Word came down from the league office that Tamba Hali will serve a one-game suspension for violating the NFL’s Substance Abuse Policy. For a player who hasn’t even sniffed off-field trouble since he was drafted in 2006, this is nothing less than shocking.
So without diving in to the details of why, more important is the detail of how. As in, how on earth will the Chiefs compensate for Hali’s absence against Atlanta on September 9?
They won’t, but here are the players and options Kansas City has to work with.
Obviously, he is the best chance Kansas City has at getting Matt Ryan on the ground. He’s going to get a good taste of what Hali’s life was like before he arrived, because as of now, he is the only viable pass-rusher the Chiefs will have to ground the Dirty Birds.
This would be a very convenient time for Houston to have his coming-out party as one of the league’s dominant quarterback hunters, but the Chiefs can’t rely on the former Georgia Bulldog to suddenly flip the switch and go nuts.
Regardless, he will be an integral part of Kansas City’s defense against Atlanta, and it’s up to Glenn Dorsey, Tyson Jackson and Anthony Toribio to open up some lanes for Houston to get to Ryan.
Time to saddle up, big fella.
He’s the next in line behind Hali on the depth chart at right outside linebacker and would be the starter if not for a nagging, very unpleasant-sounding groin injury that currently has him sidelined.
The fifth-rounder from Troy hasn’t quite been able to give the Chiefs a large enough body of work to look at since being drafted in 2010. A neck injury kept him on the IR in all of 2010, 2011 saw him make one start amid mostly special teams work and 2012 may hold his most important contribution to the team yet.
If he can get over his groin setback in time, he would probably start over the guy in the next slide.
Andy Studebaker is a lovable guy. Always doing the right things, playing his heart out and knowing the defense probably as well as Crennel does. He’s the Mike Vrabel of Kansas City…after Vrabel left Kansas City.
Unfortunately, he’s not quite Vrabel enough.
Studebaker is a wonderful depth player and special teams bastion. He’s the kind of player that makes a team better because of the quality of football player he is on the second and third teams. But he is not a starter.
Originally starting over Houston at left outside linebacker in 2011, he was benched after six games in favor of the third-round pick.
I hope the Wheaton product spent the offseason eating his Wheaties because Crennel announced that, as of now, Studebaker will be the one taking Hali’s place on September 9 (h/t Pro Football Weekly). It’s a fluid situation that’s open to change, which could lead to someone unexpected taking the job.
And that unexpected someone could be Edgar Jones.
But that would be about as unexpected as Ricky Stanzi badmouthing America.
Brought in during training camp after Tony Ugoh retired and opened up a roster spot, the former Baltimore Raven isn’t even guaranteed to make the team and will rely on his special teams value to land on the final 53.
Having played three different positions with the Ravens at outside linebacker, defensive end and tight end, he seems to be competent enough mentally to handle any role. It will come down to outplaying Studebaker for a shot to line up across from Atlanta in September.
Having only recorded 22 tackles and one-and-a-half sacks in a five-year career, and hearing almost nothing about him out of camp, it doesn’t bode well for his chances. Stranger things have happened, though.
The legitimacy of this theory rests almost entirely on the health of Brandon Flowers. If Flowers can’t go because of his lingering heel issue, then Kansas should be wary of taking Berry and Arenas out of coverage.
But, if Flower Power is good to go September 9, then this may be one of Crennel’s better options for getting Justin Houston help putting pressure on the quarterback.
Berry got only two sacks during his only full season in 2010, while Arenas notched three and another in 2011. Johnson has tallied 16 in seven seasons. Not fantastic numbers, but there aren't any better options for Crennel to turn to.
It's not the perfect solution, but there really isn't a solution to replacing the Tambahawk. If Kansas City can keep Atlanta offensive coordinator Dirk Koetter guessing about where the rush is coming from, it may be just enough to keep Atlanta honest and completing many big plays to Roddy White and Julio Jones.
The moral of this story is, there's no good way to replace Hali on defense.
So what's the best chance to beat the Falcons offense? With a good Kansas City offense.
More specifically, with a good ground game.
In what is sure to be a philosophy the Chiefs adhere to throughout 2012, the best way to stop an opponent's offense is to keep yours on the field as long as possible. And Kansas City is built to do exactly that.
Ryan, White and Jones can't score if they're not on the field, and an offense with Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis chewing up yards and time will keep it that way for as long as possible.
Control the ball, win the game.
Who woulda thunk it: Jamaal Charles would replace Tamba Hali? That man can do everything.