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Cris Collinsworth, PFF staff suggest Chiefs building defense ahead of the curve

The Pro Football Focus guys hosted a roundtable late this week, and Arrowhead Pride submitted a question.

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Late this week, I noticed the guys over at Pro Football Focus (Cris Collinsworth, Steve Palazzolo, Sam Monson and Mike Renner) were hosting a live Q and A. Collinsworth may be the best football analyst in the business, and we here at Arrowhead Pride have tremendous respect for the PFF team’s work.

So we submitted a question, and it led to an excellent roundtable discussion regarding the Chiefs offseason from guys who know what they’re talking about.

The roundtable (Chiefs answer begins around the 49-minute mark)

Steve: “As far as what they’ve done, they’re looking for cornerbacks everywhere. They’re signing AAF guys (Keith Reaser), they’re looking for coverage players absolutely everywhere. That’s a great start.”

Mike: “Signing Keith Reaser, good move.”

Steve: “What about letting their pass rushers walk? Because if we weren’t so adamant here about coverage over pass rush — we didn’t know this a few years ago.

Sam: “I think not paying Dee Ford made the most sense to me. I think you don’t — from what his track record was over the course of his career — one dominant year, one dominant stretch in 2016, injury-plagued. Any time he got injured, he was not just ineffective, he was completely… he was bad. You didn’t want him out there on the field. To pay a guy like that $20 million when you have this quarterback on a rookie deal, you want sure things. You want guys who are going to impact your team. That $20 million can go a lot longer way in other avenues in that second-round pick you got back.”

Mike: “He seemed like a perfect candidate for the Demarcus Lawrence franchise tag. Show me you can do it again, then we’ll talk long-term deal.”

Sam: “Yeah, but again, they got draft value back from [San Francisco] and you still have the cap space of not paying him that, so I think your good from that perspective.”

Mike: “Now you have no pass rushers.”

Steve: “They’re like the classic example. Last year, they had the highest PFF pass-rush grade in the league, and they couldn’t cover anybody. And it didn’t matter because when they needed to cover people they couldn’t. They lost. And I know they were very close to winning the Super Bowl and they’ll point to the offsides and this and that, but the whole season, it was an issue. In all of their losses, they couldn’t cover anybody. They gave up 50 points and they gave up 35 points and all that stuff and lost, despite have a top-notch pass rush. So now they lose Dee Ford and they lose Justin Houston, but it might not make that big of a difference if they draft a corner or two and one of these other guys that they’re looking for stick, they could be better defensively despite losing the pass rush.”

Cris: “Could we see an entirely different defense? Bob Sutton was a guy that believed in man coverage, right? Even when it wasn’t going so well, he was going to stick with it, baby. And now they pick up Tyrann Mathieu, there’s some different things going on here. But could we just say, ‘We have Patrick Mahomes, we have Tyreek Hill, we have (Travis) Kelce. Let’s just keep it all in front of us. Right? Let’s just not give up those 70-yard plays, make them go the distance.’ Now you’ve changed the whole fast-break style of playing the Chiefs, right? It’s like, ‘They score fast. We score fast.’ Blur-blur-blur, back and forth. I just wonder if we’re going to see a real philosophical change in how they play defense this year.”

Steve: “The high end of that defense is important too because when you do just try to keep it in front and play zone, you get a lot more turnovers, too, at times. Turnovers are tough to predict, but zone defenses get more turnovers, so sometimes you run into a year like the 2009 Saints where they were turning the ball over like crazy, plus they had a great offense and they win a Super Bowl. For the Chiefs, you run into that right year where you have 30 turnovers, and it’s like all right, that’s an impossible team to beat if all the breaks are going your way for that year.”

Cris: “I just think the Chiefs have to be sick they didn’t win the Super Bowl last year. Whether it’s the offsides penalty or whatever the case may be, that was one of those years, one of those teams — you don’t touch the ball in overtime (of the AFC title), all that sort of stuff. I’m sure for Andy Reid, that had to be among the toughest ones ever for him. It was rough.”

Steve: “They should be in the mix with Mahomes, though. Every single year.”

Cris: “For sure of that.”

My take

I have liked the Chiefs offseason thus far.

It does not take a rocket (or PFF) scientist to realize the defense needed a major overhaul. Ridding your team of Eric Berry, Dee Ford and Justin Houston and bringing in an entire new defensive staff and scheme does just that.

The one move that sticks with me that I didn’t like is getting rid of Ford. I would have never signed Ford to a long-term deal, but to me, a franchise-tag, prove-it deal was perfect. There are now no elite EDGE rushers on the team.

That is why I like PFF’s suggestion that the Chiefs may be ahead of the curve — where in today’s league (based upon analytics), coverage matters much more than pass rush. That is probably why the Chiefs were willing to spend $12 million of cap space for a year of Earl Thomas.

The 2009 comparison to the New Orleans Saints is the best part of this whole discussion, in my opinion. Running people out of the court in 2018 was fun when it worked, but as we saw, that isn’t a safe recipe for winning against the best teams in the league in the playoffs.

If the Chiefs can slow the game down and the shift to zone means more turnovers, as Palazzolo suggests, we could be talking about a historic regular season. Mahomes is that good and at the age of 23, should still get better.

I’ve thought for a long time that the Chiefs should prioritize a pass rusher with their top pick in the NFL Draft. But based upon this chat, perhaps a cornerback or safety makes more sense.

Maybe because of the scheme change and the other offseason additions, the Chiefs feel good enough to go best player available, and that could be on offense.

Regardless of the direction, it will be fascinating to watch.

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