What's Wrong with the Kansas City Chiefs' 3-4 Defense, Part One: The Personnel

Russell FikeCorrespondent IMarch 29, 2017

I like the 3-4 defense.

I like how creative a team can be with its blitzes.  

I like having more playmakers on the field at the linebacker spot.  

I like rangy, athletic linebackers who can lay a hit or make a pick with soft hands.  

I like the zone-blitz packages that rattle young quarterbacks.  

I like the 3-4 defense when it's done well.

Kansas City does not play the 3-4 well.  

When the Chiefs made Clancy Pendergast, formerly of the Arizona Cardinals, their defensive coordinator, it became immediately clear the speculation of the franchise moving to a 3-4 was a reality.

With the entire offseason ahead of him, General Manager Scott Pioli had to acquire the tools to make this transition work.  

Perhaps the greatest card in the Chiefs' hand was the third-overall pick in the draft.

I know it's easy to evaluate a team critically in retrospect, but let's point out what the Chiefs missed out on by drafting defensive end Tyson Jackson with their first pick.

Admittedly, the jury is still out on Jackson.  

Over several seasons he may prove a solid contributor, but no one expects him to be a Pro Bowl talent.  

However, let's look at his stats this year.

Starting 11 games and appearing in 12, Jackson has totaled 17 tackles with no sacks and no forced fumbles.   


Who the Chiefs Missed Out On to Draft Tyson Jackson:


1) Aaron Curry: 56 tackles, two sacks, and two fumbles forced

The linebacker out of Wake Forest would have been ideal to begin building a 3-4 defense around.  

Linebacker is the position requiring the most depth and the biggest range of skills for any position.  

Detroit Lions head coach Jim Schwartz said of Curry's position at Wake, "You have to be really strong. But they also put him out in space...almost like a nickelback. Those are two almost mutually exclusive skill sets."


2) Brian Orakpo: 40 tackles, seven sacks

The winner of college football's awards for best defensive player and best defensive end, Orakpo has become an outside linebacker for the Washington Redskins.  

He wreaks havoc as a tenacious pass rusher.


3) Clay Matthews: 35 tackles, seven sacks, and two forced fumbles starting nine games

Matthews was the least-renowned of the three USC Trojan linebackers chosen in the 2009 draft.  

Although all three are starters making real contributions.  

Matthews plays in Green Bay's 3-4 and is obviously a weapon, given his sack total.  

His instincts are starting to kick in, and he was a highlight reel in this week's Monday night game against the Baltimore Ravens.

Now, it isn't really fair to compare tackling totals of linebackers with a defensive end.

So, let's compare Jackson to another defensive lineman.  

How about a defensive tackle?  

That's a selfless position that doesn't need an impressive stat line to prove they make a difference.


4) B.J. Raji: 17 tackles, one sack

The defensive tackle out of Boston College hasn't started a single game for the Green Bay Packers, and still shows more impressive stats than defensive end Jackson.  

Raji has huge upside and was viewed as the consensus top defensive tackle of the '09 draft.  

Raji could have been the nose tackle that the 3-4 relies on that requires two offensive linemen to block and clog the running lanes inside.  

What the Chiefs missed out on becomes even more glaring as we examine the numbers of the team's star outside linebacker, Tamba Hali.


5) Tamba Hali: 51 tackles, 6.5 sacks, and four forced fumbles.  

Fewer sacks than either Matthews or Orakpo and fewer tackles than Curry, Hali would have even better numbers if teams had to compensate for any of the above players playing alongside Hali.


What the Chiefs Do Have

Kansas City's linebacking corp is a hodge-podge of newcomers, journeymen, and converted defensive linemen.  

With linebacker meant to be the spotlight position of the 3-4, this rag-tag assembly hasn't come through.

While I've lobbied to see former first-round draft pick Derrick Johnson on the field, it is clear from game footage that he is a timid tackler.  

Despite outstanding athleticism, the extra three to four yards he gives up in making a tackle are inexcusable.

Jovan Belcher and Corey Mays are functional but not exceptional at inside linebacker.  

These are the players I would love to see on the roster as backups.  

Spelling playmaking starters, where you're happy for them every time they make a play. 

Demorrio Williams is catching up to another 100-tackle season as the other inside linebacker. Williams has broken a hundred tackles once before with the Atlanta Falcons, but could do this a lot more with the Chiefs. At the other outside linebacker spot, Andy Studebaker has outplayed veteran Mike Vrabel in his two opportunities to start.  

Studebaker was the star of the game in the win against Pittsburgh, pulling down two interceptions. He showed great pass-rush in the preseason as well.  

Studebaker and Hali are interesting prospects as converted defensive linemen. Questions still arise surrounding their ability to play in open space and cover receivers, and the pass rush is still less than ideal.

In the secondary, Jon McGraw is another function, but not exceptional player.  

His tackling fundamentals are good near the line of scrimmage but deteriorate as he is required to make plays downfield.

McGraw is consistently late in coverage and is only starting because of an injury to starter Jarrard Page. Unfortunately, it appeared early in the season that Page may have maxed out his potential and may do better with another team a la Bernard Pollard in Houston or Alfonso Boone in San Diego.  

Why do these players only look weak on our team?

Mike Brown is a ball-hawk type safety the Chiefs want a younger version of.  

It's hard not to like what the Chiefs have on the corners. Brandon Flowers and Brandon Carr are a duo that will continue to develop together and be a strong tandem for years to come.  

Carr has some difficulty covering the short passing game, but this may be scheme as much as skill. 

It's clear something (many things) are wrong in Kansas City, and the 3-4 defense is one of them.  

It's clear the personnel wasn't there, and KC forced the issue.  

Part Two will focus on how the Chiefs don't maximize the potential of the 3-4 by watering down the potentially complicated defense.


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