Breaking Down The Play Of The KC Chiefs’ Defensive Line


When the Kansas City Chiefs begin preparing for the 2012 NFL Draft (likely the day after they lose to the Green Bay Packers), there is sure to be plenty of debate among fans about the team’s needs along the defensive line.

This is an especially critical debate because defensive line is one of the few areas on the Chiefs’ defense where there are still lingering questions. The emergence of OLB Justin Houston has the KC linebackers looking like one of the strongest groups in the league. Johnson and Hali play at a Pro Bowl level, Houston looks to have the tools to develop into a potential Pro Bowler, and Jovan Belcher continues to improve and is a lights-out run defender. The secondary is loaded with young and talented players in Brandon Flowers, Brandon Carr, Javier Arenas, Kendrick Lewis and Eric Berry. The team needs depth of course, but it looks as though the starting group is pretty well set.

That leaves the defensive line, particularly the oft-debated DE spots. With a little help from our friends at Pro Football Focus, let’s take a look at the KC defensive lineman to find out who has done what this season.

Let’s start with the obvious here and break down just what Glenn Dorsey and Tyson Jackson are doing. I’ve already written an article at who is rushing the passer for the Chiefs. I established the that both Jackson and Dorsey were at the bottom of the league when it came to 3-4 DE’s rushing the passer. Despite a Tyson Jackson sack last week, we can still pretty much agree that the two high draft picks out of LSU struggle at getting to the QB.

But as the season wears on, it is becoming more and more apparent that Jackson and Dorsey are among the league’s best at stopping the run. According to PFF’s grades, of the 31 3-4 DE’s who have played at least 25% of their team’s snaps, Glenn Dorsey ranks third (+8.7) and Tyson Jackson ranks seventh (+6.0). The best 3-4 run defender in the league* is Justin Smith of the 49ers (+10.8). Consequently, Smith is also the league’s best 3-4 pass rusher with a jaw-dropping five sacks, nine QB hits, 28 QB pressures and a grade of +24.5.

*Smith is actually second in terms of grades. Antonio Smith of the Texans has a +26.3 pass rush grade but Smith has more pressures and a much higher overall grade of +36.4 vs. +17.1 for A. Smith. If you had your pick of one 3-4 DE in the entire league, you would want Justin Smith.

The fact that a guy like Smith can play so well is what I think frustrates many KC fans about Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey. It is hard to erase from your mind where those players were drafted. When your GM takes a 3-4 DE third overall in the draft, you expect to get Justin Smith, not Tyson Jackson.

Instead, what we have in KC are two players who are really good at stopping the run and really bad at pressuring the QB. Thus, instead of Jackson being ranked up there with the likes of Smith, he is actually graded out as the #10 3-4 DE of the qualifying 31. Not bad, but probably not what most were hoping for either.

Dorsey is ranked #18 overall, thanks to his utterly atrocious pass rushing skills. Dorsey is almost twice as bad at rushing the QB as Tyson Jackson is. Thus despite being the NFL’s third best run-stopping 3-4 end, Dorsey’s poor pass rush grade drags him all the way down to #18.

In response to their pass rushing futility, the KC coaches take Dorsey and Jackson out for passing downs.

Defensive Snap Summary:

Dorsey: 278-run, 188-pass =466 total snaps

Jackson: 278-run, 177-pass =455 total snaps

Smith (49ers): 226-run, 469-pass =698 total snaps

Obviously it would be preferable, especially given the amount of money the Chiefs are paying Dorsey and Jackson, if they could both play more snaps. Instead, the Chiefs tend to rotate in their other two DE’s in Allen Bailey and Wallace Gilberry.

Bailey and Gilberry both appear to be average overall DEs when they are in the game. Predictably, both have are better at rushing the passer than stopping the run. Of the 31 qualifying 3-4 DE’s, Gilberry ranks #13 overall (+2.8), and Bailey is right behind him at #14 (+1.9).

Gilberry is a +2.6 pass rusher and a -1.8 run stopper. Bailey is a +1.5 pass rusher and a -1.1 run stopper. These numbers make these two the epitome of average. They are slightly better at applying pressure than Dorsey and Jackson but they are far from difference-makers when they get snaps. Gilberry has seven pressures and Bailey has nine.

Dorsey and Jackson have three QB pressures. Combined.

The reason the Chiefs continue playing Dorsey and Jackson is because they are incredibly disruptive in the run game. Jackson is second in the NFL with 27 stops (offensive failures), and Dorsey is tied for sixth with 20.

One thing you may be wondering about is how many other 3-4 teams rotate in DE’s? Is it just the Chiefs or do other teams roll with four DE’s?

Eleven teams run 3-4 base sets. Of those, the Chiefs, Dolphins and Jets are the only teams to have had four DE’s play at least 25% of the team’s snaps. Houston, Dallas and Green Bay have three. Arizona, Pittsburgh, San Diego, San Francisco and Washington all have only two. Without watching these teams it is hard to know exactly how they use their players but I figured it would be interesting to include that stat.

Lastly, I know some would like to see more of Gilberry and Bailey. Looking at their numbers, however, I’m not sure that would be a good idea. Yes, they are used primarily as pass rushers but knowing when to put in each set is a guessing game for coaches. They can insert Bailey and Gilberry when they think the offense is going to pass but sometimes they will run.

Gilberry and Bailey have been in the game for a combined 140 running plays. On the season they have a combined seven tackles and five stops.

Given the chance, they may perform better in obvious running downs but their initial numbers are not inspiring.

Now let’s move on to the NT position. This position has been a huge need for the Chiefs for years. Scott Pioli drafted Jerrell Powe, but the team seems to view him as more of a project. He has only been active when Glenn Dorsey was out with an injury.

Instead the Chiefs have decided to roll with veterans Kelly Gregg and Big Amon Gordon.

PFF doesn’t distinguish between NTs and regular DTs so they are all grouped together. Of the 85 qualifying DTs, Kelly Gregg ranks 29th. Gordon does not qualify as he has only played 145 snaps at the position this season.

Gregg is useless as a pass rusher (-5.1) but really good in run defense (+8.8). Sound familiar?

When Amon Gordon is in there, he grades pretty average. His overall grade is -0.3. he excels at stopping the run with a +1.6 grade.

As for Jerrell Powe, he’s played nine snaps in one game.

At DE.

Here are my thoughts on this data:

1. Tyson Jackson and Glenn Dorsey are the best option the Chiefs have to stop the run. Their lack of pass rushing ability is maddening.

2. Gilberry has taken a step back for whatever reason. KC’s sub-package pass rushers in Gilberry and Bailey are pretty weak.

3. Bailey could be a very good player down the line. If he shows he can be a complete end, the Chiefs may one day use him to replace Dorsey or Jackson.

4. Despite having Bailey, the Chiefs can’t afford to dump either Jackson or Dorsey. They simply don’t have the talent or depth to replace them effectively.

5. Nose tackle remains a problem. I am fine with the Chiefs continuing to plug that hole with veteran fill-ins as long as they actually plan on developing Powe. Still, if they have the opportunity to get themselves a very good NT option that can contribute right away in the draft, they should consider pulling the trigger.

6. I wonder about the effect Justin Houston could have on the Chiefs’ DEs. Will Houston being a legit threat to get to the QB help elevate Jackson and Dorsey?

Alright, folks, those are the numbers. Having reviewed them, where do you stand on the KC defensive line?