Ed. Note: Every evening from now until July 26 – the day every Chiefs player is expected to report for training camp – we will countdown and discuss some of the more important questions for the 2013 Kansas City Chiefs.
No position group on the defensive side of the ball saw more turnover than the secondary this past offseason.
Among the many moves includes the signings of Husain Abdullah, Dunta Robinson, and Sean Smith, and the drafting of fifth rounder Sanders Commings. While Javier Arenas and Abram Elam are the only defensive back to officially be gone from the roster, one can assume the addition of four secondary players should mean there are more axes to fall in the secondary.
The upgrades at cornerback should be huge for the Chiefs defense this season. Smith and Robinson represent significant upgrades over Arenas and … well whoever it was we threw out there as the corner opposite of Brandon Flowers. The Chiefs had the worst rating in the NFL against three wide receiver sets, according to Football Outsiders, so the massive upgrades at the position should help improve Kansas City in those situations significantly.
It also comes in handy that the Denver Broncos, the best team in the AFC West, will require opponents to have three above average corners in order to guard their plethora of wide receivers. One can go ahead and assume Wes Welker, Demaryius Thomas, and Eric Decker are going to be on the field at the same time a lot this season. The Chiefs are in a much better position to defend that scenario this season than they were last.
But ultimately the key to the Chiefs secondary is going to be Eric Berry.
Berry took longer than Jamaal Charles to fully come back from his knee surgery, gaining his speed and quickness back in the second half of last season. What most fans will remember from him last season, however, was getting torched by big tight ends. His inability to cover tight ends one-on-one, particularly Antonio Gates, was something so obvious it could be recognized by even the most novice of fans.
Part of problem was because of the scheme Romeo Crennel was throwing out there week after week and the lack of talent in the secondary. But most of the problem was Berry’s inability to cover as he allowed 17 first downs and 5 touchdowns last season in coverage, making him one of the tone most vulnerable safeties in coverage in the NFL last season.
Add up Berry’s injury issues, the scheme, and the roster and Berry found himself ranked 43rd amongst all safeties by Pro Football Focus.
But Berry showed in the second half of the season he can be the All-Pro safety he was hyped to be when he was drafted in 2010. In those final eight games Berry recorded two 11 tackle games, defended eight passes (had just 2 in first 8 games), and had six tackles for loss. The speed, quickness, and power seemed to return in the second half. With the improved second half and another year removed from knee sugary the hope is Berry can start reaching his high expectations.
If Berry does hit those expectations then the whole defensive outlook changes. Berry is a guy who can influence a game in the box or as a “center fielder.” His ability to make plays as a push rusher and defender as well as in the running game would make him the biggest game changer on the Chiefs defense.
Kansas City had all kinds of problems forcing turnovers in 2012, taking away the ball just 13 times, and they really did nothing in the offseason to add a playmaker. Smith has just five interceptions in 63 games in his career, and Robinson has only four interceptions in his last 63 games. Both are very solid cornerbacks but neither makes many game-changing plays. Berry is really the only guy on the team with the potential to disrupt an opposing team’s offense by creating turnovers or shutting down an important aspect of their offense.
In other words, Berry is the only guy on the defensive side of the ball who can be a stat sheet stuffer. Should Berry break out in 2013 and become the playmaker the Chiefs have been lacking on the defensive side of the ball then Kansas City’s defense could easily end up being one of the best in football.
But as of now, it is a big “if.”