Mid-Term Grades Pt. 2: D And Special Teams

Eight games into the 2006 season, the Chiefs are in good position to make a playoff push with a 5-3 record. After years of bad defensive play, the Chiefs appear to have found the defense they've been searching for since the days when Derrick Thomas terrorized the NFL. Here are the grades for the defense and special teams after eight games.

Overall: B

KC's defense has had both good and bad games in the first half. Overall, they have shown significant improvement over 2005. They have improved in total yards allowed, points, pass defense and in total turnovers. The biggest difference has been something that really is not measured by statistics: it no longer seems easy to get big plays against Kansas City's defense. The primary reason for this improvement has been better tackling.

The defense has made critical stops late in the game in wins against Arizona, San Diego, Seattle and St. Louis. That fact right there is the best measure of the difference between Herm Edwards' Chiefs and Dick Vermeil's Chiefs. Keep in mind that my grades consider what you can reasonably expect from a player and are not entirely based on pure production.

Defensive Ends:

Jared Allen: A

Allen has been the driving force behind KC's defense. Allen has five sacks, two forced fumbles, an interception and 37 total tackles. We have seen high sack totals and forced fumbles from Allen before, but the biggest difference is his tackles. His non-stop motor is the face of the defense. To me, his defining moment of the season came in the blowout against Pittsburgh, when he ran down Najeh Davenport after a 48-yard gain.

Tamba Hali: A-

Paired with Allen, Hali gives the Chiefs a pair of high-motor playmakers on the outside. Hali has fulfilled the expectations that made him KC's No. 1 pick in the 2006 draft. Hali has 3.5 sacks, three forced fumbles and 30 total tackles. More importantly, he regularly blows up ball carriers, unlike many linemen who lack the agility to hit runners while going full steam. Allen and Hali are giving the team production more typical of 3-4 outside linebackers than 4-3 defensive ends. Hali gets a minus only because he has had two quiet games in a row (though one was due to leaving early with a hip pointer against St. Louis).

Eric Hicks: C-

Former strong-side starting defensive end Eric Hicks has played a quiet role since he was benched in favor of Hali. Hicks is not the same high-energy player he was early in his career. The drop-off from Hali is obvious when he enters the game.

Jimmy Wilkerson: C+

A defensive end/tackle ‘tweener, Wilkerson is up to 290 pounds. He has pretty much replaced John Browning as the primary "spare part" on the defensive line. Wilkerson has provided credible service in this role, but has not produced many big plays.

Defensive Tackles:

James Reed: B-

Reed has been a good addition after coming over from the Jets as an unheralded free agent. Reed has done a good job of penetrating opposing backfields. His biggest impact has been in the run game, where he has 23 total tackles. Reed has helped upgrade the middle of the Chiefs' defense. While the team is allowing more rushing yards compared to a year ago (113 vs. 98), the average per carry is slightly improved, down to 4.0 from 4.1.

Ron Edwards: B

Edwards been the run clogger while Reed has been the penetrator in this tackle tandem. Edwards, however, is the one with 1.5 sacks on the year. He has done a credible job collapsing the pocket with power. Overall, he's been a solid acquisition and has avoided the injury problems that plagued him in Buffalo. While neither he nor Reed have been overly impressive, they have been an improvement over 2005 starters Lional Dalton and Ryan Sims.

Ryan Sims: C-

Sims is holding onto a roster spot by his fingernails (a rather remarkable feat for someone who weighs over 300 pounds). The former No. 6 overall draft choice (2002), appears as if he will be no more than a rotation player in the NFL. Sims has a grand total of three tackles this season and only occasionally eats space in the middle.

Steve Williams: B

Williams is a feel-good story for the little guy. He comes from nearby Northwest Missouri State and made the roster as an undrafted free agent. Williams replaced the lethargic Lional Dalton on the roster in Week 3 and has shown some flashes of usefulness. He does have a fumble recovery to his credit.

Linebackers:

Derrick Johnson: A-

Johnson has made plays all over the field and is the team's leading tackler (48). He has improved on a solid rookie season by making more big plays, with 4.5 sacks and two forced fumbles in the first eight games (compared to two sacks and two forced fumbles in all of 2005). Johnson is also the team's best pass-coverage linebacker. When he missed time against St. Louis, Rams' running back Stephen Jackson piled up 13 receptions for 133 yards. While Johnson is not yet among the league's elite linebackers, he is making steady progress toward that level.

Kawika Mitchell: B+

Mitchell has answered questions about his ability to handle the deep coverage responsibility of the middle linebacker in the Tampa 2 defensive scheme. He has continued the strong play he has shown since last season and has become a steady tackler in the middle. Mitchell no longer over-pursues as he did early in his career. He has become a team leader and calls the defensive signals. He is not in the Brian Urlacher/ Ray Lewis elite class of middle linebackers, and is unlikely to achieve that level, but he's definitely a guy you want on your team.

Kendrell Bell: C

Bell has been steady against the run, but has been vulnerable in pass coverage. Twice he has been suckered in play action on the goal line, allowing touchdown passes in short yardage situations. He has not been the impact player he was in Pittsburgh. Whether his skill level has declined or he simply is miscast as an outside backer in a 4-3, he is not a feared presence on the field. So far, Bell has not offered anything more than backup Keyaron Fox. Bell will have to show something special in the second half to justify his contract.

Keyaron Fox: C

Fox has show flashes of playing ability in limited opportunities, but has not really made you sit up and take notice of his play. Fox is a speedy linebacker who seems well suited to play in a Cover 2 scheme. He may get Bell's spot next season because he is a younger, cheaper option.

Kris Griffin: C

This is another young linebacker who has shown athletic ability in limited play. Griffin is a guy you cheer for because he made the roster as an undrafted free agent. He has made his biggest impact on special teams, but hasn't really forced you to notice him on defense.

Cornerbacks:

Ty Law: B

Law has been a good addition to the Chiefs' secondary. He has closed the final hole and has allowed the team to improve from 30th against the pass in 2005 to 12th this year. Law has two interceptions, one of which was a key turnover that fueled a fourth-quarter comeback in Arizona. Law's play, however, has been marred by two instances when he fell down and allowed long touchdown passes. Law is not the shutdown corner he was in his prime, but he is still very good. His grade is only a B simply because he has a superstar contract, and has suffered some inconsistency.

Patrick Surtain: B+

Surtain is not the lock-down corner he was earlier in his career in Miami, but has been very solid this season. The only real complaint I have with his play is a lack of interceptions and sometimes soft coverage. Part of that can be attributed to the defensive scheme, yet that scheme should give opportunities for plays on the ball. Surtain has been excellent in run support to the outside and has made a number of stops in opposing backfields. He brings a measure of toughness to the secondary.

Lenny Walls: B-

Walls has been a big help as the third corner in some situations, but has been exploited in others. Walls is a pure Cover 2 corner who struggles when teams isolate him on one side of the field against an agile receiver. When Walls has help and plays within the scheme, he has made some nice plays. He has used his 6-foot-4 size to his advantage in a number of red zone situations (including last week). Walls' weakness is his unsuitability to play the slot. In spread formations, the team is forced to use Surtain inside. Occasionally, this can lead to bad matchups on the outside with Walls. Despite his shortcomings, the Chiefs would have been in trouble had they not acquired Walls during the offseason.

Benny Sapp: Incomplete

Sapp has appeared in only three games this season, and has been inactive ever since. The team misses Sapp because he can play the slot (Lenny Walls is unsuited for this role). Sapp also has some playmaking ability on the corner blitz.

Safeties:

Greg Wesley: C+

Wesley has improved his play somewhat from last season, but is still caught out of position on too many occasions. He has been somewhat better than I expected as a free safety in a Cover 2 scheme, but is not an ideal fit in a defense that demands great range from its safeties.

Sammy Knight: B

Again, Knight is not an ideal fit in a defense that depends on safeties ranging across the field. But he compensates with his intelligence and savvy positioning. He also brings the wood against both runners and receivers. Knight makes opposing receivers dread going up after high throws. He's the enforcer in the secondary, a poor-man's John Lynch. His most notable play of the first half came at the end of the St. Louis game, when he knocked Kevin Curtis' helmet off after a sideline catch in garbage time. Knight sent future opponents a message that there is no free lunch against this defense, no matter what the scoreboard reads.

Jarrad Page: B+

This is a grade based upon production relative to expectations. Page was a seventh-round after-thought in the April draft and has become a useful backup. He has played in nickel and sub packages in roles ranging from safety to corner. Page has shown good range and athleticism in limited play, and will seriously push Wesley for his starting job in 2007.

Special Teams:

Dustin Colquitt: A

Colquitt has been terrific in his second season. He is tied for second among NFL punters with a 40.6 net average, fourth in gross average (46.4) and tied for eighth with 14 punts downed inside the 20. He's making a strong case to be the AFC's punter in Hawaii. The only blip on his radar was the silly pratfall he had as a holder against Seattle, where he made such a poor attempt at throwing the ball after a bobbled snap that it was ruled a fumble. I don't hold that against Colquitt, because I believe the officials blew the call. Put Colquitt in a Bronco uniform and they would have assumed it was just another Jake Plummer shovel pass.

Lawrence Tynes: B+

Tynes has proven that Dick Vermeil made the right call in cutting Morten Andersen in 2004. He has connected on 12 of 15 field goals this year and kicked a clutch 53-yard game-winner with seconds left against San Diego, giving the team its biggest victory of the season. Tynes gets a B+ because of his bad game against Seattle, in which he missed both an extra point and 49-yard field goal. Those misses could have proved costly when Seattle pulled itself back into the game with two improbable touchdowns.

Dante Hall: D

Hall's return averages have been OK (22.3 for kickoffs and 10.9 for punts), but he has made numerous poor return decisions with the ball. He's clearly pressing, trying to recapture his "X-factor" fame from 2003. Unfortunately, the big plays have not been coming and Hall has been trying to make them happen by running backwards. Hall has one punt return for a touchdown this season, but has simply lost the edge that made him the best return man in the game.

Kendall Gammon: A

This guy makes his job look so routine, it's boring. In Gammon's line of work, boring is good.

Bernard "Bonecrusher" Pollard: B

Pollard wowed the team with his namesake hits in training camp, but has not had the chance to show this ability on defense. He has been a regular on special teams, registering six tackles on coverage units (tied for second on the team). Pollard, however, deserves special mention for his punt block against Arizona, which triggered the comeback in Arizona from a 14-0 deficit. Losing in Arizona would have been devastating for the Chiefs, and the team would not likely be in their current position without his play.

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