It’s 1999, and I’m sitting in section 324 of Arrowhead Stadium, attending my first ever Chiefs game. Unfortunately, I’m not having much fun – Kansas City trails Pittsburgh, 10-7, and the Steelers have the ball.
And then lightning strikes. Steelers quarterback Mike Tomczak throws an errant pass in the left flat which is immediately pounced upon by Chiefs linebacker Donnie Edwards. Twenty-eight yards later he glides into the end zone and Kansas City has the lead.
That’s what I call a game-changing play. It’s something that’s been sorely lacking from KC’s defense ever since Edwards departed for sunny San Diego.
Oh sure, Jared Allen’s pulled off the sack-and-strip a few times, and we’ve seen defensive backs like Jerome Woods and Eric Warfield return interceptions for scores, but when was the last time you saw a KC linebacker change a game? It was probably Donnie Edwards.
Since Edwards left following the 2001 season, the Chiefs have (by my count) started 12 different players at three linebacker positions. None of them have scored a meaningful touchdown (Kawika Mitchell scored a garbage-time TD in 2004) and those 12 players have combined for just 12 interceptions. Edwards has 17 all by his lonesome in the same time frame.
It’s even more embarrassing if you condense the comparison to weakside linebackers only, given that Edwards will be manning that spot in Kansas City this season. Since his departure, the Chiefs have started six different players at right outside linebacker in their attempt to replace Edwards – Mike Maslowski, Lew Bush, Shawn Barber, Quinton Caver, Monty Beisel, Kendrell Bell. None of these players were a threat to score, and just two of them picked off passes in Edwards’ position.
The point of all this confusing stat-talk is that for the first time in a long time, the Chiefs have the threat of a playmaker in their linebacker corps. Derrick Johnson was drafted to be that player, and has been solid in his first two years, but nothing akin to what Edwards was like in his prime.
It’s been said before, but bears repeating: Edwards has 27 career interceptions, four touchdowns, 14 forced fumbles and a whopping 51 career passes defensed. Those are the numbers of a playmaker, and an elite coverage linebacker. In the Cover 2 defense, you can’t have enough of those.
Just how exactly does Edwards change KC’s defense? I hate to pick on Bell, but he’s given us a lowlight reel of how NOT to play weakside linebacker in the Cover 2 scheme over the last two seasons. Nevermind the fact the Chiefs were running a different defense in 2005 – Edwards would still have been a better fit. His ability to excel in both the 4-3 and 3-4 schemes is a testament to his versatility.
Here’s three plays Bell couldn’t make that Edwards might in 2007:
Sept. 18, 2005 – Chiefs 23, Raiders 17
Oakland is threatening with a first-and-10 at KC’s 15-yard line. Kerry Collins drops back to pass and hits Jerry Porter for a quick 12-yard gain. Guess who is just a hair’s breadth away from getting his hand on the ball? Kendrell Bell.
Not only is Bell late in coverage, he also misses the tackle. Porter picks up an additional four yards and gets the Raiders inside KC’s 5-yard line. You have to think Donnie Edwards might’ve made a play on the ball, or even intercepted it.
Oct. 16, 2005 – Chiefs 28, Redskins 21
The Redskins face a third-and-goal situation at KC’s 4-yard line, and line up in a trips left formation with wide receiver Santana Moss on the far left. He runs an in-and-out pattern that takes him right into Bell’s zone.
With absolutely no one to cover in the middle of the field, Bell should have stuck with Moss. Instead, he allows the receiver to knock him off balance before darting away into a gigantic hole in the zone. Bell is far too slow to make up the distance and Mark Brunell flips a pass to Moss for an easy six.
Nov. 23, 2006 – Chiefs 19, Broncos 10
Another goal-line situation, another touchdown surrendered by Kendrell Bell. The Broncos have first-and-goal at the KC 1-yard line. They line up in a standard I-formation, but with two tight ends split out instead of wide receivers. The Chiefs stack the line, leaving Bell alone to cover Stephen Alexander on the left side of the field. Obviously, this is a mismatch, and Jake Plummer lobs a pass to Alexander for an easy touchdown.
This play is particularly embarrassing because the Broncos attempted almost the exact same pass in Week 2 when the Chiefs visited Denver. Fortunately for Bell on that day, the pass was overthrown. NFL Network’s Cris Collinsworth said it best: “The Denver Broncos saw the mismatch there and took advantage of Kendrell Bell on the outside.” Bell doesn’t even get his left arm up in the air to deflect the pass. Arthritic shoulders, anyone?