Chiefs dealing with loss of key defensive pieces
The Chiefs’ resurgent 2013 season came on the back of a defense that was chock-full of Pro Bowl talent. But in a depressing Week 1 loss to the Titans, Kansas City lost two key players from that unit when Derrick Johnson and Mike Devito both ruptured an Achilles tendon.
You can’t say enough about how reliable Johnson has been for the Chiefs over the last few years. Since Kansas City moved to a 3-4 defense back in 2010, Johnson has never finished a season worse than fifth in our inside linebacker grades. A player who led the league in run stops in 2012 and then led his position with a 27.7 Pass Rushing Productivity rate last season, Johnson excels in every aspect of the game.
The former undrafted free agent Devito flies under the radar next to his more-heralded teammates, but he’s been one of the NFL’s better run-stopping interior linemen going back to his Jets days. He led all 3-4 defensive ends with a +14.4 run defense grade back in 2010 after a stellar playoffs, and he again placed in the Top 5 in his debut season with the Chiefs last year.
The Chiefs are better able to handle Devito’s loss than Johnson’s. Third-year pro Jaye Howard can’t match Devito’s run defense, but he did lead all Chiefs linemen in QB pressures this preseason. Allen Bailey and Vance Walker also give Kansas City depth on the line that they just don’t have at linebacker.
Third-year pro James-Michael Johnson played a career-high 50 snaps in Johnson’s stead versus the Titans and earned a -1.9 run defense grade. That’s extra-troubling because he earned the worst grade in that category of any inside linebacker in the preseason. Making matters worse, Kansas City already is starting journeyman Josh Mauga (-1.3 preseason grade) at inside linebacker after Joe Mays will miss at least half the season with a wrist injury.
After an ominous offseason, Kansas City has quickly gone from having one of the strongest inside linebacking corps in the league to one of the weakest.