After yet another (dare I say) dominant performance by the Chiefs defense, they’ve quietly situated themselves among the NFL’s top units in 2014.
Despite key personnel losses from Bob Sutton’s sensational 2013 defense, this patchwork group of players has more than held their own against very stiff competition. If I had told you the Chiefs would be forced to replace Brandon Flowers (cut), Derrick Johnson and Eric Berry (injuries) with a mish/mash of anonymous corners, something named Josh Mauga and safety-turned-corner-turned-safety again Ron Parker, what would your honest reaction have been?
Wait… there’s more.
Don’t forget Mike Catapano’s mysterious illness, replacing Mike DeVito with Jaye Howard and swapping Quentin Demps and Kendrick Lewis for Kurt Coleman and Kelcie McCray.
On a scale of one-to-Sarah McLachlan ASPCA commercials, how depressed were you after the Red Wedding against the Titans in week one? After that embarrassing-ass loss, we all thought this team was done… but HeisenBob had other plans.
Fast forward six games and somehow Kansas City is first in pass defense (yards/game), third in total defense (yards/game), third in scoring defense (points/game) and fourth in sacks. The most eye-popping of those numbers has to be the scoring defense when you consider they surrendered 20 or more points to Tennessee, Denver, San Francisco and San Diego.
Plot twist: unlike 2013, the success of this defense hasn’t come thanks to a ridiculous number of turnovers by a comical cast of backup Quarterbacks.
Through the first seven games in 2013, the Chiefs squared-off against Blaine Gabbert, Tony Romo, Michael Vick, Eli Manning, Ryan Fitzpatrick, Terrelle Pryor and Case Keenum. Subtract Romo and Eli and you’re left with five players that all had to find new teams this offseason, with only one registering a start in 2014.
This season’s first seven games have featured Jake Locker, Peyton Manning, Ryan Tannehill, Tom Brady, Colin Kaepernick, Philip Rivers and Austin Davis. Four of those seven are currently top-10 QB’s in the league by almost any metric.
This movie is starting to transform from a simple story of survival to full-on Cinderella in glass stilettos right before our eyes… but let’s not get ahead of ourselves just yet – chances we’ll be stuck with a pumpkin come December are still relatively high.
In the interim, just how are they doing this?
HeisenBob emerged, and a rather vanilla gameplan along with him.
He started with this: no more hero ball. Bob Sutton put an emphasis on the skills of Pro Bowlers like Derrick Johnson, Eric Berry and the dynamic duo of Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. Clearly they all earned that level of trust but perhaps Sutton put a bit too much faith in the ability of individual players whereas HeisenBob believes in the power of team defense.
It reminds me a little of the Miami Heat from the past few seasons. Pat Riley composed a roster of three superstars and a lot of specialists that were way past their prime. As a result, it seemed (to me) that Miami believed their Big Three were better than anyone else’s five… or six, seven, eight, nine contributing players. They went to four straight Finals and won back-to-back titles, so it was obviously a successful run, but the makeup of the team (again, in my opinion) was inherently flawed.
After injuries to Eric Berry and Derrick Johnson in week one, Sutton was forced to transform into HeisenBob. In the blink of an eye, he altered the dynamics and principles of his scheme. No longer could he simply match Eric Berry one-on-one against the great playmaking tight ends, let alone allow his All-Pro safety to freelance and find the football the rest of the time.
Bob Sutton was afforded the luxury of one of the NFL’s elite inside linebackers; HeisenBob got stuck with two guys that played college football at Nevada.
In place of what was one of the most aggressive, blitz-heavy, attacking units in the NFL, the new plan is designed to alleviate pressure on the secondary by rushing four and dropping seven players into coverage.
Remember the in-your-face, bump-and-run style of play we saw from our defensive backs in 2013? That was one of Bob Sutton’s cornerstones, designed to disrupt timing between quarterbacks and receivers. HeisenBob allows his corners to play whichever technique they’re most comfortable with.
Really, it seems like he’s asking the least amount possible from every contributing player – simply do what you do best. Pardon the cliche, but he’s putting them in positions to succeed. It’s true though. There’s always safety help over the top and the short zones underneath are designed to keep the play in front of you. See: “bend but don’t break”
Unlike last year, the success of this defensive scheme is not predicated upon forcing turnovers. The boom-or-bust nature of that unit led to countless explosive plays for the opposition, ultimately resulting in the highest number of “explosive plays” surrendered by any team in 2013.
Reminder: the Chiefs are currently first in the NFL against the pass (yards/game).
What we have here is not a failure to communicate.
Teamwork has become utterly paramount, with each of the eleven players sharing requisite rations of responsibility on every play.
Just glace at the front four in our nickel package: Tamba Hali, Dontari Poe, Allen Bailey and Justin Houston are all having sensational seasons primarily thanks to one another. Houston leads the league in sacks but most of them have been janitorial after his comrades make the initial mess. Josh Mauga has excelled at inside linebacker because the defensive line has kept him clean of oncoming blockers. In the secondary, Ron Parker’s range has given his cornerbacks a security blanket and freed-up Husain Abdullah to attack the ball on underneath routes.
HeisenBob turned back the clock and started conducting a defensive scheme these guys probably learned in junior high school. “But coach… why are we ditching those intricate blitzes for such a basic system? How do we know its going to work?”
Know your role, do your job and things will go as planned… or in the case of the 2014 Chiefs, things will go far better than any of us imagined possible.
*** PS: HisDirknesS and I are hosting a tailgate this Sunday before the Jets game. We’ll be just inside of gate six in cash Lot N. We have friends joining us from all over Chiefs Nation and we hope many of you can make it as well. Stay glued to Twitter on Sunday morning and we’ll tweet out our official location.