If Tyson Jackson, Alex Magee and Tank Tyler can control things up front, Derrick Johnson, Zach Thomas, and Tamba Hali should be able to do their jobs, right?
But have you considered what can go terribly wrong? It’s not difficult to see how a couple of chinks in the armor might become gaping holes.
1. How much does Zach Thomas have left?
If Thomas wasn’t good enough for the Dallas Cowboys, why is he good enough for the Kansas City Chiefs? That’s the question we ought to be asking ourselves, especially because, despite their reputation, the Cowboys didn’t have a terrific defense last year. Especially in run defense, and especially down the stretch.
Not only did Dallas rank 20th in yards per carry surrendered, in vital, season-ending games against the Ravens and Eagles, Thomas and company gave up gobs and gobs of rushing yards. Philadelphia, not known for it’s running game, piled up over 130 yards rushing, and Baltimore saw both LeRon McLain and Willis McGahee top the century mark.
It’s not like Thomas was injured during this stretch. He was there, recording only four tackles and apparently not making much of an impact. But that’s what happens to ancient middle linebackers with a ton of NFL miles on their body – they become less effective as the season drags on.
If we have an idea of the scheme the Chiefs are going to run, Thomas is going to be clashing with offensive linemen quite a bit. How much of that can he take at 35 years of age? Can he stay healthy? Who can play at any decent level if he’s injured? Potentially, there are some major issues here. Remember what happened to Donnie Edwards last season?
2. Tamba Hali may be caught between a rock and a hard place.
We speculated that “The Predator” position might be ideal for Hali because, really, what else does he do particularly well besides rush the passer?
There’s only one problem with that – how well does Hali rush the passer? Especially against left tackles?
We know Hali just finished a season in which he struggled immensely against almost every left tackle he faced. In fact, it was so bad, completely green blindside protectors were making Hali disappear. When Gunther Cunningham finally flopped Hali back over to left end, there was a noticeable difference in his production.
But Hali can’t play left end in this new scheme, can he? He’d have to rush from the outside linebacker position. And frequently, that position is going to have to cover tight ends.
So, just to review – if Hali can’t beat a left tackle, and he can’t cover a tight end, really, what use is he in the 4-3 Under? Potentially, there are some major issues here.
3. How much pressure is on Derrick Johnson?
It’s great that Johnson might finally find himself being put in a position to succeed. If he can roam unmolested by blockers as Karlos Dansby did in Arizona, everything might fall into place for him to dominate and get paid.
Sounds great, but if Johnson is the one being counted upon to be the key playmaker in the defense, how much pressure is he going to be dealing with? What happens if he misses a tackle? Does it lead to a potentially huge play, given that the rest of the front seven might be eating up blockers?
In four seasons, we’ve come to realize that Johnson is tremendously talented, and capable of making big-time, even game-changing plays at times. But we’ve also realized he’s not the best or most consistent tackler in the world.
Put it this way – if Johnson dumps a running back for no gain on one play, and then misses a tackle leading to a huge gain on the next snap, not much has been gained. A cheer from the crowd followed by silence, or perhaps booing, isn’t progress. It’s a repeat of what we saw last season at Arrowhead.
So, have you considered what can go wrong? Even if Tyson Jackson, Alex Magee and Tank Tyler control things up front, Derrick Johnson, Zach Thomas and Tamba Hali might find themselves part of a major issue or three. Until the Chiefs actually start stopping people, these are things we have to consider.