Kansas City Chiefs will rely heavily on safety group in 2018
The Kansas City Chiefs defense has some major holes on defense which they will rely heavily on their safety group to cover up.
Kansas City Chiefs fans saw the weakest performance from their defense since head coach Andy Reid, and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton came to town last season.
Star safety Eric Berry going down with a season-ending injury in week one was only the tip of the iceberg. Inside linebacker and Chiefs legend Derrick Johnson took a major step backward last season, while players like cornerback Steven Nelson and outside linebacker Dee Ford spent significant amounts of time not on the field due to injuries.
Every level of the defense shared the blame for the struggles of the 2017 season. Ranking 28th in yards per game given up last season shows that. The bend-but-don’t-break philosophy that Sutton revolves his defense around broke last season as the team ranked 15th in points per game given up. During Sutton’s first three seasons with the team, the Chiefs ranked in the top five among points given up per game. The last two years we have seen it fall some, and Sutton and head coach Andy Reid blame the talent on the defensive side of the ball for that struggle.
Reid decided to retain Sutton this offseason, showing his support in an attempt to prove that it was not the scheme that hurt the defensive production, but the player’s production instead. General Manager Brett Veach decided he had enough after another miserable loss in the playoffs to the Tennessee Titans when the defense couldn’t get off of the field. Allowing Tennessee to run all over the defense and eat up the clock, Veach vowed to find players that bring a nasty to the team and are willing to play all four quarters.
Given that there are still significant holes in this Chiefs defense, the safety group will be heavily relied on in the 2018 season for the defense to have any success. The return of Eric Berry should help significantly as not only a versatile playmaker but also as a leader on defense who gets the most out of his teammates. Daniel Sorensen will return hopefully to his 2016 role in which he had a breakout season and fourth-round pick Armani Watts to take over after the release of safety Ron Parker.
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Kansas City will also need their playmakers to step up this season and force turnovers after trading the NFL’s top turnover machine to the Los Angeles Rams this season. Without cornerback Marcus Peters in a Chiefs uniform, the defense no longer has one side of the field locked down. The Chiefs acquired cornerback Kendall Fuller in a trade with the Redskins, but given some of the comments coming out of camp from coaches, Fuller will possibly play primarily in the slot cornerback position.
Unless the Chiefs can get a better pass rush on opposing quarterbacks this season, the safety group will have a massive task to help cover up some of the holes on the defense. Berry will roam the defense once again this season as a versatile safety that can be plugged in anywhere. His ability to line up all over the field keeps quarterbacks guessing and significantly hides some of the defenses weaknesses. This proved true after his injury when the entire defense looked like a mess.
Without Ron Parker playing single high, the Chiefs will have to rely on Sorensen and Watts to play up top. Sorensen was exposed last season over and over as Sutton tried to play him in Berry’s role for most of the season. He tried having Sorensen line up down inside the box to make up for the weak inside linebacker position, and he ended up getting washed out of plays quickly by offensive linemen.
Hopefully, the addition of Armani Watts will allow the Chiefs to place Sorensen in his 2016 role where he had some success. When looking over the film of Watts, I could see why Veach was drawn to him. An aggressive player that loves to make a play on the ball and deliver hard hits is exactly what this defense needs. It’s no secret the defense has been called soft the past few years, and Veach wants to change that attitude.
Watts brings another versatile weapon to the Kansas City defense. He can move around the field like Berry, but he should find most of his time as a high safety or dropping down into coverage at the line of scrimmage. Like Berry, Watts has excellent instincts and the ability to make a significant impact in the running game and picks apart screens at a high level. The traits I saw that needed slight improvement are some of his pursuit angles and being overly aggressive at times that got him into trouble.
While Parker was a good safety for the Chiefs over the years, he lacked that ball-hawking mentality that the Chiefs will desperately need in 2018. Watts will add some of that very mentality to the back end of the defense along with Sorensen as he returns to his 2016 role. Sorensen plays better when on the back half of the defense, which could bring more opportunities for him this season.
Sorensen’s best play comes in the deeper zones of the defense. He still has struggled in the deep zones as he is late to the catch point resulting in a tackle instead of a pass deflection or interception due to dropping too deep. If he can stay in the shallow part of the deep zones, Sorensen possesses excellent pursuit speed and can make more plays on the ball.
Playing Sorensen in zones lower on the defense was where he was most exposed. Often biting too hard on fakes or his first read coming into his zones, Sorensen got picked apart last season. If he can result back to his deeper zones as the last line of defense and be a sure tackler, it will allow Sutton to put Berry and Watts into better positions to make a play on the ball.
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I’m interested to see how Sutton deploys his safety group this season and if he can work to his player’s strengths instead of asking them to play roles that they are not comfortable with. Sutton waited too long last season before moving Sorensen into the back part of the defense, and that will have to change in 2018. If Sorensen reverts to the third safety role and Watts can take over the position left open by Parker, I think we could see an improved Chiefs defense this season.