Sep 7, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs inside linebacker Derrick Johnson (56) leaves the field on a cart against the Tennessee Titans in the first half at Arrowhead Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
So, why was the run defense so bad?
First off, the Kansas City defense was hit by the injury bug. Both Mike DeVito and Derrick Johnson were cropped for the whole season after going down against the Tennessee Titans in Week 1. Devito, per Pro Football Focus, was the highest-rated run defender for Kansas City in 2013, and Johnson made 91 tackles that same year. The loss of those two was a clear detriment to the quality of the Chiefs’ run defense, and is a significant reason as to why rushers were able to waltz through the front seven.
However, there is more behind the woes of Kansas City’s run defense than just injuries. The inside linebacker pair of James-Michael Johnson and Josh Mauga struggled at times in Johnson’s absence, especially in the tackling department. Mauga had 21 missed tackles throughout the season, including five against the Broncos when CJ Anderson racked up 168 yards. He also had a key missed tackle on Latavius Murray as he took a 90-yard touchdown to the house.
While Mauga did have some good games, and acquitted himself well (he did make a team-leading 103 tackles), especially during the strong run from Weeks 4-11, he was a clear downgrade from Johnson. Mauga does not deserve to shoulder the whole of the blame, but some should certainly lie at his doorstep.
How can the Chiefs’ run defense be improved?
The return of Johnson and Devito is a major upgrade to the Kansas City roster. Devito is a good run defender, and DJ has been one of the best inside linebackers in the league over the last half-decade. However, there is an underrated part of the team in Kansas City that will have a key influence in improving the run defense. This man is defensive coordinator Bob Sutton.
“Yes, the run defense was woeful last season, but it is scheduled to improve significantly with the additions through the draft, the return of DJ and Devito and most importantly perhaps, the improved talent that Bob Sutton is able to work with.”
The worst night of the season came against Oakland on Thursday Night Football when the Chiefs were blown out the water by Murray in the first quarter with four carries. In the second game, Sutton subtly changed the defensive formation to help prevent Murray running ragged again. This change was to push Tamba Hali and Houston forward a couple of yards, creating a five-man front.
This formation is known as the Bear defense and has been experimented with before. In making this slight change, Sutton was able to occupy the whole of the Oakland offensive line with the Chiefs defensive line and two outside linebackers. Hali and Houston are then able to set the edge, while Sutton can stack the box to prevent the run up the gut.
The issue with this form of defense is in the passing game. It requires an excellent secondary, as there is one-on-one coverage all over the field. The secondary at Arrowhead, however, is already more than adequate and now that it has been addressed in the draft, the Chiefs secondary will hopefully be one of the best in the league again. This will allow Sutton to dial up such defensive schemes and experiment with a more talented roster.
On the defensive side of the ball, Dorsey and Reid needed to address the run defense throughout the summer. Initially, the return of Johnson and Devito is a major boost to an already impressive defensive line and linebacker core. Furthermore, Dorsey added to the linebackers by drafting Ramik Wilson and DJ Alexander in the fourth and fifth rounds. Hopefully at least one will have an impact in the coming season.
The other positive that Kansas City has in handling the run in 2015 is the drafting of Marcus Peters and Steven Nelson. Nelson is a fantastic tackler, and Peters is arguably the best corner in the rookie class.
So, yes, the run defense was woeful last season. Yes, DJ and Devito are getting older and are coming back from year-long injuries. And yes, Mauga, though a hard worker, is not an elite inside linebacker. But the Chiefs run defense is scheduled to improve significantly next year.
Do you agree that the run defense is set to improve in the following season? Let me know in the comments below!!