First Quarter Grades: Defensive Line

In the NFL they say it all begins and ends with the play of your defensive line. The primary reason the Kansas City Chiefs sit at their bye week 2-2 is solely based on the fact they can't sack the opposing quarterback. If that does not improve over the next 12 games, this team will continue to struggle defensively.

Mike Nugent - Defensively, the Kansas City Chiefs were an up and down team over the first four games. The Chiefs were excellent against the run, a departure from previous years, but horrid against the pass. After four games, the Chiefs are 10th against the run, and except for the loss against the Denver Broncos, the Chiefs have held opponents to under 100 yards. Against the Philadelphia Eagles, Kansas City took away the Eagles most versatile weapon, running back Brian Westbrook. At the same time, the Chiefs allowed Philadelphia quarterback Donovan McNabb to shred them through the air, while leading the Eagles to a 37-31 comeback win.

The inconsistency in the Chiefs defense can be attributed at least in part to the inconsistency on the defensive line. The line is struggling to produce after losing arguably its most talented defensive lineman, tackle Ryan Sims. While staying strong against the run, the defensive line is has been unable to generate much of consistent pass rush without the explosive young tackle. Sims had improved immensely this offseason, and was looking to be poised for a breakout season. With Sims out, the Chiefs are left looking for a spark in the passing game, defensively.

The ends have been solid. Eric Hicks, Jared Allen and Jimmy Wilkerson have been strong, but without an interior push, teams have been able to utilize running backs to help offensive tackles, taking away the ability to get up the field. The interior of the defensive line must play better. With Ryan Sims likely out until December, the Chiefs have to coax a reliable push out of tackle Lional Dalton, who appears to have taken a step back after his stellar play last season, John Browning and Junior Siavii, who probably has more upside than the any other offensive lineman.

Nick Athan - Where is the aggressive fly-to-the-ball defense that we had hoped Chiefs defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham would be using through the first four games of the season? That was at least the intent before the season started but when defensive tackle Ryan Sims was lost for what appears to be the season, Cunningham had to shift focus. Granted stopping the run was a clear goal and outside of the Broncos game, the Chiefs have been solid in that department but that's not enough for me to give this team a passing grade.

The primary culprit for the poor play of the defensive line has been the loss of Sims. That has devastated this defensive line. Sims entered the 2005 season with a chip on his shoulder and a desire to prove all of his critics wrong. He did just that based on his play in Mini-Camps and Training Camps. He didn't resemble the guy who had under-achieved the last three years. He was ready to take the next step.

But a foot injury against the New York Jets has put all that potential on hold. Granted there is a slight chance Sims could return this year but how effective can he be if he returns; remains to be seen.

That means the hones falls on Dalton and Browning to play some of their best football. I'm not sold on Jimmy Wilkerson either primarily because the Chiefs have bounced him around playing both inside and outside. That has ruined any gains he made in training camp where he started at left defensive end for a period of time. He's best used on the outside in my opinion. But the key and the fortunes of the interior of the defensive line might rest on Junior Siavii. Like Sims, he's a space eater and for this line to be effective he has to be double-teamed when he's in the game. If that happens, Hicks and Allen can effectively rush the passer. But when they do, the defensive ends need to tackle the quarterback. They need to take better angles to the quarterback than they've shown in the first four games.

But in order for this defensive pass rush to improve, Kansas City must get Carlos Hall on the field. He's the teams purest and best pass rusher. Hall has been sidelined with numerous nagging injuries but the Chiefs are not using him enough. Granted he's not stellar against the run but the Chiefs should find ways to get him on the field more often. Hall is a bit under-sized but so is Eagles Defensive End Javon Kearse. Hall has that same penetrating speed but he's not been able to use it and that's been part of the problem on the defensive line. That has to change when the Chiefs face the Redskins next Sunday at Arrowhead.