Specifically, we’ll examine a few issues – raised by fans and media alike – that are misleading or even flat-out incorrect. We may add to this list in the coming months.
Misconception #1 - The new regime has done away with the Chiefs’ youth movement.
This notion has been floated on the national level a few times lately, most recently through a column from Clark Judge at CBSSports.com. It’s true, of course, that the Chiefs have added veterans north of 30 over the offseason. In addition to trading for Mike Vrabel (33), they’ve signed Bobby Engram (36), Zach Thomas (35), Mike Goff (33), and even Monty Beisel (30).
However, anyone who says those additions represent a reversal of the “get younger” policy is only looking at one side of the transaction ledger. While the Chiefs were adding the players we just mentioned, they were also parting ways with Donnie Edwards (36), Damon Huard (35), Tony Gonzalez (33), and Patrick Surtain (32).
The average age of the five new Chiefs is 33.4 years old. But because there are five additions and four departures, we’ll even things out by eliminating Beisel from the discussion. After all, he isn’t actually “over 30" just yet.
Without factoring in Beisel, the average age of the veterans acquired by the Chiefs rises to 34.25. The veterans who are no longer on the roster have an average age of 34.
In other words, the new regime has shipped out four veterans over 30, brought in four more, and has only raised the average age of the roster by .25 years. That’s hardly representative of a drastic shift in philosophy.
Don’t forget, even with the Chiefs’ commitment to youth in full swing, Edwards, Surtain, and Huard all would have played major roles last year if not for injuries. After his injury, Surtain permanently lost his starting job to Brandon Carr. Edwards’ bad hamstring from 2007 never seemed to heal, forcing others into duty at his starting linebacker spot. And if not for the season-ending injury Huard suffered, we might have never seen Tyler Thigpen again after his first start in Atlanta.
Over time, it won’t be a surprise if Scott Pioli isn’t as rigidly committed to the idea of a youth movement as Herm Edwards was a year ago. If the Chiefs wind up signing players like Marvin Harrison and Greg Ellis this offseason, only then will we have more to talk about.
To date, though, Pioli has done nothing to reverse the team’s trend towards youth except replace some aging players with his own preferred veterans.
Misconception #2 – The Chiefs have done nothing to improve their pass rush.
This has become a fairly common refrain amongst some fans, and the notion has also found its way into a national column or two. The problem with that line of thinking is that it only seems to center around one specific criteria - the addition of a key pass rusher.
Have the Chiefs added a double-digit sack master, either through free agency or the draft? As we all know, they haven’t. But that isn’t the only way a team can help their pass rush.
Shortly after the draft, WPI’s C.E. Wendler wrote about how the additions of Tyson Jackson and Alex Magee should help the Chiefs improve against the run. Logic would suggest that if teams aren’t running with as much success, they’ll have to drop back and pass with more frequency.
To put a number on it, the Chiefs defended 509 rushing attempts last season. Only three teams – Oakland, Cleveland, and Detroit – were run on more often. A stiffer run defense will go a long way towards reducing that total, increasing the number of times opposing offenses are forced to pass.
However, that fact alone won’t improve the Chiefs’ pass rush. Defending against more passes will provide more opportunities for sacks, but it doesn’t actually mean the Chiefs will get to the quarterback any better than they did a year ago. The key point to remember is what an improved run defense will mean to game situations.
For example, while nobody expects the Chiefs to become run-stuffers overnight, some improvement in that area should allow the defense to find themselves involved in more third-and-long plays than they saw last year. Naturally, that means quarterbacks will have to hold the ball longer, increasing the time defenders will have to bring him down.
Situations like that can also open up options with the blitz. If the offense has a long way to go for a first down, a team can send more pressure with the front seven, knowing the secondary will have enough room to close in and make a stop if the quarterback gets rid of the ball quickly.
While it doesn’t fall under the category of “improvements,” let’s also not forget how big a role injuries played in the state of last year’s team. Donnie Edwards hardly saw any action, Derrick Johnson missed a few games, and Tamba Hali – as always – was constantly battling the injury bug. Then there’s Turk McBride and Brian Johnston, who both ended up on injured reserve halfway through the season.
It doesn’t mean KC’s pass rush would have been drastically better with those players at 100 percent. But at minimum, having a healthier squad down the stretch might have helped the Chiefs avoid the all-time sack futility record.
Beyond those sorts of issues, changes in the defense and coaching staff should also be cause for optimism. After the Chiefs’ first minicamp last month, safety Jarrad Page praised the new 3-4 scheme, saying “You’re always going to get pressure on the quarterback because you can do so many things.” New blood overseeing the defense won’t be a bad thing, particularly when we know the coordinator will actually be on the same page as his head coach.
So, no, the Chiefs didn’t trade for Julius Peppers or sign Jason Taylor, and nothing mentioned here will lead to someone breaking out with a Jared Allen-like performance. But it doesn’t mean nothing has been done to prevent a repeat of last year’s 10-sack disaster. It might not be exciting, but changes have been made that should have a positive influence on the pass rush.
Once Pioli finds a top-flight sack artist to go along with those changes, then the pass rush will really pick up.