The following is Big Matt’s Monday Article.
The defensive line has been a sore subject around Kansas City these past few years. Hardly surprising, after trading away the league’s best pass rusher and then promptly breaking the record for least sacks in a season. In 2008, the Chiefs fielded what may very well go down as the worst line in league history. Not only did they set futility records in the pass rush, but they also couldn’t stop the run. That unit, the “flab four” as Whitlock called them, left a lot of hurt feelings in its wake. 2008 was my lowest season as a Chiefs fan, and the D-line was largely to blame.
Since then, things haven’t gotten much better. Our line was bad last year, and will most likely be a weakness again in 2010. Many of us are tired of it. Tired of seeing top draft picks used on block eaters. Tired of hearing about how long defensive linemen take to develop. Tired of being lectured about the 3-4. And most of all, tired of the inevitable failure that has accompanied all of our top defensive line picks for the past ten years.
Not everyone feels this way. Many are excited about our defensive line. They feel the unit could finally be close to turning a corner. That it could become a force to be reckoned with. This optimism, of course, is centered around Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey. But is it realistic? What can we really expect this year from our two most important defenders? This post will attempt to answer that question.
Let’s start here: Dorsey and Jackson were not good players in 2009. It’s OK, we can admit that without being bad fans. Excuses abound, and some are valid. We’ll get to those later. For now, we should focus on recognizing the obvious: our line was awful last year, and it wasn’t just the nose tackle. Our ends were bad too. I’m not saying they can’t get better, and I’m not saying there weren’t extenuating circumstances. What I’m saying is, defensive end was a weakness for the Chiefs in 2009. Dorsey and Jackson need to get better. Will that happen?
We’ll start with Dorsey. I’ve been on a wild ride with Glenn these past two years. I hated the pick when it was made, but got caught up in some of the hype afterwards. It was impossible not to. It seemed like everyone was praising that pick. Dorsey didn’t do much those first few games, but it wasn’t the end of the world. He was a rookie, after all. I was expecting a slow start. But then Herm Edwards started talking about how great he was playing. I remember the initial quote like it was yesterday.
“He’s the most unselfish lineman we have. He’s beating up the guard and taking on the double-team.”
That quote really piqued my interest. Unselfish? What did that even mean? It certainly hadn’t looked like Dorsey was beating anyone up, or drawing double-teams. He’d just been absolutely manhandled by Allen Faneca when we played the Jets. It was a weird thing for Herm to say. But then his very livelihood was tied up in Dorsey’s performance, so it’s not surprising he’d start the spin cycle early. And really, Herm has never been afraid to spew nonsense. Regardless, he’d gotten my attention. I started watching Dorsey exclusively. Every snap of every game. I can’t claim to be an expert in the nuances of defensive line play, but I can tell you one thing: the double-teams weren’t there.
Week after week, I watched Dorsey get handled one-on-one by the opposing guard. And week after week, I read blogs and message boards full of commenters raving about his ability to draw the double. Herm had sung a song, and plenty of people were willing to carry the tune. Those were dark days for your boy Big Matt. For the first time ever, I started to feel like I wasn’t really a part of Chiefs Nation. I just couldn’t buy what Herm and Carl were selling, and for me Dorsey was a symbol of that. He became a target for my frustration. When he showed up fat to camp last year and failed Todd Haley’s conditioning test, I was livid. I hated Dorsey, and I was ready to write him off. And you know what? I was wrong to do so. It wasn’t the first time, and it sure as hell won’t be the last.
Dorsey was better last year. I didn’t want to believe it at first, but he was. First of all, he was noticeably quicker off the snap. It’s not like he was jumping the count or anything, but neither was he falling behind at the beginning of every play. It was a step in the right direction. But it wasn’t just that. He showed decent gap control as well. All in all, I’d say he transitioned to the 3-4 much better than most of us expected.
Having said that, his game still has a glaring weakness. He has no pass rush moves to speak of (other than the shove), and his two sacks in 30 career starts are a direct reflection of that. And please, spare me the tired line about how 3-4 ends aren’t supposed to rush the quarterback. I get that 3-4 responsibilities are different from the 4-3. We all do. It’s not that complicated. Linemen are often used to occupy blockers in order to free up the linebackers to make plays. Ten sacks for an end in a 3-4 is out of the question. But three or four shouldn’t be, especially for a top five pick. When a QB drops back, the ends are still chasing him, and they’re still trying to bring him down. They aren’t going to be able to do it nearly as often as in the 4-3, but that doesn’t absolve them of all pass-rush responsibilities. Rushing the passer is still part of a 3-4 end’s job, and Glenn Dorsey isn’t good at it.
Could he improve? Yeah, he could. I’ve been thinking about that sack against Denver ever since it happened. If Dorsey can do that a few more times per year he can become a valuable player. Evaluating young linemen is all about looking for flashes, and that sack was a flash. I wish we’d seen a few more, but I can work with that. I think Dorsey is going to be a little better this year. He’s never going to “live in the opponent’s backfield” like we were told when he was drafted, but neither is he the terrible bust many of us thought. My guess is he ends up as an average 3-4 defensive end; maybe a tick above. This isn’t what we’d hoped, but I feel a lot better about Dorsey now than I did at this time last year. At the end of this season, I expect to be able to confidently say that he isn’t part of the problem.
I wish I could be as optimistic about the Tin Man. Tyson Jackson looked bad last year. Real bad. Worse than Dorsey ever did. His joints were definitely in need of a few squirts from the old oil can. He was stiff, slow, and overall a total non-factor. One of my friends nicknamed him “dark matter”, because although you knew he was there in theory, you never actually saw him do anything. It looked like he was playing football in a swimming pool. Profootballfocus.com had him ranked dead last among 3-4 defensive ends, and it wasn’t close.
The unfortunate thing is it’s hard for me to see Jackson getting a lot better. I mean what are his strengths? What does he do well? I’m struggling to think of anything. He obviously can’t rush the passer, we know that. The guy didn’t so much as touch a quarterback in 16 starts. He wasn’t much better against the run, either. On runs to the outside in particular Jackson played the role of sheep to the offensive linemen’s shepherd. He went wherever they wanted him to go. And at the end of the game he was slaughtered for his mutton and wool.
For some of you, this is the part where your inner monologue tells you what an idiot I am. “Who is this chump?” the monologue will say. “Doesn’t he know defensive linemen take years to develop?”
Well, your inner monologue is right, to a point. Sometimes defensive linemen do struggle at first and then turn it around. Albert Haynesworth is a frequently-quoted example of this. But for every Albert Haynesworth there is a Ryan Sims, Eddie Freeman, and Junior Siavii. Sometimes linemen do get better after rocky starts. More often they don’t. I’m interested to hear from any of you Tin Man supporters out there, but I want more than just a “He’s young; case closed.” That’s dishonest logic. I want to hear why you think Jackson specifically will succeed where so many others have failed. What do you see in this guy? I want to believe, but he didn’t show me anything last year. I can’t in good conscience pencil in improvement just for the hell of it. I need to see something. With Jackson, I haven’t yet.
So where does that leave us? Will the line improve enough to help our defense regain respectability? Honestly, I’d have to say no. Dorsey will likely be a little better, but that in itself won’t even lift the line to average. Hardly the result we envisioned when we spent a top five pick on the same position back-to-back years.
Chiefs fans fall over themselves to make excuses for Dorsey and the Tin Man, and I can understand that. We’re a passionate bunch, and we really wanted these guys to be good. We were promised the world with Dorsey. Jackson was the first pick of our brand new GM. If this were a fairytale, the LSU Block Eaters would find us at the ball, put the glass slipper on our feet, and we’d all ride away together in a jack-o-lantern and get married….or something.
Unfortunately, life as a Chiefs fan is no fairytale, at least not yet. These guys aren’t world-beaters, and they probably never will be. Yes, they’re young, they’ve switched positions (sort of) and other linemen with no discernible similarities to them improved after rocky starts. If that’s enough to convince you of their impending greatness, more power to you. Me, I like to see good plays, and Dorsey and Jackson have given us precious few. If they’re to be part of the solution, that needs to change.
Or we could just get rid of both of them and hand my boy Magee the keys to the defense. That would make me and my fellow Mageeks very happy. There’s three of us now. By next week, there could be as many as four. If you strike the Mageeks down we shall become more powerful than you can possibly imagine.
Fantasy Football Season is here! Sign up with CBS Sports now and get a special AA Reader Discount. Only for a limited time.