Chiefs buck league-wide preference for offense by playing defense

Oct 26, 2014; Kansas City, MO; Chiefs outside linebackers Justin Houston (50) and Tamba Hali (91) celebrate after a sack against the St. Louis Rams at Arrowhead Stadium. Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
Oct 26, 2014; Kansas City, MO; Chiefs outside linebackers Justin Houston (50) and Tamba Hali (91) celebrate after a sack against the St. Louis Rams at Arrowhead Stadium. Credit: John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – High-scoring games and mind-blowing passing numbers are the norm in a modern NFL where weekly production resembles an office Fantasy Football league.

The Chiefs can score points, too, evidenced by a respectable 25.1 points per game average, which ranks 11th in the league.

Still, a concept survives in Kansas City contrary to the NFL’s apparent lust for offense: The Chiefs play defense.

Take it from a player who goes against the defensive unit in practice, and those workouts now help with weekly preparations.

“We play against the defense all through camp and offseason that plays every front there is,” quarterback Alex Smith said. “They play every coverage there is. You’re getting everything. You don’t come out of camp not having faced a certain look or needing practice against a certain look because they give you everything. In that sense, you get a lot of the problems and kinks ironed out.”

Numbers, of course, can be tweaked to make a point. But in this case it is best to let the statistics speak for itself.

The Chiefs are third in total defense, allowing 308.6 total yards per game, and third in points allowed per game (18.3).

While the Chiefs rank 18th against the run (112.9 yards allowed per game), which is below average, the team does much better where it matters. Kansas City is the last team in the NFL to not allow a rushing touchdown on the season after the Buffalo Bills surrendered three rushing touchdowns to the New York Jets in Week 8.

The Chiefs ability to play the run arrives without Pro Bowl inside linebacker Derrick Johnson and defensive end Mike DeVito, both of whom were placed on injured reserve with ruptured Achilles tendons suffered in Week 1.

The capacity to keep running backs out of the end zone is a source of pride.

“That happens during the week when we have those 9-on-7 drills,” defensive lineman Kevin Vickerson said. “Those run periods, red zone and short yardage. Guys are paying attention to detail and trying to get up the field on third down. We just try to play our gaps and everybody is flying around. We have a group of guys that are flying around and playing hard, eventually good stuff is going to happen.”

Arguably the most-impressive statistic surrounds what the Chiefs are doing against the pass despite the NFL’s point of emphasis on enforcing illegal contact and defensive holding, rules designed to arguably slant in favor of the offense.

Kansas City ranks first against the pass, allowing a throwback-like 195.7 yards per game, and are one of four teams in the league to not allow a 300-yard passer on the season. The New England Patriots, Miami Dolphins and Seattle Seahawks are the other teams.

And the Chiefs haven’t faced slouches with past games against Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (242 yards), New England Patriots quarterback Tom Brady (159 yards) and San Diego Chargers quarterback Philip Rivers (202 yards).

The ranking comes in the face of personnel changes in the secondary, notably Husain Abdullah replacing last year’s starting free safety Kendrick Lewis and cornerback Chris Owens replacing Brandon Flowers.

The Chiefs have also played five straight games without All-Pro strong safety Eric Berry, who suffered a high ankle sprain in Week 2. Defensive back Ron Parker, who ranks second on the team in with 33 tackles (29 solo), has proven a more than capable fill for Berry.

“I was born to be a gifted athlete,” Parker said. “I know I can play. I just got to go out there and keep putting it back-to-back.”

The last area where the Chiefs excel is getting to the quarterback where the team has 24 sacks, led by outside linebacker Justin Houston’s league-leading 10, to rank fourth overall in the NFL.

Tie it together in a nice bundle and the Chiefs are an elite NFL defense after finishing the 2013 season ranked 24th, allowing 367.8 yards per game.

“We have talented guys across the board,” inside linebacker James-Michael Johnson said. “From our first string to our second string, we can all come in and compete. It’s not surprising to me. I’ve seen it in the offseason; I’ve seen guys working hard and getting better each week.”