Derrick Johnson (56) and the Chiefs linebacking corps will be a huge key for the Chiefs this season

The True Key to the Chiefs Season

With no game yesterday, I figured instead of a game recap this week I’d do my personal thoughts as to what will determine the Kansas City Chiefs‘ success this year as we get ready for the season opener tonight.

That key in my mind is the linebacking corps.

As most people know, the Chiefs decided to switch from a 4-3 defense (four down lineman and three linebackers) to a 3-4 defense (three down linemen and four linebackers). This is the defense former defensive coordinator Bill Cowher ran during the beginning of the glory days in Kansas City. It’s the defense that made Derrick Thomas a Hall of Famer.

Last year, however, was a tough transition to the 3-4. The linebackers were a weakness on this team. Derrick Johnson couldn’t get on the field. Corey Mays had his struggles. Demorrio Williams ended up leading the team in tackles. Yes, Tamba Hali found new life as an outside rush linebacker. But outside of that, the defense was not much to write home about.

One thing I love about the 3-4 defense is that – in most defenses, regardless of scheme – your top playmakers are linebackers. I think some of the linebackers in the NFL today are the single best defensive playmakers out there. I love the 3-4 because it puts more of those playmakers on the field and – in theory – makes your defense more athletic than a 4-3.

However, to do that, you have to have good linebackers. I’m still not sold on this Chiefs linebacking corps, especially when it comes to stopping the run.

The Chiefs weren’t the worst rush defense in the NFL last year statistically, but they were close – giving up only 1.7 yards per game less than Tampa Bay. However, after watching the Buffalo Bills game and the Cleveland Browns game – in which the rush defense gave up well more than 200 yards each time out – it’s hard to imagine a worse rush defense.

This year, the Chiefs will have their rush defense tested even more than last year. Here are some of the elite running backs the Chiefs are going to face this year – San Francisco’s Frank Gore, St. Louis’ Steven Jackson, Tennessee’s Chris Johnson, Jacksonville’s Maurice Jones-Drew. And those are just in some of the “toss up” games. (Though, I will admit that the San Fran game is probably a little tougher than toss-up).

Now, also throw in that Buffalo improved their rushing game with drafting C.J. Spiller and that Houston’s Arian Foster rushed for 231 yards in the opener against Indianapolis and Knowshon Moreno didn’t look horrible for Denver. There are some tough backs on the schedule for the Chiefs this year.

The key is going to be the linebacking corps. I put more pressure on the linebackers than the defensive line in this case, because in a 3-4 your linebackers are the key. And with the exception of Shaun Smith, the Chiefs really added nothing to the front seven defensively to help the run. Unless we see a huge improvement from Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey up front, a lot is going to fall on the linebackers.

It’s what I’m going to be looking at every game.

Those linebackers and that rush defense get a good test Monday night with San Diego. The Chargers bring in rookie Ryan Matthews, as well as former Kansas State star Darren Sproles. And because the Chargers are missing No. 1 receiver Vincent Jackson, they’re going to try to establish the run.

Fixing that run defense helps your entire defense. And with some of those teams coming up, the defense against the run will make or break this team as it tries to get closer to .500 and possibly win a division.

Monday’s a great test. We’ll see if they pass.

10 Comments Say Something
  • I dunno man. If the LB corps is the key to the season, we may be in for a rough one. This means, in addition to Tamba, DJ and Belcher and Vrabel need to all have great seasons

  • I honestly think, looking at it, that the No. 1 key defensively is this linebacking corps. And with as bad as the defense was last year, this is the area that will most determine success defensively. Moving Belcher and DJ into the starting lineup will help. It's just too bad DJ and Williams play the same position.

  • I'm just worried about when teams run to the right. Think about it: instead of facing Dorsey, DJ/DW, and Tamba, they'll be facing Tyson, Belcher/Mays, and Vrabel.

  • At least Vrabel will know where to be. haha. He knows this defense extremely well. In fact, during OTAs and minicamps he was coaching it on the field.

  • He knows where he needs to be, but that doesn't mean Gandalf will be able to get there in time

  • The linebackers may just determine how far the Chiefs will go. We know that Hali will contribute and hopefully he will take another step this year. After that, who knows? I think DJ can do some great things and Jovan Belcher's and DJ's anointment as starters shows that improvement may be in order. We will see some of Demorrio Williams and Corey Mays. I like some of the things DW can do but Mays isn't impressive and he is a backup. Vrabel and Studebaker should provide some decent play on the other OLB spot. We will probably see more Studebaker this year and less Vrabel and that should produce better results.

    This blend of linebackers could provide enough run stoppage, enough blitzes and enough pass coverage to make this defense average. I see the Chiefs being average though so that is about right. It could be worse and it might be if the LB's and other facets of the team underachieve.

    The DL is going to have to help out by destroying running lanes, pockets and lineman shifts and pulls. That would make the linebackers better. In years beyond, the Chiefs can get more LB's but if Dorsey and Jackson don't produce, that's a huge waste of picks.

  • True. however I think people are caring too much about the starting lineup. did people notice how often we brought in defensive subs last year? DW will be in there for a lot of snaps.

  • Oh I know. But if you could have him and DJ on at the same time – DJ to cover, DW to rush – I think it would help this team a lot. However, it can be argued it’s a good thing they play the same position, because there will be a “playmaker” in at all times. I’m especially interested to see Hali’s progress and if he can finish on some sacks this year and make the leap to being a good pass rusher.

  • The True Key to the Chiefs Season… #NFL #KC #Chiefs Blog from @jasontarwater

  • @ChiefsCommand Good game! Congratulations

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