The Kansas City Chiefs still have a coverage problem
The Kansas City Chiefs signed veteran corner Orlando Scandrick on Sunday. Scandrick may be worth a shot, but the Chiefs still have coverage issues.
The Kansas City Chiefs made a much anticipated addition to their secondary on Sunday when they signed veteran defensive back Orlando Scandrick to a one year, $1.5 million dollar deal.
The Chiefs starting defense has not looked very good through two preseason games. Chiefs fans everywhere are hoping that the trio of Eric Berry, Reggie Ragland, and Anthony Hitchens will be at full strength and ready to go for the start of the regular season. Their additions would certainly bolster the defense, especially in the center of the field. However, the other area of concern thus far has been the coverage ability of the secondary. While Scandrick’s addition certainly can’t hurt, I don’t think it will solve K.C.’s coverage issues.
Before I get to my concerns I want to reiterate that I like the Scandrick signing. The Chiefs could conceivably use Scandrick to both add to their cornerback depth or even play the corner/safety hybrid role in Bob Sutton’s defense that players like Hussain Abdullah, Ron Parker, and even recently Eric Murray have filled. With David Amerson struggling, Steven Nelson exiting last week with a concussion, Dan Sorensen out for a while, Robert Golden leaving the team, and Eric Berry being limited as a safety precaution, the signing of Scandrick was much needed.
I also want to preface this piece with the admission that I am looking at the 2018 Chiefs with the mindset of what they need to compete in the AFC this season. If your view of the Chiefs is that they don’t have a realistic shot to do anything this year, you may be perfectly content for them to play guys like Tremon Smith or even Arrion Springs this year and let them learn on the job so that they are better equipped to contribute next year and on into the future. My worry is that the coverage skills of the secondary could be the fatal flaw on an otherwise talented roster.
Areas of Concern
The 2017 Chiefs defense had four main issues. First, they were bad against the run. Second, they didn’t have enough of a pass rush. Third, they had coverage issues outside of Marcus Peters. Fourth, they were beginning to look a little old and slow.
While none of these may have been completely fixed, I do feel like the Chiefs made improvements in three of those four areas. The run defense looks like it could be improved assuming Berry, Ragland, and Hitchens can play. The additions of those three along with Xavier Williams and Derrick Nnadi on the defensive line give me hope that K.C. can be much better in that area.
The pass rush is still a work in progress but the Chiefs now have four outside linebackers in Justin Houston, Dee Ford, Tanoh Kpassagnon, and Breeland Speaks that I like rushing the passer more than both Tamba Hali and Frank Zombo who each played WAY too much last season. Chris Jones also looks poised for a big season and even the aforementioned Xavier Williams looks like he may add some interior pressure as well.
While Chiefs legends Derrick Johnson and Tamba Hali will always be loved in K.C., their replacements on the defense should add some speed and athleticism that was lacking last season. Even Ron Parker looked a step slower and a player like rookie Armani Watts could add a spark there as well.
That brings us to the final area where I’m not sure the Chiefs have improved. Last year the secondary had coverage issues outside of Marcus Peters and from what we’ve seen this preseason thus far it looks like all they’ve done is swap out Marcus Peters for Kendall Fuller. Fuller has looked fantastic so far. He sticks to his man like glue and should be a huge asset for the Chiefs. After that is where things get worrisome.
Last season the collective group of Ron Parker, Daniel Sorensen, Steven Nelson, Terrance Mitchell, Phillip Gaines, Kenneth Acker, and Eric Murray just weren’t good enough in coverage. The Chiefs have now swapped that group out for Eric Berry, Eric Murray, Armani Watts, David Amerson, Steven Nelson, Tremon Smith, Arrion Springs, and now Orlando Scandrick.
Berry’s return (assuming he’s healthy) is a great boost to the defense overall. However, while Berry has improved a lot in coverage since his rookie season, his greatest asset is as a physical presence in the box. Eric Murray and Steven Nelson both return from last season. They will hopefully improve but I don’t know that we should anticipate a huge improvement from either. Tremon Smith and Arrion Springs are promising youngsters who could have a valuable future in K.C. but realistically they need time to learn and develop before they are asked to play meaningful minutes on a team that wants to win playoff games. Armani Watts is the one rookie that may in fact have to play a lot of minutes.
If Watts can just be average, the trio of Berry, Watts, and Murray should be at least as good if not better than the safety trio of Sorensen, Parker, and Murray were last year. The real question will come down to cornerback play.
About Those Cornerbacks
If the Chiefs want improved coverage in their secondary this season it may come down to if David Amerson and Orlando Scandrick can be more effective in coverage than the combined trio of Mitchell, Gaines, and Acker were last season. While that doesn’t sound like that high of bar to beat I don’t think its safe to assume that it will happen.
While I will be the first to admit that Pro Football Focus grades aren’t perfect, I do think they can give us a good ballpark assessment as to what kind of a season a player had. Here are the PFF grades for last season for both the former and present Chiefs. First last year’s group:
- Terrance Mitchell 63.6
- Phillip Gaines 42.6
- Kenneth Acker 60.2
Now this year’s additions:
- David Amerson 45.3
- Orlando Scandrick 55.3
So last season Amerson graded out similar to Phillip Gaines and both he and Scandrick were worse than both Mitchell and Acker. That’s not very reassuring.
Now, players have bounce back seasons all the time and how a player is utilized can make a big difference. If a player is asked to do something he’s not good at he’s going to grade out poorly but if he’s put in a position that plays to his strengths he’s going to grade out much higher. That’s what the Chiefs have to be hoping for both Amerson and Scandrick. The early preseason results for Amerson haven’t been great though. Maybe Scandrick will be a different story, but considering he’s on the wrong side of 30 it’s hard to imagine him bouncing back to his peak form.
There are a couple of interesting notes on Scandrick’s PFF grades. First, while his overall grade was a 55.3 that breaks down into a 48.9 grade in coverage (not good) but a 81.6 against the run (very good). That could make one wonder if the Chiefs do plan on playing him as more of a hybrid corner/safety. There’s also this:
That doesn’t sound like a guy that is a safe bet to improve the Chiefs coverage skills, but I guess we’ll have to wait and see.
There is one player that is still available in free agency that could be a more significant upgrade. Bashaud Breeland is a proven starting caliber cornerback. His PFF grade last season was 79.0. I don’t know if the Chiefs can currently make Breeland work from a salary cap standpoint but if Brett Veach can work some magic it would be huge for K.C.. It might take getting someone to rework their contract or even releasing a player or two. For instance, if the Chiefs were to release Charcandrick West and David Amerson, it would free up over $3 million in cap space this season.
Author’s Note: Shortly after finishing this piece I saw that safety George Iloka was released by Cincinnati. While he would certainly upgrade our safety position, I still maintain that Breeland would be a more valuable addition and improve our secondary’s ability to cover more.
I’m anxious to see how Orlando Scandrick will do in Kansas City. Will he be a true corner? Will K.C. use him more as a hybrid safety? Regardless, my worry is that the Chiefs still don’t have the coverage skills they’ll need in their secondary. I hope that I’m wrong, but it still looks like their Achilles heel to me.
So what do you think Chiefs fans? Are you excited about Scandrick’s signing or do you still have major concerns about the secondary? Do you still think it’s possible that they could still pursue Bashaud Breeland? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.
As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!