A Study of the Kansas City Chiefs

<i>Keep your Charger friends close, but your enemies closer: a look at Kansas City</i><br><br>Dick Vermeil has brought a new level of expectation to NFL coaches. The magic number of years coaches were expected to build a program was five. Vermeil has changed that line of thinking. Since coming out of retirement, it took Vermeil three years to build a power at St. Louis. Kansas City year three, he won a division championship and bolstered the second best record in the NFL (behind New England).

With that said, why did the Chiefs fall short of the Super Bowl? Kansas City, after all, did have the hottest start in the NFL, but then tinkered towards the end. Despite the great regular season record by the Chiefs, it was clear they were going to struggle with some of the more dynamic offenses in the AFC. The Chiefs had the worst defense of any playoff team last year, and they ranked towards the bottom of every defensive statistic in the entire NFL. So, to no one's surprise, they found themselves on the loosing end of a shootout with the Indianapolis Colts.

Going into the off-season, there was very little mystery of where the majority of the Chiefs' moves were going to lay. What was not known was how many current free agents the Chiefs were going to re-sign. Gutting the defense and starting from scratch could pose possible chemistry problems. Also, some of the key players on the Chiefs front line are young, and maybe their struggles last year where more of a representation of "paying one's dues" than lack of talent.

Consequently, rocking the boat was something the Chief's organization decided not to do. They signed all of their free agents starters but one (John Tait), but more interestingly they re-signed every defensive free agent. Instead of wholesale changes on defense, Vermeil upgraded his coaching staff by bringing back former Chief head coach and defensive coordinator, Gunther Cunningham. Cunningham will no doubt have a very positive effect on the Chief's defense.

The Chiefs chose to use the draft to add depth on defense. By drafting the big defensive tackle from Oregon, Junior Siavii, plus the development of Ryan Sims, the run defense should be much improved. The pass defense, however, will still encounter struggles. While Sims and Siavii might be able plug some holes, the Chiefs still lack an explosive end to put pressure on the quarterback. The Chiefs' corners might be solid, but the inexperience at linebacker will create some mismatches that offensive coordinators throughout the NFL will continue to exploit.

But regardless of their defensive concerns, the Chiefs still have one of the best offenses in the NFL. Priest Holmes, Tony Gonzalez, and Trent Green are an unstoppable trio, and all any defense can hope to do is contain the three. While it is possible to structure a defense to stop one of the three players, containing all of them is near impossible with the numerous mismatches they create across the field. Despite losing a very good left tackle in John Tait, the strength of the offense almost guarantees that the Chiefs will once again be in the playoffs.

And then there is Dante Hall, one of the most dynamic special-team players in football. While Hall might not break any return records this year, he is a threat for seven every time he touches the ball. Consequently, more teams will try to avoid him via squib kicks; punting the ball out of bounds; and kicking away from him. These, in the long run, will only improve the Chiefs' average starting field position. Not only is the Chief offense one of the best in football, they also own one of the best average starting field positions too.

When sizing up how the Chiefs match up with the Chargers, many fans are quick to assume two L's before the season starts. Some might approach these two games the way I approach a flu shot. I hold my breath, and hope it does not hurt too much.

There is, however, a glimmer of hope. The move to the 3-4 defense will help the Chargers defend the Chief's explosive running attack. In addition, since the Chargers do not play the Chiefs until week twelve, they will have already gone through the majority of the learning curve for their new defense.

The Chargers should have no problem "containing" Priest Holmes (that is all anyone could ever hope to do). The key to success will be the Chargers' ability in "containing" Tony Gonzalez. This might be hard to accomplish considering most cover corners have problems covering Gonzalez, let alone linebackers. But, if you had to pick any linebacker in the NFL to assume that responsibility it would be Donnie Edwards. In addition, the coaching staff will probably through an array of zone coverage packages to disrupt Kansas City's lethal short passing attack.

On the offensive side of the ball, the Chargers match up nicely with the Chiefs. Even though Kansas City will have a better rush defense, it will not be enough to contain San Diego's ground assault. Assuming the offensive line stays moderately healthy (and controls their weight), San Diego's ability to play ball control should do well against Kansas City. If the Chargers can control the time of possession, they will find themselves with an opportunity to win late in the game.

If given this opportunity, much will depend on the development of Philip Rivers. Kansas City is maybe the one team in the AFC West that will not dominate our wide receivers. Therefore, some of the bigger targets should plenty of opportunities to catch passes, including Antonio Gates. Gates matches up nicely with the Kansas City linebackers.

The key, though, for the Chargers' passing attack inevitably will come back to the running game. If the Chargers can force the strong safety to commit, or if the Chiefs play up for run support, then the Chargers will have a better opportunity to get the ball downfield.

Ultimately, the Chargers will likely split the series. If you have been keeping track, however, San Diego does have more "what if's" than Kansas City. If Rivers has not come along as we have hoped, then there is not much the Chargers can do. The same applies for the offensive line. But Kansas City's defense poses enough opportunity for the young Charger offense to make some noise. Kansas City's offense is too good to stop outright, which makes the concept of ball control that much more important. But considering San Diego has a running back that can carry the load, and Kansas City has a young defense that will struggle at times, controlling the line of scrimmage is reachable goal.

Chargers Note:

The Bolts named Tom Gibbons a college scout on Tuesday. Gibbons had been with the Buffalo Bills. He has worked as both a college and pro scout in the past after working as a tight ends coach at Indiana and graduate assistant at Pittsburgh. He played linebacker and tight end during his college career.

Byran Martin can be reached at byran@sandiegosports.net

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