Small Plays, Big Impact

In Herm Edwards' book, there's a chapter titled "Do The Corners." He's not talking about NFL cornerbacks. He's talking about, quite literally, the corners themselves.

You've probably heard this story before, and most likely from the head coach himself, but it bears repeating. When Edwards was growing up, his father had him rake the back yard. So Edwards raked the back yard, and ended up with a big pile of leaves and dirt.

When Herm Edwards, Sr., came out to check his son's work, he saw one thing – the corners. They were filled with dirt and leaves. Herm had forgotten to do the corners.

What's the point of this story as it relates to this week? Well, after re-watching the tape of the Chiefs' victory over the Minnesota Vikings, one thing is clear – the metaphorical corners were taken care of.

Sure, Dwayne Bowe was impressive. His big, flashy touchdown catch made everyone stand up and cheer, made all the highlight reels and got everyone excited. Dwayne Bowe was a big pile of leaves and dirt on Sunday – the main attraction. But sometimes, it's the little things in a game that are just as important, from play to play, that end up winning the game.

Corner 1: The play of KC's defensive tackles


Nobody on the Chiefs notched a sack from the defensive tackle position against the Vikings. But look closely. Alfonso Boone, Ron Edwards, Jimmy Wilkerson, Turk Mcbride and Tank Tyler took care of the corners. There's simply an enormous difference in the defensive tackle rotation this year when compared to 2006. Judging from the Minnesota game, it's not even close.

Take the Vikings' first possession for example. Facing a third-and-eight, Kelly Holcomb hits Sidney Rice for a first down. But there was pressure right in his face as he threw, as Wilkerson perfectly executed a stunt and put heat on the quarterback. A few minutes later on third-and-10, Boone stunted to the outside as Jared Allen looped inside. The defensive tackle beats All-Pro guard Steve Hutchinson, gets heavy pressure on Holcomb's blindside and the pass is incomplete.

Give Boone an assist on Allen's second sack, right before the half ended, too. With three seconds left, Holcomb managed to escape Tamba Hali's initial outside rush. As he steps up into the pocket, Boone is right there in his face. The quarterback is flushed into the waiting arms of Allen after a mad scramble. Here's an impressive observation – Boone fought through a triple-team to apply pressure. It included two Pro-Bowlers, Hutchinson and center Matt Birk.

Now let's move to the second half. Turk McBride notches his first career sack on a second-and-one play with 12:38 left in the third quarter. Why? Because Ron Edwards lit a match under Holcomb. After Minnesota's quarterback set up in the pocket and looked downfield for a second, Edwards was immediately there to put a hand in his face. This pressure causes Holcomb to scramble to his left, and McBride's backside pursuit cleans up the play for a loss.

More backside pursuit from Wilkerson stuffed an Adrian Peterson run later in the quarter. Linebacker Derrick Johnson initially blows up this first-and-15 play with penetration, but it's Wilkerson, who fights off blocks along the line of scrimmage, who makes the tackle for a five-yard loss. This play was key in forcing a Viking punt.

Here's the real shining gem – McBride almost had two sacks against the Vikings. With 26 seconds left in the third quarter, the second-round pick lined up at defensive tackle and showed exactly why the Chiefs drafted him.

At the snap, he slaps right guard Anthony Herrera's hands down and blows past the veteran to the inside. He's right in Holcomb's face as he tries to throw, and gets a hand on him as the ball is released. The pass is incomplete and the Vikings punt. It's also worth noting that Allen had an outside rush here, but Holcomb had nowhere to step up because of McBride's pressure. Again, this is the element the Chiefs lacked all last year in their pass rush.

I could go on and on. Tyler penetrated (with an assist from Hali) to force Holcomb into an intentional grounding penalty with about seven minutes left in the game, and with just over two minutes to go, Boone blew right past Hutchinson again and almost had a sack. The point is, the Chiefs are getting much improved play from the interior defensive line this year, and it's paying huge dividends.

Now let's switch to the other side of the ball. Let's take a look at Larry Johnson's "corners."

Corner 2: Larry Johnson's blocking


Johnson has been criticized in the past for his lackluster pass blocking. Against Minnesota, the Chiefs only asked him to block a few times – mostly he ran out in pass routes when Damon Huard dropped back.

Our first example comes with five and a half minutes left in the second quarter, on a second-and-11 play. Vikings linebacker Ben Leber comes racing off the weakside and has his crosshairs on Huard. Instead, he runs smack into Johnson, whose block gives the quarterback time to release the ball.

With seven and a half minutes left in the third quarter, it's Johnson vs. Leber again. The running back lines up to Huard's left in the shotgun formation as Leber blitzes off the weakside once more, but Johnson is ready. He cuts the linebacker down at the knees, giving Huard time to complete a 14-yard pass to Tony Gonzalez for a first down.

Here's a play I didn't notice at first glance. It happens right before Dave Rayner hits his second field goal to bring the Chiefs within four points. On the previous play, Huard throws incomplete deep to Dwayne Bowe, but he was nearly sacked. Minnesota's middle linebacker, E.J. Henderson, comes screaming up the middle only to run headlong into Johnson. This isn't a great block – Henderson still hits Huard – but Johnson saved the Chiefs a sack on this play, and kept the offense in range for a 49-yard field goal.

Finally, we'll focus on LJ's best block of the game. The Vikings send Darren Sharper blitzing off the weakside early in the fourth quarter. Even though he's carrying out a play fake with his quarterback, Johnson manages to get in position to block the safety. He drives him backwards and away from Huard, who throws high and incomplete to an open Dwayne Bowe. Johnson gave his quarterback a chance to complete a pass with the game in the balance. Give him credit.

Larry eventually missed a block in the fourth quarter. Huard's blindside was completely unprotected and he would have been hit hard if he hadn't gotten rid of the football quickly. So I'm not going to lie – Johnson's blocking wasn't perfect. And on most of these plays, he didn't finish his block completely.

But he did enough to make a difference. That's a far cry from letting Scott Fujita blow past you on the way to a game-changing sack.

So if the Chiefs happen to beat the Chargers this Sunday, yeah, you might see Bowe make another spectacular play, and Allen might make a few on defense. But in the event Kansas City does win, it's a sure bet someone was sweeping up those corners.


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