Four Pro Bowlers.
The Kansas City Chiefs’ defense had four Pro Bowlers. The Chiefs’ defense that gave up a 25th ranked, 26.6 points a game had four Pro Bowlers. The Chiefs’ defense that gave up 136 rushing yards a game had four Pro Bowlers. The Chiefs’ defense that was ranked second to last in takeaways, 0.8 per game, had four Pro Bowlers. The number one ranked defense in terms of yards per game, the Pittsburgh Steelers, had zero defensive Pro Bowlers. Say what?
The Chiefs and Steelers proved in 2012 that a quality defense isn’t made up of three or four spectacular players, a quality defense is a group of eleven players that compliment each other and work together to create a strong unit. The Chiefs were not a strong unit.
The easiest crutch argument for the Chiefs’ defense is saying that the only reason they were so bad was because they were on the field so often due to the horrid Chief offense not being able to control the ball. That isn’t right. As hard as it is to believe, the Chiefs were one of the best teams at controlling the ball in the first half. Led by the fifth best rush offense, The Chiefs were in the top ten in first half time of possession, controlling the ball 51.34% of the time. The Chiefs’ defense was on the field just as much as any other defense in the NFL. They just simply weren’t that good.
The top defenses in the NFL all have one thing in common; they can consistently stop the run. That wasn’t the Kansas City Chiefs. Teams that took on the Chiefs knew they couldn’t stop the run, giving up 4.5 yards per rush. So when they played the Chiefs they kept running and running on them knowing that eventually good things would happen. The Chiefs were the second most run on team in the league last year, opposing teams ran the ball 49.54 percent of the time.
What happens when teams keep the ball on the ground? They don’t turn the ball over. With teams pounding the rock against the Chiefs, they limited the opportunities for the Chiefs to take the ball away. As mentioned before, the Chiefs forced less than one takeaway per game in 2012. One has to think if they could stop the run and force more second and third and long situations, they would have had a far greater number of opportunities to force turnovers. The best defenses create turnovers and the Chiefs couldn’t create turnovers.
On the surface, it may seem like the Chiefs’ defense that gave up only 220.8 passing yards per game was the highlight of the otherwise terrible Chiefs’ defense. Alas, that isn’t the case. The Chiefs’ were the least passed against team in the NFL last year. When teams faced off against the Chiefs they averaged only 29 pass attempts per game. Why didn’t teams pass against the Chiefs? It wasn’t because they were afraid of their secondary; it was because they simply didn’t have to. Not only could the Chiefs not stop the run, but also for the majority of their games they were playing from behind. This led to opposing teams trying to play a possession based offense.
So why in the world did the Chiefs have more defensive Pro Bowlers than any other AFC team? Well Derrick Johnson, as usual, was one of the most consistent tacklers in the game. He made 110 solo tackles on the season, good for third in the league. It’s just too bad so many of those tackles were a result of running backs consistently running through the Chiefs’ defensive line like they were the Kool-Aid Man bursting through a brick wall. Tamba Hali and Justin Houston proved to be a formidable sack duo, totaling 19 sacks between them and earning them both a spot in the Pro Bowl. While able to reach the quarterback on a consistent basis, the two pass rushers were unable to pry the ball away from the offense, forcing only one fumble apiece. Were they pro bowl worthy? That’s debatable. Finally, Eric Berry. After coming off of a major injury in 2011, Berry rebounded. Berry, while intercepting just one pass, proved himself as an emerging force at safety, showing the physicality to play up near the line while having the coverage skills to take on top-end receivers. The Chiefs’ have the pieces in place to have one of the league’s top defenses. But that is all that they have right now, pieces.
Despite their struggles in 2012, there is reason for optimism in 2013 for the Chiefs’ defense. The Chiefs added three key pieces to their defense this off-season that they hope can turn their defense from a few stars in to a complete unit. The first is defensive end, Mike DeVito. DeVito is an experienced defensive end that has experience in the 3-4 scheme, playing the 3-4 defensive end spot in his six seasons with the Jets. The addition of DeVito should make it tougher for opposing offenses to run through the Chiefs’ defensive line, like they did at will in 2012. The second key piece is the addition of cornerback, Sean Smith. Smith excels in man-to-man coverage. If Smith will be able to consistently take away the opposing team’s first or second wide receiver without needing a double team. That will open up the field for safety, Eric Berry, who will be able to be used more liberally in rush defense. The final piece of the puzzle for the Chiefs’ defense is linebacker, Akeem Jordan. Jordan comes to Kansas City to play inside linebacker opposite Derrick Johnson. Jordan is a solid tackler who replaces the spot left vacant by the late Jovan Belcher.
The big question for the Chiefs is if all of these pieces fit the puzzle. Can Mike DeVito bolster the defensive line? Can Sean Smith regularly slow down opposing wide receivers in press man- to-man coverage? Will Akeem Jordan prove to be a better 3-4 inside linebacker than he was a 4-3 outside linebacker? If things come together how the Chiefs are expecting them to, the Chiefs defense could make a complete 180-degree turnaround in 2013.