Jamie Squire - Getty
Sunday on offense, Chiefs running back Larry Johnson came to play, racking up 198 yards and two touchdowns. But LJ’s surname counterpart on the other side of the ball, linebacker Derrick Johnson, led his unit as KC’s linebackers played their best game of the season against a potent Denver offense.
Over the last three weeks, Kansas City’s linebackers have been under scrutiny for lapses in following their assignments. Gunther Cunningham’s defense only works if the linebackers are filling gaps in order to stop the run. They did that Sunday against the Broncos, who produced 446 yards, but scored only 19 points, a season low.
All week long, Cunningham was in his player’s faces. It showed, because the individual group he coaches – the linebackers - responded to his coaching.
Johnson, Pat Thomas and Demorrio Williams - they all played together Sunday and did almost everything right, including making plays behind the line of scrimmage, creating turnovers, putting heat on the quarterback, and preventing touchdowns.
Thanks in part to KC’s linebackers, the Chiefs snapped their 12-game losing streak. Johnson, who recorded an interception, a forced fumble and five tackles, said the win was much needed.
“This was big,” he said. “We needed this win big time. We beat a really good football team. A lot of people counted us out. We showed people that we can go with the best. People won’t count us out anymore. We have to put out to the league that we are a team that can compete despite our record.”
And compete the Chiefs did, not only despite their record, but despite their glaring weakness in run defense. Through the first three weeks, Kansas City’s defense had allowed an average of 204 yards on the ground. But the Broncos were held to just 94 yards on 22 attempts Sunday, in part due to Johnson and his fellow linebackers.
“They’ve been running it up our butts,” Johnson said of KC’s previous struggles on run-defense. “We had to fix it, and we did.”
With veteran starter Donnie Edwards sitting out the game due to injury, it presented an opportunity for Williams, a free-agent pickup this offseason. But perhaps, for the first time this season, it also meant the Chiefs had their best three linebackers on the field at the same time. After all, Edwards is 35 and near the end of his career.
“We knew we had to have energy in the linebacking corps,” said Johnson. "We have Pat Thomas playing middle linebacker, and he’s more of an outside guy who can run, and me and Demorrio were making plays. It’s a team win.”
So for one game at least, the Chiefs’ defense managed to stop the run. But Johnson knows it’s not over – there are still 12 games to go, and Cunningham isn’t about to let up.
“Oh, it will start up again on Wednesday,” he said.