In chapter one, available in the archives (by which I mean, um, scroll down on the page a bit), we took a gander at the midseason grades of the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense. Pretty horrid, when you really give it any sort of piece-by-piece analysis. In case you missed it, I made this bizarre, admittedly far-reaching analogy about a football team being a lot like a tree.
And though it clearly doesn’t make a TON of sense, I’m this far into the thing, goddamnit, and I’d be a coward to stop now.
Today, we’ll look at the defense and special teams, which, coming into the season, showed a certain amount of promise. Has that held up? Has Tamba Hali physically consumed a quarterback yet?! Has Javier Arenas returned 6 punts for touchdowns?! Did Ryan Succop kick a 70-yard field goal, or was that just a weird, Propofol induced dream that I had?
The Defensive Line / Fat City-Pigeons: D
Wait, what are a bunch of fat, bumbling pigeons doing in our beautiful, leafy, make-believe tree?
Anchored by highly-drafted failures Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey, the defensive line has been pretty damned miserable. Only Kelly Gregg and Wallace Gilberry have a sack this season. Repeat: only Kelly Gregg and Wallace Gilberry have a sack this season.
But we all understand that there’s more to the frontline than sacks. Stuffing the run is paramount as well. The bad news is, they’re middle of the pack when it comes to task number two, too. Attempting to stop a back at or behind the line of scrimmage, the mighty Chiefs come in 26th. Plus, a lot of those stats are skewed by big tackle numbers from linebacker Derrick Johnson. Speaking of…
The Linebackers/ Roots: C
Roots anchor. Roots feed the tree water, and other essential planty-nutrients. Without roots, trees are nothing. In much the same way, a defense is lost without a firm, strong linebacking core. Field generals who are responsible for a little bit of everything, a team’s success can be found and lost with 3 or 4 freakishly gifted athletes. The problem with the Chiefs’ defensive scheme is that they elect to start four, and only two are worth most of half of a shit.
Derrick Johnson has finally started to put it together, and it’s a welcome development. He’s 5th in the league in solo tackles, 11th in solo assists, and has a pretty decent knack for defending the pass (which leads to a fair share of interceptions, which in turn, DJ likes to take back for touchdowns).
Tamba Hali, the converted defensive end, the former first rounder, the dude who flaps his arms like wings after he gets a sack and may or may not have a face behind his pitch-black mask, is having an okay, season… okay by his recent standards, anyway. I heard somebody somewhere chiding him for having only 6 sacks midway through the season, suggesting, perhaps that he softened after his big contract extension. To that person, I say simply: shut up, douche.
He’s still tied for third in the AFC despite getting double teamed on nearly every down, and being held tighter than a butthole at a Deliverance fan appreciation festival. Tamba’s gonna be Tamba. I’m not worried.
The problem with the LB’s, however, lies not in the misplaced criticism of Hali or Johnson, but in the rest of whomever they decide to plug in. Aside from the game changing fumble recovery against the San Diego Chargers, Andy Studebaker has had virtually no impact. Jovan Belcher has been… there. Rookie Justin Houston, who I really had high hopes for, hasn’t seen much playing time due to inconsistencies against both the pass AND the run.
Like almost every facet of the team, the guys in the middle have a lot of room for improvement. In fact, they remind me a lot of another set of guys…
The Secondary/ The Leaves: C-
Just as healthy leaves of a towering oak shade a dozing hobo, or a dirty hippy too lazy to even trek his granola’d ass up to the OccupyKC Movement, the secondary of a football team is meant to cover receivers, to blanket and shield them from an incoming pass.
The Chiefs’ secondary is maddeningly inconsistent.
On one hand, you’ve got guys picking off passes like the balls were metal and their gloves were magnetized (Flowers– 4, Lewis-3, McGraw and Carr– 2), and on the other, you’ve got egregious incidents of blown coverage leading to massive gains and touchdowns. Much like the linebackers, the secondary is a tale of the “haves” and the “wouldn’t-be-starting-elsewhere’s”.
In a perfect world, Sabby Piscitelli (pictured, right [not kidding]) would be a greased-up dude who’s really good at bicep curls and moderately affective at being a Taco Bell crew manager, not a viable alternative in prevent-defense situations. Jon McGraw would be driving a tractor through a wheat-field, removing his hat long enough only to wipe the sweat from his brow when his sun-dressed wife brings him a refreshing glass of lemonade. These guys are not starting NFL safeties. But by virtue of injury, that’s where the Chiefs find themselves.
There isn’t a whole lot of depth in the secondary (running theme with this team), so a blown coverage from Flowers, or Carr—two guys who actually know what they’re doing—seems amplified.
Man, does this team miss what an ever-so-slightly-seasoned Eric Berry could have provided. But again, “if ifs and buts were candy and nuts… people would… I don’t know… have candy and nuts for a lot of meals?”
Special Teams/ Spastic Squirrels: B-
Special Teams is broken down into four select groups: kicking, punting, kick-returning and punt-returning (and in the grand scheme of things, you can probably make a good case that the coverage on all of the above is pretty important too, but I’ve been rambling for hours and you probably stopped reading when I started talking about the Bob Seger t-shirt… so we’ll keep it simple).
Kicking is an invaluable asset for any team, particularly one that has such a difficult time putting the ball in the end zone. Ryan Succop—Mr. Irrelevant to his friends and family—has had a few missteps this season. He’s 11 for 14 on the year—“good” for 78.6%– which means he’s 13th in the AFC. Eek. And while he IS 2-2 from 50 yards, that pales in comparison to Jacksonville’s Josh Scobee (5-5), Oakland’s Sebastian Janikowski (5-6) and Cleveland’s Phil Dawson (a remarkable 6-6). It IS worth noting, however, that all three misses came in the first three games. If he really, truly has settled down, his job is probably safe… for now.
Despite last Sunday’s bizarre botched field goal attempt, punter Dustin Colquitt is having a quality year. He’s averaging 46.7 yards per punt on the year, up from his career average of 44.3. Just how important is a punter, you ask? When the Chiefs win, he’s averaging 50.9 yards per kick. When they lose, 42.6. Who said field position was overrated? What? Nobody did? Shit.
Throughout the years, we’ve been blessed with some pretty outstanding return men. Tamarick Vanover was occasionally brilliant. Dante Hall was, well, one-of-a-kind. Dexter McCluster spoiled us with one really great return last year, and that was all she wrote. This year, he’s averaging 23.8 yards per return (10th in the AFC), with a long of 35. No bueno, bro.
Javier Arenas, meanwhile, is picking up the punt returning right where he left off in college. Considered by some to be one of the better SEC returners in recent history, he’s averaging 15.1 yards per return, good enough for the top-spot in the AFC. And though he hasn’t scored a touchdown—or really had a big, threatening return so far this year—he HAS shown fantastic decision-making abilities, a consequential skill for anyone in his position.
Oh, and how is Special Teams like a bunch of spastic squirrels? Well, see… if you think of the football like an acorn, and Dustin Colquitt is like the daddy squirrel, and… well, winter’s coming, or something. And… Jesus. Whatever. I give up. I already admitted it was a terrible analogy.
One last thought: if the Chiefs are so bad, from soup to nuts and with relatively few exceptions, then how are they in first place midway through the season? Well, because they’re in a really shitty forest, that’s why.