What happened in one NFL season does not predict what will happen in the next NFL season.
Take the 2008 New England Patriots. They were fresh off a season in which they had destroyed the entire league all season (16-0 in today's league really is a remarkable feat) and come just shy of a Super Bowl (which they only lost due to an incredible pass rush and a couple miraculous plays). They had been the best scoring offense in the league and sported the fourth best scoring defense. They were an unstoppable machine.
One Tom Brady knee injury later, they're a decent-but-not-great team that misses the playoffs at 11-5.
Or, for an example that hits closer to home, look at the 2011 and 2012 Kansas City Chiefs (this is going somewhere. I'm not just trying to hurt you). The 2011 Chiefs overcame a series of disastrous injuries, internal strife, and Tyler Palko to go 7-9 and almost compete for the playoffs on the back of a tough defensive effort.
The next year the Chiefs were getting back Jamaal Charles and Eric Berry coming back from injury and were going to be coached by fan favorite Romeo Crennel (I'm ashamed at how excited I was for him as a coach. I forget why). The arrow was pointing up, and with the two stars back the Chiefs were going to take a strong step forward.
Then the 2012 season happened. To call it a dumpster fire is an insult to dumpster fires everywhere. There are perfectly respectable dumpster fires that would see the Chiefs 2012 season and cross the street to avoid walking by it.
So it's always "iffy" to say, "well, we did such-and-such this year, so next year we'll do this-and-that!" It just doesn't work that way in the NFL.
That said, it IS sometimes the case that things actually work out. Players develop, schemes become more refined, chemistry grows, and a team takes the "natural" step forward that fans expect every season.
With that in mind, the Chiefs defense in 2015 could be ridiculously good.
First, let's acknowledge just how good the Chiefs defense was in 2014 (it had one glaring weakness we all know about. I'll get to that later). Series of bullet points time? Series of bullet points time.
- The Chiefs allowed 330.5 yards per game, 7th in the NFL.
- The Chiefs allowed 17.6 points per game, tied for 2nd in the NFL.
- The Chiefs allowed 203.3 passing yards per game, 2nd in the NFL.
- The Chiefs allowed 6.4 yards per passing attempt, 3rd in the NFL.
- The Chiefs sacked opposing QBs 46 times, 5th in the NFL.
- Opposing QBs completed 58.3 percent of their passes against the Chiefs, 2nd in the NFL.
- The Chiefs didn't give up a SINGLE 300 yard passer.
- The Chiefs didn't give up 30 points even once all year.
I could go on, but the point is clear; the Chiefs passing defense was really, really good in 2014. This is despite facing Tom Brady, Peyton Manning (twice, and pre-swoon by Manning), Philip Rivers (twice), Ryan Tannehill (who had a great passing season statistically), and Big Ben during his insane hot streak. No matter who the quarterback was, he didn't have a particularly good day against the Chiefs.
And let's get something out of the way ... the idea that the Chiefs only had impressive pass-defense stats because teams were always running the ball is a total, absolute falsehood. Teams ran on the Chiefs 433 times in 2014, 15th in the league. Stop. Just stop. The Chiefs had a great pass defense because they had a vicious pass rush and a secondary that was locking people down. Sometimes good things really do happen. Those last two stats are particularly amazing in today's NFL.
The thing that kept the Chiefs from having a GREAT defense? Those pesky rushing attacks. The Chiefs allowed 4.7 yards per carry last season, which put them near the very bottom of the NFL. There were multiple games the Chiefs just flat-out couldn't stop the other team from running the football (Oakland, San Francisco, Denver). It was pretty ugly.
When your run defense is bad, there usually isn't just one aspect of the defense to blame. In the case of the 2014 Chiefs, though, 80 percent of the problem could be attributed to inside linebacker play according to a metric I just made up. When Derrick Johnson and Joe Mays both went down to injury, the Chiefs suffered through some very inexperienced play on the part of their backups (one of whom, Josh Mauga, has been extended to stick around, which we won't get into).
However, it didn't help that Mike DeVito, the best run defender on the Chiefs defensive line, went down in the same game as DJ (man, that Titans game was just the WORST). With their two best front seven run defenders down, the Chiefs run defense gradually got exposed as the year went along. It was the only real weakness on a defense that was stellar in virtually every other area (despite suffering a series of injuries in the secondary).
Well, both DJ and DeVito are slated to return this year, and all indications is they're doing well. In the meantime, Allen Bailey morphed into the player we had all hoped he would be last season. Sean Smith turned into a borderline shutdown corner. Ron Parker developed into a very solid deep safety, knocking down deep passes that had formerly killed this defense. Phillip Gaines had a highly impressive rookie season. Husain Abdullah continued to prove he's a very solid all-around safety. And the Chiefs went out and signed Tyvon Branch, a guy who is a genuinely good safety when healthy. Jaye Howard turned into a functional gap-shooting defensive end.
In other words, DeVito and DJ are returning to a defense that is (on paper) massively superior to the one they last played with for longer than half a game. And they're returning to a defense that had only one problem; stopping the run.
Hey, guess what Derrick Johnson and Mike DeVito are best at?
Now, do we know that DeVito and DJ will return and be as good as they were before? Absolutely not. But I'd submit that DJ at 85 percent is still twice as good as the problems the Chiefs suffered through last season at ILB. That upgrade alone will bring the run defense from pitiful to at least watchable. If DeVito can return and be close to the same player? We're looking at respectable.
Again, it's all conjecture from one season to the next. Will Player X continue to develop? Will Player Y regress? We just don't know. But when I think about the Chiefs three-safety set (which we all know Bob Sutton absolutely loves, given his tendency to use them whenever he's got the players to remotely pull it off), I can't help but hope to see a little bit of this...
Front 3: Dontari Poe, Mike DeVito, Allen Bailey
Linebackers: Derrick Johnson, Justin Houston, Tamba Hali
Corners: Sean Smith, Phillip Gaines
Safeties: Husain Abdullah, Ron Parker, Tyvon Branch
There isn't a single "minus" player in that group. Not one player that qualifies as a "weak spot" (you may disagree about Gaines, but you're wrong, dang it). And, with DeVito and especially DJ back in the fold, there's no "just ram it down their throat" option.
In other words, the only real weakness of the Chiefs defense last season could have been taken care of without a single free agent signing (though it's worth noting that Branch is considered an exceptional run support safety), and very nearly the entire defense will now have multiple years in the system to perfect it.
There is still a little tweaking that needs to be done. Depth at corner is a necessity, though Fleming flashed potential as a physical press corner last season. And inside linebacker besides DJ remains a concern (the coaches like Mauga. I disagree. We'll see what happens). But as things stand right now, the Chiefs have the ability to march out a group of 11 with no real weak spot among them.
This is the time of the year for all kinds of Kool-Aid and happy predictions. But it does not take any kind of stretch to see the Chiefs defense going from "very good' to "great" in 2015.