Defense turns up the Heat against the Cardinals

With a lackluster showing against the Minnesota Vikings a week ago, Gunther Cunningham turned on the heat against the Arizona in the first half. In preseason games it's not common for teams to blitz play after play but the Kansas City Chiefs did just that in shutting down Kurt Warner and the high powered Cardinals offense.

Kansas City Chiefs President Carl Peterson walked into the press box at halftime and was a bit surprised at the Chiefs aggressive play in the first half. But with the entire offseason focused on improving the defense, it was good to see some of the new players show their stuff despite the teams 24-17 loss.

Safety Sammy Knight made a key fumble recovery and cornerback Patrick Surtain shut down his side of the field. Linebacker Kris Griffin, who was playing in place of Kendrell Bell, made the most of his opportunity. He had two tackles, one assist and knocked down a pass. Griffin the un-drafted rookie continues to play solid football for the Chiefs. Another strong game and he should solidify a roster spot.

Defensive end Jimmy Wilkerson had a solid first quarter but wore down a bit in the second. Still he and Eric Hicks put some pressure on Kurt Warner. But the man who caused the biggest disruption was cornerback Benny Sapp. He blitzed several times and was flying all over the field. Sapp is in a huge logjam at cornerback but he clearly separated himself from the pack on Saturday night.

For Hicks the veteran of the defensive line, he was happy to see the team play hard though he was concerned about some of the penalties. "That's the Kansas City Chiefs defense," Hicks claimed after the game. "Obviously, those personal foul penalties hurt us a little bit, but other guys were rallying around those guys who made those penalties and we stood up for each other and we had a lot of success."

Still Cunningham has to be pleased with his first unit despite those penalties. Ryan Sims had two of them and Greg Wesley had one but that performance tonight was a far cry from any that we saw last season during the regular season. Chiefs Head Coach Dick Vermeil told reporters before departing for River Falls, that this defense was better now than at any point a year ago and he's correct.

What was even more impressive about Cunningham's group is they did it without Kendrell Bell, John Browning and Carlos Hall who all sat out nursing nagging injuries. All three are expected to return to practice this week.

It was very good to see linebacker Scott Fujita return to his old form. After offseason ankle surgery, Fujita led the team with 7 tackles and convinced the coaching staff that he intends to fight for playing time once Bell and Fox return to the field.

Another bright start was middle linebacker Kawika Mitchell. He looked like a football player tonight and made a couple of plays behind the line of scrimmage. For Mitchell he was glad the defense played better this week against the Cardinals.

"We thought we started slow in the Minnesota game so we wanted to come out a little bit faster tonight. I think we did that but we still have some room to improve. Our style of defense is getting after the offense. However you want to do that, whether it's a zone defense or blitzes, we're going to do that," Mitchell said.

In the second half the reserves did not play that well on defense though they showed some heart in the fourth quarter and that had to please the coaching staff.

All that will change as practice returns to Kansas City and a host of veterans will return to the team next week. With 24 players sitting on the sidelines for Saturday's game against the Cardinals, it will be good to see veterans like Bell, Hall, Junior Siavii and John Browning on the field against the Seattle Seahawks. Though the Chiefs have dropped their first two exhibition games, the next two weeks should serve the Chiefs front line players well.

After the game, Vermeil indicated that the veterans would get the majority of the work in practice as they begin preparation for the season opener. Still this defense made some strides and that's the most important aspect to come out of the loss.

"We'll concentrate more on the top players on the roster the next two weeks before the cut. We've hot to get more work with the veterans and less work with the young kids. I think it'll sharpen them up," Vermeil said after the loss.

With that said, next week the Chiefs will face a very good Seahawks team with a solid offense. Like the Cardinals they'll bring forth a solid test for this defense that the Chiefs hope will get them ready for the season opener against the New York Jets three weeks from today.

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