Friday’s game against Philly might be an indication that the Chiefs have solved their pass-rushing problems. Perhaps Romeo Crennel will be more blitz-happy than Clancy Pendergast was but it also could be that risks can be afforded in pre-season games. It is commendable that they were able to get five sacks against the Eagles. Let’s take a look at what we have headed into the season.
Last season, the Kansas City Chiefs ranked 31st in sacks, yet the 22 sacks they recorded were a vast improvement upon their record low 10 sacks the year before. As a new season is about to begin, there have been no significant additions to the front 7 of the Chiefs. The Chiefs had myriad needs to address in the draft and GM Scott Pioli did a alright job of addressing those needs. Pioli could have made an upgrade via free agency but I don’t think that it is the best way to go about improving a team. DT-DE Shaun Smith was brought into the fold but, with only two career sacks at age 29, he isn’t an upgrade to the pass rush.
Tamba Hali (8.5) and Wallace Gilberry (4.5) combined for 13 of the Chiefs’ 22 sacks. Mike Vrabel, Alex Magee and departed safety Mike Brown had 2 apiece while the two former LSU defensive lineman had only one sack, recorded by Glenn Dorsey. Now, I know that Dorsey’s and Tyson Jackson’s specialty is stopping the run (and that evidence should be arriving soon) but the sacks have to come from somewhere. The 10 sacks recorded in 2008 are not Pioli’s problem but I would hope that improvement is in store for 2010
Given the current personnel and defensive scheme, improvement is possible considering that Dorsey is expected to provide SOME pressure on the opposing QB. Tamba Hali can be counted on for a decent amount of sacks but when the run package is in and the other team is running a pass play, Hali is likely to be the only rusher reasonably capable of rushing the passer when the offense has all the lanes blocked.
On passing downs last year, Wallace Gilberry and Alex Magee were in at DE. Derrick Johnson and Jovan Belcher were in at the ILB positions, not that they mattered that much because of how reluctant the Chief were to blitz and how ineffective they were when they did blitz. The four man nickel has been implemented in the preseason and is something we may see a lot of on third down this year. Teams do move away from their usual sets and in this particular set, it plays to the strengths of Hali and DJ.
We can expect progression from Gilberry, Magee and perhaps even Hali as he gets more comfortable in the 3-4. These players could provide enough sacks to bring the Chiefs out of the bottom 10 teams in sack totals but I remain skeptical. We shouldn’t expect much from the defensive tackle position and the OLB opposite Hali, whether it be Mike Vrabel or Andy Studebaker. I must say that Studebaker and Demorrio Williams came through against Philly, recording two sacks apiece. Williams has yet to record a sack as a Chief in the regular season but perhaps this is the new order.
The secondary is going to be the strength of this team but, without a pass rush, the passes they have to defend will be crisper and the routes deeper and more drawn out. It was impossible for the Chiefs to come away from this offseason a complete team but it is also impossible to be successful in the NFL without a pass rush. We as fans have every right to be skeptical but a second year in the 3-4 along with the maturation of the existing pass rushers may be enough to make the pass rush acceptable. The Philly pre-season game shows me that the Chiefs have some answers but they are going to have to transfer that to meaningful football games.
If the pass rush is not acceptable, the run defense better be. I am not expecting great strides to be made by this team but I want out of the bottom of the league. I want to enter the “NFL blob,” so to speak. If you have answered the poll question on this Chiefs Command blog, chances are you answered 5-8, the range of wins that you expect the Chiefs to record this season. I did because I believe the Chiefs are going to improve…slightly. The pass rush should be slightly better, the offensive should be better, the offense will have more weapons, the secondary should be better and the return game should improve. I put the Chiefs wins floor below 5 because they could remain at the bottom and their ceiling is higher than 8 but 5-8 wins is the most probable outcome. Any of those win totals would be an improvement but are certainly not destinations. At this point, I say the Chiefs will win 6-7 games this year.