John Rieger-US PRESSWIRE

The Chiefs' Secondary Concerns

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Denny Medley-US PRESSWIRE

The Kansas City Chiefs got spanked by the Seattle Seahawks. As infuriating as it is to write that sentence, there’s no way around it. So, who’s to blame? [This is a cue for the Matt Cassel detractors to skip to the Comments section. This article is probably not for you. I’ll wait.]

Now that I’ve cut down on my readership (which in hindsight was probably a terrible idea), I will say that I think only a small amount of blame should fall on Cassel. WRs dropping passes that should by all means be caught dead to rights is much more a WR failure than a QB failure. Cassel’s fumble occurred from behind as a result of pass blocking failure, and, if he were standing around like a slouch it’d be one thing, but it’s harder to blame Cassel for not protecting the ball when he was reeling up to launch it (I’m actually incredibly curious what the end result would’ve been had Cassel been able to get the pass off, and, right before the fumble, instantly noticed that despite being under pressure and stepping forward Cassel didn’t lose track of where the line of scrimmage was and such a pass would’ve remained legal). And, though it’s never good to see your team’s QB throw a pick, the Chiefs were down by 23 points at the end of the third quarter and in a third down situation, facing certain sack Cassel made a choice that many NFL QBs (including ones among the elite) would’ve made by trying to dump the ball to the only teammate capable of catching it and keeping the drive alive, it just failed in the worst way possible. If the game were closer, I think we should be more upset at the end result (pick six), but in this particular situation, I’m inclined to cut him a break; if he does it in the regular season when the score is closer, or there’s more time left in the game, then I’ll start calling for his head.

Through the first two preseason games, Cassel looked like a better, more confident QB than we’re used to seeing. Does he still checkdown? Yes, but when that habit has been combined with a supporting run game, the Chiefs have been quite successful this preseason. I don’t think checkdowns are a problem when the plays are called right. In fact, one of the most absurd observations I heard following this last game’s blowout is that, during the only TD drive Cassel engineered, he checked down on all but maybe one pass, which I find absurd because why should anyone complain about checkdowns when the end result is a TD? Trying to throw a deeper ball got the team nowhere, after all. Besides that, a checkdown-laden, successful drive makes the opponent’s D more tired, the Chiefs’ D better rested, and yields less time on the clock for the other team to counter with points of their own.

The offensive playcalling witnessed in the Seahawks game was definitely off compared to the much more successful playcalling in the previous two games. Overall, I think the talent is there, and keeping the playcalling of the first two games and slowly working in the bolder plays of the last game will reap rewards over the long haul, so we shouldn’t be too worried going forward, despite this last game’s final score (offensively).

What fans should be worried about is the secondary. Jalil Brown may or may not have unrealized potential, but a CB replacing Brandon Flowers needs more than unmet “potential” if the Chiefs’ secondary wants to be more than a sieve. And the sieve-like tendency isn’t restricted to this year; going over last year’s statistics, it appears there should be less worry over the run defense, and more worry over the pass defense.

I’ve decided to compare the 2011 Kansas City defense to the Top 3 defenses of the season (Pittsburgh, Baltimore and Houston) to see how the Chiefs stacked up. We’ll start with examining the run defenses.

Team Att. Yds. TD Y/A 1st Downs
KC 508 2112 14 4.2 96
PIT 399 1597 7 4.0 82
BAL 419 1782 10 3.5 79
HOU 378 1536 8 4.1 73

As can be seen, the KC had the greater numbers across all categories, which looks pretty bad at first glance. But note that opponents tended to run the ball a lot more against KC’s defense than against the other three teams. To even the playing field (so to speak), I decided to determine the likely results of a rushing attempt against KC versus a rushing attempt against the other three teams; this requires generating a TD% and 1st Down% for each team. [TD% is equivalent to the TD stat divided by Attempts; 1st Down% is equivalent to 1st Downs divided by Attempts. As you’ll note, Y/A has already been calculated and included in the table, as this is a more commonly broken down statistic.] The determination of this breakdown is as follows:

Team TD% 1st Down%
KC 2.76 18.90
PIT 1.75 20.55
BAL 2.39 18.85
HOU 2.12 19.31

As can be seen, the Chiefs still had a significantly higher than desirable TD% having allowed 2.76% of rushing attempts to result in a TD; however the team fared better than most of the other three teams only having allowed 18.9% of the rushing attempts against them to result in a first down, with Baltimore being the only team performing better. As can be seen in the first table, the Y/A average is negligible, and shouldn’t require too much improvement to match a Top 3 defense. Overall, there is still room to improve the run defense to the level of a Top 3 defense, but, as you’ll soon see, the difference is a lot more lopsided when comparing pass defenses.

The pass defense stats for each of these teams are as follows:

Team Comp. Att. Yds. TD Y/A 1st Downs
KC 257 454 3221 23 7.10 169
PIT 289 530 2751 15 5.19 156
BAL 288 535 3140 11 5.87 166
HOU 279 538 3035 18 5.64 166

Looking over the table you’ll see that, despite having had less attempts made against them, and having allowed less completions, the Chiefs defense allowed the highest number in each of the remaining categories. So, right off the bat you should know the comparison isn’t going to bode well at all for Kansas City. But keeping with the formula used in comparing run defenses, I’ve calculated the TD% and 1st Down% to determine the likely results of a passing attempt against KC versus a passing attempt against the other three teams, throwing in the pass completion percentage, as well.

Team Comp% TD% 1st Down%
KC 56.61 5.07 37.23
PIT 54.53 2.83 29.43
BAL 53.83 2.06 31.03
HOU 51.86 3.35 30.86

Not only were opponents significantly more likely to complete a pass against the Kansas City defense than the other three teams, but they were also significantly more likely to see that completion turn into a TD or 1st Down, and by a much greater margin than when comparing run defenses. These numbers are unacceptable, and should have us a lot more worried about the team’s pass defense than their run defense, especially when you consider that last year’s secondary consisted of Brandon Carr, Brandon Flowers and Kendrick Lewis, none of whom are currently able to play for the team (Flowers and Lewis over those pesky injuries, and Carr over that pesky “on another team’s roster” thing).

Only so much of last year’s pass defense failures can be blamed on the rotating starters at the SS position, and on Belcher (a/k/a the defense’s Matt Cassel), and while I think that Routt will adequately replace Carr, and Elam will be a suitable fill-in for Lewis, not even the return of Eric Berry will fully make up for the (albeit temporary) loss of Flowers and the subsequent promotion of Jalil Brown to starting CB.

As the defensive situation currently stands, mobile QBs certainly seem to be an Achilles’ heel, as do better WRs than Jalil Brown can handle (such as Amendola). Only time will tell how Kansas City’s secondary will shake itself out, but make no mistake about it, the Chiefs’ pass defense should be a primary cause for concern, and three above average players in the secondary will be lucky to duplicate last year’s disappointing figures, let alone improve on those numbers. With Berry knocking off more of the rust accrued from not playing last season, and the front seven improving in the pass rush (Hali’s suspension for the Atlanta game notwithstanding), we may have more hope than I’m letting on; however, let us still hope that Lewis and Flowers (especially Flowers) find their way onto the field sooner rather than later, or the Chiefs will very likely be in for a rocky start.

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