It wasn't so long ago that the exact same recipe was frustrating fans and inspiring the pundits at Arrowhead Stadium. It was 2002, Dick Vermeil and Trent Green were firing up The Greatest Show on Grass, and Greg Robinson was instructing Eric Warfield, William Bartee, Ryan Sims and Mike Maslowski in the fine art of "The 32 Defense."
Now, like then, the Chiefs rank dead last in the NFL in total defense. Thirty-second. In fact, it's not even close. After 11 weeks, Kansas City is now allowing 406 yards per game, a full 18 yards more than the 31st ranked team.
Here's what's really shocking – this edition of "The 32 Defense" is actually worse than the unit fielded in 2002. The 2008 Chiefs are allowing 16 more yards per game than their bygone counterparts and the yards per play (6.3 against 5.8) and third-down conversion rates (49 percent against 42 percent) aren't even close. I don't even want to compare the sack totals.
Meanwhile, KC's offense has rolled up 369 yards per game over the last five weeks and is showing no signs of slowing down. Meet the new Chiefs. Same as the old Chiefs. Somewhere, Greg Robinson is laughing.
It's amazing, isn't it? Despite all their defensive expertise, despite all the resources they've spent on the defensive side of the football since Robinson departed, right now Herm Edwards and Gunther Cunningam are no better. Statistically, they are worse.
Sunday, the Bills came into Arrowhead Stadium and slapped 47 offensive points on the Chiefs. The 2002 Chiefs gave up their fair share of 40-point games, but never once did it happen at Arrowhead Stadium, and Robinson's crew never even came close to allowing a mediocre offense (like the 2008 Bills) to steal the keys to Arrowhead.
I'm not trying to defend Robinson, Vermeil, or the failures of the past. The Chiefs weren't on the right track then, but that's the point. They aren't on the right track now, either. Something must be done before Edwards and Cunningham reach comfortable, success-affirming mediocrity and convince Clark Hunt they will one day be great.
Do you remember what happened after that 2002 season? Despite a huge amount of public sentiment from both Chiefs fans and the Kansas City media that Robinson deserved a pink slip, Vermeil, ever loyal, stuck by his man. All it got the Chiefs was a first-round playoff exit and Robinson's eventual resignation 12 months later.
The 2003 Chiefs could have been something special. There's no question they had a Super-Bowl caliber offense. But the retention of a lame-duck defensive braintrust a year too long sabotaged any realistic chances at a Lombardi.
This current Chiefs team isn't yet at that stage. Obviously there will be no playoffs this year, and a 2009 postseason bid with such a young team is unlikely.
But you know what? That makes action at this point even more imperative.
Imagine if Vermeil had never hired Robinson, Ryan Sims had never been drafted, and the Chiefs hadn't wasted their time on scabs like Dexter McCleon, Jason Belser, Derrick Ransom and Vonnie Holliday. Years of defensive frustration could have been avoided. It all could have been headed off at the pass with the right hire.
Right now there's no question the Chiefs are building a great, young offense. Even if you don't believe Tyler Thigpen is a franchise quarterback, it's obvious he can play at a productive level in this league, and his supporting cast – Dwayne Bowe, Mark Bradley, Tony Gonzalez, Brad Cottam, Larry Johnson, Jamaal Charles, Branden Albert – is rock solid. A right tackle, another receiver, and Chan Gailey's side of the ball is in great shape.
Now imagine the opportunity to build a great, young defense along with that great young offense. The Chiefs could be one of the best young teams in the NFL in two or three years with the right defensive coaches and defensive talent evaluators (for instance, someone who won't waste second-round picks on Turk McBride and Bernard Pollard).
Maybe you believe Herm Edwards and Gunther Cunningham are those coaches. That's fine, but we don't need to reiterate all the draft picks and free-agent dollars that have been blown since both were hired. We also don't need to reiterate that neither man has overseen a great defense since the turn of the century.
What might not be obvious is that neither Edwards or Cunningham will resign willingly like Robinson. They have too much pride and even in these dark days, refuse to accept responsibility for their failures.
In fact, it was just this week that Cunningham told the Kansas City Star this terrible season is quite possibly the result of his best coaching job in years.
"I know what I see," said Cunningham.
Well, we've heard it all before. Word for word. It was 2005, and Cunningham once again told the Kansas City Star how close his defense was, how great everything was going to be.
"I'm not talking good," Cunningham said. "I'm talking great. Like the old days. I
guess I'm the only guy who sees it. But we're an inch away. I can see it.
I've been doing this too long."
"I know what I see."
Apparently, on that day in 2005, Cunningham saw Kendrell Bell, Eric Hicks, Sammy Knight, Eric Warfield, Ryan Sims, Lional Dalton and Greg Wesley, and believed they would one day be part of a great defense. Instead, they wound up 25th.
Chiefs Revisiting Their Past
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