bob Sutton is doing this to him?

That's Derrick at the bottom of the screen on the line of scrimmage mirroring a tight end.  He did it very regularly this game.  It allowed him to engage the tight end immediately, and because of this, he allowed no catches.  However, he struggled against the run.  He too had two open gaps left, very uncommon of him, and he allowed two yards per carry toward him.  He contributed to Mays' sack with a delayed A gap blitz that forced the Bengals right guard to make a decision who to block.  He tried to block both linebackers, and Mays got free.  That may not have happened without DJ's influence.  It will be interesting to see just how much DJ is responsible for tight ends this year, or if this was just a byproduct of Eric Berry's absence.

James Michael-Johnson

A THIRD INSIDE LINEBACKER?!?!?  That's right, long time readers, for the first time in what seems like forever, the Chiefs did NOT go into an automatic dime sub package.  Instead, they replaced Joe Mays with JMJ and actually ran a 2-4-5 nickel defense.  Unfortunately, James looked a little green at times.  He struggled to commit against the run, missing an open gap and getting caught in the wash on another.  He allowed a 9 yard screen pass early on that he was very late getting over for, and another four yard catch that was good coverage, but didn't get his head around.

That's right, long time readers, for the first time in what seems like forever, the Chiefs did NOT go into an automatic dime sub package.

He did have the play of the day for the starters, running down a screen pass in the backfield and completely BLOWING it up.  He forced the running back to drop the ball, which worked out better for the offense as it would have been a 4 yard loss if he had caught it.  I have faith that James will grow with more time and become more consistent, and I'm definitely happy to see him on the field in a 2-4-5.

Marcus Cooper

I would like to say something about Marcus Cooper, but he wasn't targeted and didn't really have an effect on the run game.  Good...job?  So...moving on.

Ron Parker

Poor Ron was the worst player on the field for the starting defense this week.  He did not match up well against AJ Green (who does?), allowing a 9 yard pass to open the game for Cincinnati, and a 53 yarder where he was absolutely torched on a deep route.  He also gave up a 9 yard touchdown pass to Brandon Tate after first committing a penalty.  Finally, he looked out of sorts against the run.  I've seen Parker play better than he did on Thursday, but if he wants to keep a starting job for this team, he's got to get himself to play at a higher level than that on a week to week basis.

Daniel Sorensen

What can we say about UDFA rookie Daniel Sorensen?  He was a surprise starter, filling in for Eric Berry (in every way, check out the picture under DJ's section...Sorensen is at the top of the screen, well within the box), and well...he played pretty well for a rookie.

Well...he played pretty well for a rookie.

He was run at once, and got completely lost in the wash, unable to shoot the gap.  It was a 4 yard gain.  He wasn't really targeted as a safety, but was the deep man on the 53 yard AJ Green reception.  However, he seemed to be playing Cover 2 with help over Cooper (more on that in a moment).  He isn't someone that is going to threaten to take a starting job away, but what I saw was raw and has some potential to work in as a solid depth player for this team.

Husain Abdullah

Abdullah, like Sorensen, didn't have a whole lot to do on the day.  He wasn't really thrown at, and he ended up playing a good amount of deep safety for the team.  However, the Bengals longest pass play, he moved forward after the snap to cover the tight end on the play.  Joe Mays also had short/medium coverage on the tight end, so I'm not sure if the Chiefs were purposely bracketing Tyler Eifert or if there was a miscommunication.  Either way, when Green got by Parker, the only help available was Sorensen, who was on the opposite side of the field in more of a Cover 2 look.  Again, I'm not sure exactly what the play call was there, but I think most teams would prefer to offer safety help on one of the best wide receivers in the game.  Hopefully that gets cleaned up in the future.


Well, that's it for the starters for this week.  As mentioned, I was happy to see that the team relied on the nickel defense, rather than a dime defense.  That should help overall with run support, and may allow for a little more blitzing of the linebackers in the future.  As it was, in the 20 first teams snaps, the Chiefs blitzed twice.  I'd bet a good amount of beer on that ratio doubling at least when the season starts.

I'm looking forward to more time with the starters this Sunday, and here's hoping some of the injured young guys (Berry, Devito, Catapano) can come back and participate to see how they've improved their game over the offseason.

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