The Kansas City Chiefs were well known for their defense for most of the 2013 season. The team's defense finished in the top 10 in sacks, takeaways, defensive touchdowns and stopping the pass.
The defense was represented well in the 2014 NFL Pro Bowl with six Chiefs defensive players participating, with the team returning five of those Pro Bowlers.
But with Kansas City's defense slipping after the 9-0 start last season, the question is posed: Is Kansas City's defense for real?
When a team goes 9-0, lots of things get noticed by the national media and fans outside of Kansas City. However, the defensive effort the Chiefs had in 2013 shouldn't have been a surprise to fans in Kansas City. In fact, this defensive personnel has been mostly the same for a couple of years and have been strong even when the team captured only nine games in the two years prior to coach Andy Reid's arrival.
Exhibit A: 2011—Week 15 vs. Green Bay
The Green Bay Packers entered Arrowhead Stadium with a 13-0 record while the Chiefs were 5-8 and had changed their head coach and starting quarterback six days prior to this game. But the Packers' high-powered offense was kept quiet throughout this match.
Outside linebacker Tamba Hali was responsible for three of the team's four sacks while the Packers had just 14 points, with one touchdown in each half. Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers had a tough time dealing with Kansas City's pass rush as he went 17 of 35, completing 49 percent of his passes.
The Chiefs stunned the Packers, 19-14. The 14 points scored by the Packers was their fewest all year.
Although the Chiefs pulled off just three wins during this stretch, the defense limited its opponents to fewer than 20 points in six of the final eight games, with then-rookie outside linebacker Justin Houston's surge beginning midway through the season.
Exhibit B: 2012—Week 5 vs. Baltimore
Four months before Baltimore won the Super Bowl, its offense struggled against Kansas City's ferocious defense. The Chiefs had every reason to win this game, but the lack of offensive production allowed the Ravens to walk out of Arrowhead Stadium with a win in a field-goal duel. Nine points was all Baltimore could put on the scoreboard.
Hali and Houston each collected a pair of sacks. Joe Flacco completed only 48 percent of his passes while throwing for 187 yards, no touchdowns, one interception and was sacked four times. But Baltimore's nine points was just enough to get the job done.
The Chiefs fell short, 9-6. The nine points scored by the Ravens was the fewest throughout their 20-game Super Bowl winning season.
Fast forward to Kansas City's 2013 season when it started 9-0. What Kansas City's defense did in the first nine games was not a fluke. Its performance was similar to how it did in recent memory against the Packers and Ravens.
What is the difference? Because of the 9-0 start, the Chiefs defense was finally recognized each week.
2013 wasn't the first time the Chiefs had a dominant defense. Had the offense produced more points on a consistent basis in 2011 and 2012, the Chiefs would have won more than nine games combined in those two years.
The Chiefs have standout players at every part of the defense. Up front with the defensive line, nose tackle Dontari Poe made a big step forward in his second season. Defensive end Mike DeVito looks to have a bigger hand in the team's pass-rushing department while Allen Bailey fills in for Tyson Jackson at left end.
Kansas City's linebacking corp is the best in the NFL. Hali and Houston were missed in the team's first meeting against the Chargers when both players suffered game-ending injuries, allowing the Chargers to rally in the second half to beat the Chiefs. With Hali and Houston returning, the Chiefs drafted outside linebacker Dee Ford to add to an already powerful pass rush.
The defensive backs are a concern, but Kansas City has lacked a good secondary in the past and has managed to get through just fine. Led by Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry, the safeties and cornerbacks will get plenty of help from the front seven. Once the pass rush is applied on quarterbacks, the defensive backs will get a chance at some easy interceptions from ill-advised throws.
Now that Kansas City has a three-dimensional football team, with help from all three facets of the game, the defense earned its long overdue praise.
Like any defense, the unit still has its faults and bad games. But for the most part, it will continue to do what it has done since 2011.
In 2014, the defense will be tested as the opposing offenses are much greater than the ones from last season. The Chiefs will go up against some offenses that either made it to the postseason or finished as one of the top offenses in the league. That list includes the Patriots, 49ers, Seahawks and Cardinals. In addition, the Chiefs will face the Broncos and the Chargers twice, both of which placed in the top five in total offense.
Playing well against all of those teams is a tall order, and defensive coordinator Bob Sutton has to prepare his players well. But don't write off this defense going into games against some of those powerhouse offenses. The defense will create plenty of opportunities to help the Chiefs win in some of those big games. It will be up to the offense to balance everything out and help pick up a win.