It was widely accepted that the Kansas City Chiefs would … well how to put this politely … suck, in 2010. They were young and a number of their recent draft picks were looking like busts. Throw in an offense that did nothing to inspire, and it seemed like a recipe for a long season with a lot of losses.
Only, as is often the case in the NFL, things didn’t work out as they were expected to. Behind a running scheme that opened up just enough room for Jamaal Charles to explode through, and a defense that allowed Tamba Hali to harass quarterbacks, the Chiefs got better.
A lot better.
Still, it wasn’t enough to prevent a Baltimore-sized beat down in the playoffs. So the Chiefs are going to need to take another step. Let’s look at how they can.
There aren’t many teams as reliant on a pass rush as the Chiefs were with Tamba Hali. Sure they got production out of Wallace Gilberry in sub package defenses, but Hali was really the only guy they could count on. He finished the year as the most productive pass rusher in the league on a per snap basis and on a total pressures basis. He was fantastic and exploited any weaknesses in the opposition.
But you can’t be that dependent on one guy. What happens if he gets injured or suffers a loss in form? With him would go the Chiefs ability to get to the quarterback from the edge because neither Mike Vrabel or Andy Studebaker were up to much when it came to generating pressure. The Chiefs need the kind of do it all outside linebacker that can drop into coverage and play the run as well as getting to the quarterback, with Hali himself so one dimensional you need someone to compensate.
It won’t be easy finding a James Harrison clone, but if they could find someone in a similar mold, it could be the missing component for this already young defense to advance further.
The Chiefs look pretty committed to going with a game managing quarterback in the shape of Matt Cassel. But with Cassel being a limited player, he needs to be put in a position to win. That means giving him ample time to make the right throws, while riding their running game to wins.
Unfortunately, as it stands, the Chiefs don’t have the tackles to do that. You only need to look at Cassel when faced with pressure (his completion percentage drops by 20.9%, yards per attempt drops by 1.8 yards and his TD to interception ratio falls from 20:5 to 7:5.) So having Brandon Albert continually struggle at left tackle (-9.9 pass blocking rating) and Barry Richardson not impressing at right tackle (-13.8 pass blocking rating) isn’t part of a formula that will see Cassel succeed.
Both men are decent run blockers, but the Chiefs won’t get better if they match the 86 total quarterback disruptions that the tackles gave up in 2010. It should be noted, and this is why outside linebacker is the priority, that you take away Alberts’ worst game (week 17 when the Chiefs had little to play for against Oakland) he would have ended up with positive rating on the year. Over his three years in the league you feel he has done enough to earn another chance. It’s still an area to look at (especially on the right side), but it’s one the Chiefs can shift their primary focus from.
It may seem an odd need on the surface. Dwayne Bowe had a very productive year and Dexter McCluter displayed some intrigue and versatility that Todd Haley is bound to love. But, for a team that uses a many different looks, they need depth at the wide receiver position, otherwise they’ll be overly reliant on Bowe. That may not be a problem if he plays like he did for most of 2010, but what if the notoriously inconsistent Bowe reverts to being the player we’ve seen all too often?
We’ve already mentioned you need to make it easier for Cassel, and having an inconsistent top target supported by a cast of unproven players doesn’t seem like a way to do that. The need is there, but again, it’s just not as strong as finding an every down outside linebacker to pair with Hali. Bowe has done enough to justify faith in him, while Verran Tucker and Dexter McCluster both had their moments as rookies. If you can find a fitting part mid-to-late, then that would work. But right now the Chiefs should be looking at a stacked class of pass rushers and drooling.