Everything that could be said about the 2002 Chiefs defense has been said 100 times. Their failures have been written and debated on local sports talk shows since the season ended last December. Fans blamed defensive coordinator Greg Robinson, head coach Dick Vermeil and most of all the players. To a man and a coach, they took the ribbing hard. They were the 32 defense! They were the worst in all of the NFL. Because they failed to hold onto large leads built around a Super Bowl offense, the defense cost their team a shot at the playoffs.
So in the off-season, Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt told President and General Manager, Carl Peterson to buy some players. Dick Vermeil decided to get more involved in the defense and vowed to assist Robinson in any way he could. Vermeil gave Robinson a vote of confidence and Peterson spent lots of the Hunt family money.
In came linebacker Shawn Barber, cornerback Dexter McCleon and defensive end Vonnie Holliday. All three had an impact on the final score. Each player had their own skill set but the Chiefs knew the trio would have an impact on the entire defense. What the Chiefs found out on Sunday was they had acquired more than just great football players. They found themselves three leaders.
Holliday led the Chiefs defense with three sacks. His relentless pursuit of Chargers quarterback Drew Brees reminded me of the late Derrick Thomas. Not since DT was creating havoc, had a defensive end played with more fire than what Holliday displayed on Sunday. Not only did he sack the quarterback three times but he tipped balls and had five solo tackles.
But what does not show up in the box scores and statistics is the tutoring he's give second year defensive tackle Ryan Sims. Holliday has worked with Sims in practice. He talks to him whenever he'll listen. He's become a mentor to Sims and that was something the Chiefs were counting on when they courted Holliday in free agency.
The Chiefs nearly passed on Holliday. Kansas City put on the full court press for Hugh Douglas and they appeared to be close to signing him last March. But the Jacksonville Jaguars came in at zero hour and overpaid to get what they thought was their missing link on defense. It didn't work for the Jaguars on Sunday as they lost to the Carolina Panthers. Douglas did have a sack and five tackles. But the Chiefs received a younger and more gifted defensive end. Holliday can rush the passer and plug the run. Douglas is very one dimensional.
After some tense negotiations, Holliday emerged as the best choice and the most logical to fill one of the Chiefs dire off-season needs. After one game, he's already paid the Chiefs huge dividends.
Another player who made an impact today was Shawn Barber. Chiefs fans were treated to an amazing performance by their new linebacker. Barber's had five solo tackles and assisted on two more. But his ability to drop back in pass coverage caught everyone by surprise. He nearly intercepted two Brees passes. He was all over the field. He covered tight ends, running back and fullbacks.
Whenever Brees tried to get the ball down the field, Barber would slip underneath and cause the Chargers quarterback to look elsewhere to complete his passes. For most linebackers that would have been a good day. But Barber was one of the primary reasons Sand Diego running back LaDainian Tomlinson was held to only 34 yards on 13 carries.
Tomlinson had torched the Chiefs with over 250 yards rushing the last two times he visited Arrowhead. But today, the ball hawking defense held him in check for most of the day.
But the true star of the day was cornerback Dexter McCleon. He changed the Chargers offensive attack by eliminating the big play ability of wide receive David Boston. McCleon was aggressive, he jammed Boston at the ling of scrimmage and he simply would not allow him to catch the ball. Boston only had two receptions for twenty yards. Brees was forced to use other receivers and the Chargers offense stalled for much of the game.
McCleon started for the injured William Bartee and his starting spot is likely to be given to McCleon who showed he has the ability to be a shut down corner for the Chiefs.
Overall the Chiefs had some breakdowns but after the offense staked the defense to a 24-0 lead, the 32 defense did what they were supposed to do. They prevented the Chargers from making a serious run in the second half.
For Peterson, Vermeil and Robinson, they have to be relieved. Sunday proved that all the off-season moves, conditioning and practices were well worth the price. The Chiefs defense stole the show on Sunday. They were the star. Not Priest Holmes and his two touchdowns, not the passing of Trent Green or the fact the Chiefs offense gained 413 in total yards.
It was the entire defense. The three sacks, two interceptions and the relentless nature of Holliday, Baber and McCleon. The big three led the way and the rest followed.
Next week they face their toughest test of the season at home against the Pittsburgh Steelers. If the entire defense plays the same way as it did against the Chargers, the Chiefs could start the season 2-0.