Nov 24, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; San Diego Chargers quarterbackPhilip Rivers
(17) is sacked by Kansas City Chiefs strong safetyEric Berry
(29) during the second half of the game at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chargers won 41-38. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports
Much has been made of the safety play for the Kansas City Chiefs last season after the complete collapse in the playoff loss to Indianapolis. While the key to Bob Sutton’s defense is the ability to put pressure on the quarterback, having quick secondary players who can recover in man coverage to limit big plays is a must. We found this to be the problem when Kendrick Lewis and Dunta Robinson were on the field, both of whom are now gone.
Finding a free safety has been a popular soapbox position amongst Chiefs fans because of Lewis’ and Robinson’s play, but what Kansas City may need more than a free safety is another strong safety.
Eric Berry is without question one of the best safeties in the NFL, and his versatility within Bob Sutton’s scheme could make him one of the most dangerous defensive player in the league if the pass rush can become consistent. Sutton will line Berry up anywhere and will ask him to do anything. Play centerfield? Check. Run in single coverage with a slot receiver? Done. Rush the passer? Expect him to get there.
2013 Eric Berry PFF Grades: Overall +14.5 (tied for 3rd overall, 1st among SS), +12.5 in coverage (2nd among SS), first in sacks, 3rd in quarterback hits, first in quarterback hurries. The dude is a beast.
Look at the tape of Berry’s better performances from this season and you’ll find him lined over slot receivers, as a middle linebacker, as a one deep receiver, and as a traditional cover two strong safety. He is quite literally everywhere on the field for the Chiefs, especially when they line up in a 2-3-6 formation.
The down side of moving Berry around is it exposes the Chiefs’ lack of depth at safety. Berry lined up as a middle linebacker means Lewis and Quintin Demps were the two safeties deep, not an ideal situation. Talk about a missed tackle bonanza, Lewis and Demps were some of the worst tackling secondary players in the league according to Pro Football Focus. Not having a traditional strong safety in the secondary when Berry was off on his special projects made pass coverage a nightmare when the pass rush wasn’t getting there.
Husain Abdullah and Sanders Commings tag-teaming the free safety position should work just fine, but the Chiefs does not a have another true strong safety on the roster. Given Abdullah and Commings’ injury histories, expecting both of them to be healthy enough to be on the field all season is a stretch. It makes more sense for them to split time at free safety.
So who takes over for Berry? This is the key in the Chiefs secondary. Kansas City needs a thumper, true strong safety to occupy hold Berry’s traditional spot so Sutton can continue to use Berry as a weapon.
Good news for the Chiefs is there are several safeties available in the draft who could start from day one.
Kansas City isn’t looking for a day one starter so much as they are looking for a day one contributor. Throw numbers at the situation: Berry plus Abdullah plus Commings plus [insert draft pick here] should be enough to handle the safety issue. Add a more consistent pass rush and the upgrade over Robinson and the defense should be better than it was in the second half of 2013.
So who realistically fits the Chiefs needs at safety? HaHa Clinton-Dix and Calvin Pryor would be nice but neither will likely fall to the 23rd overall pick. Who of the remaining safeties could the Chiefs reasonably acquire. Let’s find out.