Chiefs Finding Their Identity

Who are the Kansas City Chiefs? That's a difficult question to answer. Outside of the obvious – a 3-7 football team – the answer could vary greatly based on who you ask. If you look back at the previous renditions of the Chiefs, the answer was easier.

Dick Vermeil's Chiefs were an offensive juggernaut that couldn't force a punt. They could run on you with Priest Holmes, beat you over the middle with Tony Gonzalez, and even on the edge with Eddie Kennison. Their offense was a well-oiled machine. Their defense, on the contrary, was a mess.

Marty Schottenheimer's Chiefs were a hard-nosed, hard-hitting, old-school team. They'd try to grind out a running game on you no matter what, and if it worked, they'd win with relative ease. If it didn't they'd rely more heavily on their stellar defense to turn the tide in their favor.

When you think of Gunther Cunningham's short stint as head coach one word comes to mind – blitz. We never discovered the Chiefs' identity under Herm Edwards, but it may have resembled Schottenheimer's – power running and defense.

These have been the recent identities of the Kansas City Chiefs. All good teams have an identity. The Steelers are known for their complicated blitz packages and coverages, and outstanding linebackers. The Colts are known for Peyton Manning and his aerial attack. The Saints are defined by a similar offensive strategy. The Ravens and Buccaneers have been defined by defense.

Bad teams are known for exactly that – being bad. If someone thinks of the Kansas City Chiefs without a characteristic immediately coming to mind, that's a bad thing. What will Scott Pioli and Todd Haley's Chiefs teams be remembered for? We have no idea yet, but are closer to finding out than we were four months ago.

"I feel like defensively we're starting to find a bit of an identity, and we just need to build on it," said Haley. "I think defensively we've stayed up there in the top five of three-and-outs, which is generally a really good stat, defensively. Most of those teams up there are winning-record teams. We knew the big plays were what were hurting us, so last week we allowed some plays, but we didn't allow the big plays, so to speak, and then we were able to have a couple guys step up and make plays in critical situations, so I think that defensively we're starting to find an identity."

"Offensively, I think the same could be said. We kind of came together as a group and we knew the receivers would have to step up. Obviously we're missing one of our better players, and I feel like they did. We had some guys make some plays in critical situations. I think our protection against a very good front and pressure team was pretty good at times. Other times we've got to be better, but I think we're making progress and I think part of that progress is finding an identity of exactly what that football team's going to be."

When Haley was named head coach last winter, many Chiefs fans immediately envisioned an aerial circus like the one Haley constructed in Arizona, but he hasn't brought that to Kansas City. Instead, especially earlier in the year, we saw something more reminiscent of Edwards' Chiefs.

What is the identity Haley says is being created? What stands out dramatically about this year's team versus last year's team? Aside from the obvious changes in defensive scheme and personnel tweaks, nothing. Compared to Gunther Cunningham and Mike Solari, Haley is not calling different plays. It's not like the Chiefs never ran a draw until this year. So what is the difference, what sets this team apart? Is it resilience, or a new-found desire to win?

Haley believes it could be something as simple as a two-yard run. Specifically, he referred to Jamaal Charles' run against the Steelers on a critical third-down play near the goal line.

"Maybe earlier in the year, we get tackled and now it's fourth-and-one, and we've got to kick the field goal," said Haley. "He fought through the tackle, refused to be denied and got the first down, which led to a touchdown."

That has to be it – the 2009 Chiefs are a tougher and more jelled unit than last year's team. While they still rank near the bottom of the league in most major offensive and defensive categories, they already have one more win with six games to go, including a victory over the defending Super Bowl champions.

"Last week was an encouraging sign, again, as long as we build on it, as long as we use that as a little bit of a stepping stone as a team in that area," said Haley. "Guys understand it might be an 11-play drive, but everybody knows or believes somebody's going to make a play, to kind of put an end to the drought - I'm referring to the (93-yard interception return) that Andy made."

The young identity of this team is just that – being a team, and last week's overall team effort, with no unit standing out over another, could manufacture more of the same result.

"I think you've got to have some success and you've got to kind of build that confidence, camaraderie," said Haley. "Because if you go 0-16, there ain't going to be a lot of guys wanting to hang around. It would be ‘where can I hide,' so I think you've got to have some success, and it breeds itself."

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