This year the Chiefs were fighting history. Specifically, the history of one Clancy Pendergast, who obviously is not known for fielding good defenses. In 2009, Todd Haley needed a defensive coordinator who could get the most out of a pack of marginally talented defenders. He picked the wrong coach.
As has been pointed out previously, the same players Pendergast coached last year in Arizona allowed almost a touchdown less per game this year. The Cardinals had 13 more sacks and eight more interceptions in 2009 compared to last season. Not surprisingly, the Cardinals lost just one game when scoring at least 20 points this season. A year ago they lost on four such occasions.
The Cardinals made the playoffs this season because Ken Whisenhunt had the foresight to fire Pendergast after last year's Super Bowl.
The Chiefs had no chance this season to field a good defense. That will be factored into our grades.
Glenn Dorsey – B
All you need to know about Dorsey is what happened the day he missed a game. The Chiefs gave up 351 rushing yards and allowed Jerome Harrison to steal one of Jim Brown's records. Here's what you may not realize – only one 3-4 defensive end recorded more solo tackles than Dorsey this season. That means he's getting off blocks.
Dorsey just made it through a 15-game season in which he played more snaps than any other Kansas City defensive lineman. In fact, only three 3-4 ends logged more playing time than Dorsey this year. Remember all the trouble he had as a rookie with injuries? Maybe he's finally getting healthy.
Unfortunately, if Dorsey ever wants to justify his contract, at some point he has to be an elite interior rusher. The idea that 3-4 defensive ends aren't supposed to pressure the quarterback is a myth. Calais Campbell, Darnell Dockett, Randy Starks, Vonnie Holliday, Cullen Jenkins and Darrell Reid all had at least five sacks this season. Dorsey's next step is becoming at least as productive as Holliday, who might as well be Methuselah at this juncture of his career.
Wallace Gilberry – B
Do you realize that at one point, Gilberry was tied for the Chiefs' team lead in sacks this season? He picked up Tyson's Jackson's slack as a nickel pass rusher, recording 4.5 sacks, and doing it at a far cheaper price. Did you even expect him to make it out of training camp?
Alex Magee – C
Magee logged two sacks and showed quickness as a nickel rusher. Arguably, he was KC's second-best draft pick. Tyson Jackson is lucky the Browns pushed Magee around, otherwise people might be wondering who should start next season.
Wouldn't it be embarrassing if the best interior pass rushers in Kansas City made the least amount of money? If Magee and Wallace Gilberry hold out for lucrative contract extensions next season, the Chiefs might want to ask Glenn Dorsey and Jackson to take compensatory pay cuts.
Ron Edwards – C
It would be ridiculously easy to hand Big Bad Ron a failing grade. The Chiefs had the league's 31st ranked run defense this season. Edwards gets pushed around too easily for a 315-pound man and has the unfortunate talent coincidence of being quick enough to penetrate but not fast enough to finish. I lost count of the number of times he broke into the opposing backfield only to waddle around like Jabba the Hutt off his throne.
But Edwards isn't a starter. Even so, not only did the Chiefs ask him to be one, they asked him to play more snaps than every 3-4 nose tackle in the league, save Dallas' Jay Ratliff, an elite player who is incredibly well conditioned. Edwards got beat up this year because the Chiefs have zero depth at nose tackle.
Edwards was halfway decent early in the year before the constant double teams he faced wore him down. He has value as a backup.
Tyson Jackson – D
The Chiefs placed an absurd burden on Jackson this season, asking him to play almost as much as Dorsey. That's a huge load for a rookie defensive lineman making a scheme switch, especially when you consider that Ziggy Hood, Pittsburgh's rookie 3-4 strongside end, played less than one-third of Jackson's snaps. Jackson had a mountain to climb this season.
That saves him from failing, but doesn't completely excuse his poor performance. Jackson got pushed around, and his lack of impact as a pass rusher isn't a good sign. Yes, the Chiefs drafted Jackson to pressure the quarterback, even though everyone has been telling you 3-4 ends are just "run pluggers."
Jackson was supposed to bring something to the table as a three-technique rusher playing inside in KC's nickel defense this season. He has a lot of work to do if he's really the rush presence Scott Pioli had him tabbed to be. I think I saw him hit a quarterback once. He never came close to a sack.
The Chiefs handed Jackson a contract worth $57 million. He earned about $57 of it this season. On the plus side, he makes Dorsey look like a Hall of Famer.
Tamba Hali – B+
Hali set new career highs in sacks (8.5) and tackles (62), forced four fumbles and, like Dorsey, proved he could stay healthy, which had been an issue in the past. Hali played more snaps than any other defender in KC's front seven. In fact, Hali played more snaps than any outside linebacker in the entire league. What drops him a letter grade?
Hali can't hold up at the point of attack. Forget offensive tackles. Tight ends and fullbacks take him out of the play. ProFootballFocus.com rated Hali as the league's worst 3-4 run defender. Had the Chiefs lined him up next to Tyson Jackson, we might have witnessed the worst run defense in NFL history.
It'd be unfair to linger on the negative any further, though, as PFF also rated Hali as the league's second-best 3-4 pass rusher. If the Chiefs bring in someone who can beat an offensive tackle with any consistency this offseason, Hali will have a monster year. We should celebrate Tamba Hali. His life is about beating the odds. They were certainly stacked against him this year.
Andy Studebaker – B
He made two huge interceptions in the biggest game of the year against the Pittsburgh Steelers, and was part of one of the league's best special-teams units. If he takes Mike Vrabel's job next season his last name might become famous.
Jovan Belcher – B
Did you have any expectations for Belcher, an undrafted free agent? I certainly didn't expect him to turn a game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, dumping a running back for a loss, forcing a punt and creating an opportunity for a game-winning field goal.
Belcher contributed to KC's outstanding coverage units, finishing second in special-teams tackles. He also got lit up by blockers more than any Chief I can remember this year. In a 4-12 season, at least that's entertaining.
Mike Vrabel – C
You probably think Vrabel was awful this season. He had all of two sacks, whiffed on a half-dozen others because his old legs are a liability in space, dropped an interception and generally appeared washed up. He's close, but he's not nearly as bad as he looked this year.
Vrabel was never the lynchpin of any defense in Pittsburgh or New England. He was a complementary player who feasted off opportunities created by more talented defenders. He was New England's Tamba Hali. In Kansas City, Vrabel's opportunities dried up because no one was creating those opportunities - except the real Hali.
Do you think it's a coincidence Hali made such a smooth, successful transition to the 3-4 with Vrabel in his ear all season? Unless the Chiefs find a dynamite young pass rusher to replace Vrabel in the draft or via the trade market, he could be back next season. He has at least one more year of flipping off the opposing sideline left in him.
Corey Mays – C
Poor Corey Mays. Only in Kansas City would he be asked to start 13 games and attempt to stop someone from catching a pass. On the plus side, someday when his flowing dreadlocks have grayed, he'll be able to tell his grandchildren about the day he touched the legendary Ben Roethlisberger before sliding to the ground in awe.
We could give Mays a failing grade for missing countless tackles this season (according to PFF, only Dhani Jones whiffed more among inside linebackers) but it would be unfair. He butted heads with guards and centers all season and made 85 tackles. For a career special-teamer, he survived. But if he's starting next season, there's a problem.
Demorrio Williams – C
Williams led the Chiefs in tackles, but the only play that stands was a tipped ball, leading to an interception against Denver. The fact a 220-pound linebacker was starting in KC's 3-4 this year is a testament to the lack of talent on the Chiefs' roster. Williams isn't horrible, but he should be playing the weakside in a Tampa 2 defense somewhere. If he leads the Chiefs in tackles again next season, there's a problem.
Derrick Johnson – D
Realistically, it would be foolish to hand out a failing grade for a player who picks off three passes and nearly returns them all for touchdowns. But a few big plays shouldn't validate the notion that Todd Haley was in error for keeping Johnson off the field this season. It was justified.
Roll back the tape against the Broncos in Week 17 and you'll see exactly why Haley chopped Johnson's playing time by almost 60 percent this year. After winning the game early with two devastating interceptions, Johnson missed three tackles on one drive to end the game. As irrelevant as that is, we can't examine those missed tackles in a vacuum.
Johnson whiffed all season long. Against the Steelers, he ran a mini-camp for NFL tackling, showing exactly what not to do. The Chiefs had him on the bench on early downs this season for a good reason – he is an enormous liability. Had he played more, it would have only been worse.
Johnson's big plays make for great deodorant. He needs it, because the majority of his snaps stink. Going into his sixth season, you wonder if he'll ever be consistent. If there's a silver lining to DJ's disappointing career (the Chiefs could have picked Green Bay quarterback Aaron Rodgers instead), it's that he's an extremely cheap part-time playmaker.
Mike Brown – C
It's hip to hate on the slow, unathletic Brown, because he replaced the safety Chiefs fans have a stalker-level obsession with – Bernard Pollard. While it's true Pollard made plays in Houston this year, and Brown looked past his prime with the Chiefs, in no way is a failing grade justified.
Brown's worst moments – against Dallas, Jacksonville, Oakland, Cleveland and Cincinnati – were brutally bad. He allowed Miles Austin to skip free for two long touchdowns, permitted the Jaguars to run past him and over him, and was powerless to stop future Hall of Famer Jerome Harrison during Cleveland's assault on the NFL rushing record books. Brown capped it off by getting steamrolled by Cincy's Cedric Benson on one particular Week 16 carry.
But you know what? Other than those few utterly disgusting moments, Brown played about as well as you can ask a slow, unathletic safety to play. He was second on the Chiefs in tackles, grabbed three interceptions and recorded two sacks. When he wasn't getting run over or having his jock stolen by San Diego's Darren Sproles, he wasn't half bad as an in-the-box safety.
Asking Brown to play at his previous Pro Bowl level while surrounded by just about the least-talented defense in the league is foolish. If the Chiefs draft a fast safety like Tennessee's Eric Berry, find another pass rusher, a nose tackle and a middle linebacker, Brown might perform reasonably well as a role player. Todd Haley isn't likely to get rid of his favorite player this offseason, anyway, so just accept it - what can Brown do for you?
Jon McGraw – C
McGraw was just about the only Chiefs' defender to lay a few licks this year. That, and the fact he didn't completely embarrass himself (when he wasn't defending Darren Sproles) despite being only slightly less unathletic and slow than Brown was a positive. Hey, McGraw is just another special teams player masquerading as a starter. He didn't ask to be born!
DaJuan Morgan – F
I had only one expectation for Morgan this season – claim a starting job. If you're dripping with athletic talent that puts the slow, unathletic veterans in front of you to shame, it's disappointing when you can't even come close to stealing their jobs.
Morgan flashed in preseason this year, then promptly disappeared once the regular season began. And yes, he was also in on the heist of Jim Brown's franchise rushing record against Cleveland.
Jarrad Page – I
Page deserves a mention for one reason only – he laid the hardest hit of any Chief this year, completely demolishing Giants' receiver Steve Smith in Week 5. His injury left KC's defense without a center fielder. They need him back next season, even if it's only to challenge the slow, unathletic safeties that started this season. Page looks like Ronnie Lott compared to Brown and McGraw.
Brandon Flowers – A
Last year, Flowers was a short, slow cornerback who somehow managed to avoid being picked on deep. This year, Flowers was a short, slow cornerback who shut down the deep pass completely. There was no sophomore slump, whatsoever.
Do you have an explanation for why a 5-foot-9 player who ran a 4.58 at the NFL Combine keeps slapping away bombs intended for giant, fast receivers like San Diego's Vincent Jackson? Flowers doesn't have the talent of Jackson's teammate, Antonio Cromartie, but plays like Deion Sanders in comparison. It defies all logic.
This season, Flowers recorded five interceptions and 23 passes defensed with one of the league's most abysmal pass rushes and linebacker corps in front of him, terribly slow, unathletic safeties behind him, and historically-pitiful defensive coaching on the sideline. Someone get this man a contract extension.
Brandon Carr – A
Carr's only shortcoming is that he's not a logic-defying superhuman like his teammate, Flowers. That means he got picked on this season, and at times was beaten. Even so, he exceeded my expectations this year, because at the end of 2008, there were questions about his future.
As a rookie, Carr had a below-average stop rate according to the 2008 Football Outsiders almanac, and wasn't much of a playmaker. With no pass rush you had to figure he was primed for a huge slump in year two. It didn't happen, and if you put any stock in our friends at Pro Football Focus, Carr actually allowed fewer receptions than Flowers. Someone get Carr and Flowers a pass rush.
A Four-Headed Nickel Corner – F
We could separate Maurice Leggett, Travis Daniels, Mike Richardson and Donald Washington, but why? They were the same player this year. The Chiefs never settled on a nickel corner, and no one separated themselves as a quality player.
Leggett failed to progress after an impressive rookie season. Most notably, he allowed JaMarcus Russell to toast him for a huge gain on Oakland's game-winning drive in Week 2. Richardson? He couldn't get his hands on a pass this season. Washington? The Chiefs thought so highly of their fourth-round pick, he played all of 21 snaps.
Actually, Daniels wasn't half bad, so this may be a little unfair. But, if you expected me to separate backup cornerbacks after a 4-12 season, you had too much faith. Even Jason Whitlock, the greatest football columnist of all time, refused to pass judgment on Leggett, Daniels and Richardson this year. At my salary I can't justify more than 40 words per spare defensive back.
Grading The Chiefs – Part II: Defense
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