KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The biggest question mark on the Chiefs defense entering the 2014 season surrounded the pass defense and for good reason.
The Chiefs allowed an average of 306 yards passing per game the final seven games of the 2013 regular season to finish ranked 25th against the pass (247.6 yards allowed per game).
Kansas City overhauled the unit during the offseason by cutting ties with cornerbacks Brandon Flowers and Dunta Robinson, and free safeties Kendrick Lewis and Quintin Demps.
The Chiefs started over, but the changes provided immediate results against notable NFL gunslingers Peyton Manning, Philip Rivers, Tom Brady and Ben Roethlisberger, among others.
“I thought it was fascinating when somebody put a stat on my desk today that the defense didn’t allow with the likes of the quarterbacks they faced this year, none of them had 300-yard games against them,” general manager John Dorsey said during a Monday media session with Chiefs beat writers. “I think that’s an admirable stat.”
The Chiefs more than rebounded from 2013 and finished the 2014 season ranked second against the pass (203.2 yards allowed per game) in addition to not allowing a 300-yard passer.
The latter proves a remarkable feat considering the nature of a pass-heavy modern NFL and the personnel changes to the Chiefs defensive secondary.
“People don’t even really know about that stat,” cornerback Sean Smith said following the Chiefs’ final regular-season game. “We’ve got some young guys that just played their hearts out. They go out there, week-in and week-out. One week they’re at corner, next week they’re at safety, you got a new guy in starting this week. But it doesn’t matter who you put in, we go out there and play as a unit. That’s something we got to be proud of.”
Husain Abdullah took over the free safety position from Lewis, the 2013 starter, and Chris Owens, who signed a free-agent contract in March, took over at nickel cornerback from Flowers.
But then it got interesting at the other positions.
Smith returned as the starter at right cornerback following a three-way battle in training camp with Marcus Cooper and Ron Parker.
Cooper started the season at left cornerback, but was banished to the bench after the team’s Week 6 bye. The second-year pro was relegated to special teams as the second half of the season progressed before being a healthy inactive for the Chiefs’ final two games.
Parker proved to be the most versatile in the defensive backfield. The fourth-year pro played strong safety and cornerback before moving back to strong safety to replace Eric Berry, who missed five games with a high ankle sprain before landing on the non-football injury list in Week 13 with lymphoma.
Third-year pro Jamell Fleming, whom the Chiefs signed off the Baltimore Ravens practice squad in Week 2, supplanted Cooper at left cornerback in Week 7 and started four games.
Rookie Phillip Gaines, the team’s third-round pick of the 2014 NFL Draft, started five games.
Backup strong safety Kurt Coleman recorded two interceptions in Week 17, while backup free safeties Kelcie McCray and rookie Daniel Sorensen were solid contributors on special teams.
Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, defensive backs coach Emmitt Thomas and defensive assistant/secondary coach Al Harris went through the season without household names or a 2014 Pro Bowl selection in the defensive secondary.
But the unit showed it didn’t need either while maintaining a chokehold as one of the league’s top defenses against the pass.
“I think the coaches deserve a huge amount of credit,” Dorsey said. “I think from the creative side of the game planning, I think Bob and his staff deserve a heck of a lot of credit on that.”
Proving doubters wrong throughout the year became a source of pride and motivation for the defensive secondary.
And in some cases, the performances allowed unheralded players such as Parker an opportunity to become recognized as the season progressed.
“We take pride in our pass defense this year because we know we had underrated guys,” Parker said after Week 17’s game. “I knew deep down inside I wasn’t going to get a lot of love from the fans because I’m kind of unknown. We kind of tried to take that and with a bunch of unknown guys in this secondary, we tried to just work hard together and we did a good job of attacking every week and staying motivated to stay in the Top 5 in the pass defense.”
Smith agreed as he reflected on the preseason prognostications to what the pass defense eventually became.
“Everybody kind of wrote us of, especially in the secondary,” Smith said. “We had so many pieces moving around, shifting and things like that. We’re the No. 2 pass defense in the NFL for the past seven weeks now, so I’m proud of my young guys back here who definitely stepped up in a bigger role without Eric Berry. We definitely went out there and took care of business.”