Kansas City Chiefs Preview
by Jeremy Martin
Can one man make a difference on an NFL football team? That's what Kansas City Chiefs faithful are hoping this season as former head coach and defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham has returned to revamp a defense that was one of the worst in the NFL and help Coach Dick Vermeil earn another Super Bowl ring.
The Chiefs got off to a fast start last season as they jumped out of the gate with a 9-0 record. During this span the defense was creating a lot of turnovers, which covered up for the fact that there was a lack of high-caliber talent and, most importantly, on-field experience with this unit. They were exposed in some late season games and in a home playoff loss to the Colts the defense was unable to stop Peyton Manning's offense even once.
Kansas City's 2003 offense was one of the best in the history of the NFL. RB Priest Holmes set the NFL mark for touchdowns in one season. QB Trent Green came into his own as one of the top signal callers in the league and even received a Pro Bowl invite as an exclamation point.
The offensive line performed flawlessly. Even in situations when Priest Holmes was given a rest, backup Derrick Blaylock looked like an all-pro by gaining more than 5 yards per carry in limited action. The receivers were below average but that was of little consequence because of receiving weapons like TE Tony Gonzalez and Holmes out of the backfield. Dante Hall helped make the offenses' job easy (or often unnecessary) with his mesmerizing returns.
Defense, however, proved to be the team's downfall. That's why Vermeil brought in the man who he replaced in KC after the 2001 season. Cunningham brings an impressive resume. He coached some of the great Chiefs defenses in the 90s under Marty Schottenheimer. Under Cunningham, the Chiefs used an aggressive attacking style that put the opposing QB under lots of pressure.
Can Cunningham recapture that magic on D? The Chiefs decided not to pursue any big-name free agents and chose instead to go with the same squad for the upcoming campaign. The defensive guru believes that he can achieve success with this group of players. He feels there is a lot of talent on the squad and that some his up-and-coming players need to be in the right scheme in order to utilize their talents most effectively.
We will briefly examine both the offense and the defense and then follow up with some betting angles for the upcoming season:
Offense: The Chiefs may be just as good on offense and they could even be better, believe it or not. Offensive Coordinator Al Saunders is a genius and he is probably on most GM's short list if their head guy doesn't perform in 2004. And he has a lot of weapons to work with - including Holmes and Gonzalez, who will both likely wind up in the Hall of Fame one day. Green may be even better in 2004, especially if his WRs step up their game.
Much like the Chiefs' defense, this unit comes back almost fully intact. Its one notable loss was Tackle John Tait, a mainstay on the O-line. However, his replacement, John Welbourn - acquired in a trade from the Eagles -- may be an upgrade at the position from what team officials are saying.
Holmes will be hard pressed to match or surpass the 27 rushing touchdowns that he scored last season. That's not because he doesn't have the talent, but the coaches want to lessen his workload and also let backups Blaylock and former first-round pick Larry Johnson get some work. Even if Holmes were to go down for a considerable period of time, it shouldn't be a huge drop-off in production because of the talent behind him on the depth chart and the strength of the offensive line.
The WR trio of Johnnie Morton, Eddie Kennison and Marc Boerigter struggled most of the season but that position is not of major importance on this team. There is enough talent around them that -- even if none of them breaks out with a huge season - the Chiefs offense will be fine. Look for Dante Hall to get more balls thrown his way at the WR position after an increased role last season.
Another player to look at will be rookie TE Kris Wilson, a multi-purpose threat. He has been one of the stars of training camp and will likely see a lot of action as the season goes along.
Defense: This unit doesn't need to be a top-10 defense in order for the Chiefs to become a Super Bowl-caliber team. It just needs to get to the middle of the pack. Former coordinator Greg Robinson was canned and Cunningham was rehired to provide a simpler scheme and to install a more aggressive attitude.
Cunningham's first task will be to bring the best out of the talent the team already has on the roster. And many NFL fans, after witnessing last season's results, would be surprised to know that there is talent there. There are a handful of players that haven't been able to prove their worth on the field in Kansas City.
Most notable are CB Eric Warfield and DT Ryan Sims. On paper these guys should be the leaders on the defense and they are already being paid as such. If Cunningham can help these two become the stars they should be, the Chiefs defense will get to where it needs to be.
Outlook: Even with all of the team's defensive problems, the Chiefs are still one of the favorites to reach the Super Bowl in the AFC. We feel they will win their division with 11 wins but it is yet to be seen if they have what it takes to reach the next level.
Whatever happens with the defense, the Chiefs will be playoff tested once December comes around. They have one of the toughest schedules in the league including games against BOTH Super Bowl teams - New England and Carolina.
Bookies say there was no bigger public team than the Chiefs were in 2003. There were certain games (especially the Monday night game against the Raiders) where the sportsbooks could not book action against the Chiefs. The public loves to bet a high scoring team. The public loves offense. Their status as a public darling will likely continue this season and there could be some great value in going against them especially as favorites of three points or more. If Kansas City gets off to a fast start again, watch for the numbers to become inflated with great value on the opposite side.
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