The Kansas City Chiefs had a talented defense in 2012, but they had a few holes and were brutalized by their own terrible offense that turned the ball over 37 times and scored a league-low 211 points. Coming into 2013 with basically the same impact players, the expectations by fans and followers was surprisingly high.
Coming into this season, Bleacher Report Featured Columnist Benjamin Allbright suggested that the Chiefs may have built a top-five defense, but not many people were expecting the Chiefs to be this dominant. In fact, there was surprisingly little talk about the defense until recently.
With the offense struggling and the Chiefs moving to 3-0 with a 26-16 road win over the Philadelphia Eagles Thursday, the defense is now getting the credit they deserve. Kansas City even seemed to figure out a way to stop Chip Kelly's high-octane offense.
With three games in the books, it certainly appears as though the Chiefs defense is even better than advertised. Contributing factors include moves in the offseason to plug the holes in the secondary, the attacking scheme of defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, the further development of young players like nose tackle Dontari Poe, and an offense that—despite its faults—isn't turning the ball over.
The Chiefs are allowing just 11.3 points and 309 yards per game; both of them projected over 16 games would have been top five in 2012. With nine turnovers, the Chiefs are on pace for 48, which would have been tops in the league last year.
That's not to mention the 14 sacks the Chiefs now have through three games, which puts them on pace for 75—23 more than the best team in 2012. These statistics are due for correction with a larger sample size and two games against Peyton Manning, but the Chiefs are playing phenomenal defense thus far in 2013.
Against the Cowboys, the Chiefs brought their exotic blitz package and beat Tony Romo. Against Chip Kelly's Eagles, they played press-man coverage with a single deep safety and extra man in the box. Quarterback Michael Vick couldn't make a play with the relentless pass rush of Justin Houston getting to him four times (3.5 sacks).
Houston also had four tackles for a loss, three passes defensed, a forced fumble and two fumble recoveries. Now with 6.5 sacks, Houston is an early candidate to break the single-season sack record.
Teams are going to have to slide protection to Houston's side, but with Tamba Hali on the opposite side and receivers swallowed up by Brandon Flowers and Sean Smith, that's easier said than done. Quarterbacks that can't fit the ball into tight windows against the Chiefs are going to struggle.
The Chiefs don't have a lot of holes on defense and they also have proved their versatility. Not many teams are so confident in their safeties that they will line them up against slot receivers in coverage.
Sutton has done masterful job both putting his players in position to be successful while simultaneously using the type of defense that is best-suited to stop the opposing offense. That's a recipe for a dominant defense and a model that is also sustainable.
Quality additions like Smith, Quintin Demps, Husain Abdullah and Dunta Robinson in the secondary have really helped the Chiefs in their sub-packages. No longer can opposing teams spread them out or isolate a defender and have success.
Defensive end Mike DeVito was also signed in the offseason and has been a steady presence on the defensive line. The addition of linebacker Akeem Jordan as a quality thumper when K.C. uses its base personnel has also been a success.
The star-power may be the same, but solid veteran additions and the scheme are setting them free. Eric Berry—who had a pick-six on a tipped pass by middle linebacker Derrick Johnson Thursday night—is one player really benefiting from the scheme change.
There isn't a player on this defense playing poorly, which is a testament to the coaching, scheme and the players. Rarely do things mesh so quickly, but the fact that they are is a big reason the Chiefs are 3-0. Even though the expectations of Kansas City fans for the defense were surprisingly high, even they probably didn’t expect such a formidable start.