Among all the positions the Kansas City Chiefs had to address this offseason, the defensive line was probably the one that required the most attention. If you’re willing to think back to last year’s AFC Championship game against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Chiefs pass-rush was essentially non-existent and one of the biggest reasons they lost that game.
The defensive line was a problem really all year long in 2021 and it was clear after just the first few weeks of the season that the team did not have enough and they struggled to get to the quarterback as they ranked 30th in the league in sacks last season. Latching onto the hope that Chris Jones could fill two spots by playing defensive end and that Alex Okafor had gas left in the tank was simply a bad approach.
Brett Veach likely learned from the mistake of banking on the “in-house” option that he did last offseason as he went out and used a first round pick on George Karlaftis and made the universally approved signing of Carlos Dunlap who had 8.5 sacks for the Seattle Seahawks in 2021. Both moves drastically improved the perception of the Chiefs pass-rush on paper and it meant that they didn’t have to rely so heavily on Frank Clark and Chris Jones putting out in 2022.
Arizona is a solid group to gauge what the Chiefs have in the pass-rush department, an area they struggled in mightily even against bad competition in 2021.
Luckily, we will probably have a good idea of whether or not the Chiefs pass-rush is headed in the right direction in week one versus the Cardinals who have a formidable offensive line.
The Cardinals feature some big names up front including former Chief Rodney Hudson who remains one of the best centers in the league. D.J. Humphries and Kelvin Beachum will man the bookends and though they are both on the downward trend in their careers, they are a solid group as is the Cardinal’s offensive line overall which will make for a good measuring stick for the Chiefs defensive line early on.
Furthermore, it will be a chance to observe the fundamental differences in the Chiefs defensive line compared to last year given the change to Joe Cullen at defensive line coach.
Obviously, everyone is excited to see rookie George Karlaftis in his first regular season game as a Chief after a tremendous preseason and newcomer Carlos Dunlap, rightfully. However, seeing Frank Clark in a rotational role after transforming his body this offseason could spice things up.
Last year, the Chiefs did Chris Jones and the team a disservice by moving him outside to start the season. He clearly was most effective inside but the reason they did it was because they lacked edge depth. Not only do the Chiefs now have that depth, but they probably have the most talent at the position since Chris Jones had his career-high 15.5 sack season with Justin Houston and Dee Ford. Jones was doing most of the heavy lifting for the pass-rush the last couple years.
Lastly, the interior behind Jones, Khalen Saunders and Tershawn Wharton both looked fantastic in preseason and more specifically, Saunders needs this year to be good to stay in Kansas City long-term. Does he finally make the jump this year? He’ll have a chance to prove his wroth against a sturdy Cardinals interior that includes Justin Pugh and Will Hernandez.
The Cardinals offensive line isn’t elite by any means. They only ranked 15th among all offensive lines in 2021 according to PFF. That said, they are a decent enough group to gauge what the Chiefs have in the pass-rush department, an area they struggled in mightily even against mediocre competition in 2021.