LIFE IN THE FAST LANE: In his current ad campaign for Old Spice deodorant, Chicago Bears LB Brian Urlacher claims it is better to be defensive than offensive. The Kansas City Chiefs would disagree.
After ranking fourth in the NFL in total offense last season and averaging a whopping 29 points per game, the Kansas City Chiefs have shown that sometimes the best defense is a good offense. Even though their defense allowed 23 points per contest, which would be disastrous for most NFL teams, their offense was good enough to propel the team to a modest, yet mediocre, 8-8 record.
Realizing his team's offensive strengths and defensive deficiencies, head coach Dick Vermeil turned each game into a track meet with a variety of pass plays, a relentless rushing attack and a few opportunistic trick plays. Teams that could slow down the pace and control the tempo of the game usually beat the Chiefs. Those that could not keep up were left far behind.
Vermeil, who coached the St. Louis Rams to the Super Bowl XXXIV Championship in 1999, likes to light up the scoreboard, but knows that his team's postseason hopes depend on how much their defense improves this season. Even if the Chiefs allow an average of one field goal less per game, that could translate into a couple of more victories and drive the Chiefs into the playoffs. After allowing an average of 17 points per game in their first two contests this year, they are slowly headed in the right direction.
Leading the Chiefs offensive attack is seven-year veteran RB Priest Holmes, who scored an NFL-high 24 touchdowns and rushed for 1615 yards in 2002. Along with strong-armed QB Trent Green, perennial Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez and arguably the NFL's best offensive line, the offense should continue dominating. They have already scored 68 points in just their first two games.
The addition of LB Shawn Barber from the Philadelphia Eagles and DE Vonnie Holliday from the Green Bay Packers during the offseason should add some much-needed pop to the Chiefs defense. CB Dexter McCleon arrived in Kansas City from the St. Louis Rams and will provide some stability in the secondary.
**DON'T CALL IT A COMEBACK:** Despite offseason hip surgery, and legitimate fears that his career was over, Holmes has returned to rare form. After scratching and crawling his way into the NFL as an undrafted rookie free agent out of Texas in 1997, one injury wasn't going to stop him.
Holmes put in the extra work necessary during the winter and early summer to not only recover from surgery, but also improve as a player. So far, he already has five rushing touchdowns and 311 combined yards in two games. With his darting speed and agility, Holmes gains huge chunks of yards through a variety of ways: screens, draws, pass-routes out of the backfield and power running.
With an extremely mobile and athletic offensive line that averages a solid 312 pounds, Holmes doesn't need to look hard
to find holes in the defense. The line is led by eight-time Pro Bowl OT Willie Roaf and seven-time Pro Bowl OG Will Shields.
It's easy to forget about the rest of the Chiefs offense with Holmes around, but QB Trent Green had his most successful NFL season in 2002. His comfort in Vermeil's offense was evident as he passed for 3,690 yards and 26 touchdowns, which ranked him in the top-10 of all NFL passers.
Four-time Pro Bowl tight end Tony Gonzalez returns after another stellar year. Due to the publicity that New York Giants TE Jeremy Shockey garnered as a rookie, Gonzalez didn't receive as much recognition as he had in the past. Nevertheless, he posted 63 catches for 773 yards and seven touchdowns.
The Chiefs' receivers don't make most NFL defensive backs' palms sweat. However, they tied for third in the NFL in 2002 with 27 touchdown receptions. Receivers Marc Boerigter, Eddie Kennison, Dante Hall and Johnnie Morton had a combined 14 touchdown catches and stretched the field for Holmes and Gonzalez.
**LACK OF FIREPOWER:** If the Chiefs' offense was full of serious weapons in 2002, their defense was full of squirt guns. They finished last in the NFL in total defense and in the bottom half of the league in sacks, forced fumbles and passes defensed. They gave up over 30 points per game in their eight losses last season.
Needless to say, the Chiefs' defense lacked playmakers all over the field. With Holliday, Barber and McCleon, who have a combined 16 years of NFL experience, they hope that each facet of their defense will improve.
They are also banking on the development of their younger players, such as second-year LB Scott Fujita and their top draft pick in 2002, defensive lineman Ryan Sims, who is returning from a dislocated elbow. Both are starters and are responsible for the Chiefs run defense, which finished 24
th in the league last year.
In just two games, the defense has already turned the page from 2002. They have seven sacks, 14 passes defensed, five interceptions and one interception returned for a touchdown. They are well on their way to eclipsing their 2002 totals of 34 sacks, 73 passes defensed and 18 interceptions with no defensive touchdowns.
**<span>NOT AGAIN</span>:** This Sunday will mark the second consecutive week that the Texans face a top-flight kickoff/punt returner. At New Orleans, the Texans faced 2002 Pro Bowler Michael Lewis, and this week they face 2002 Pro Bowler Dante Hall.
Hall has the kind of quickness, vision and big-play potential that leave Chiefs' fans at the edges of their seats. In 2002, Hall returned two punts to the house and took one kickoff return 88 yards for another score. Hall has already returned one kickoff 100 yards for a touchdown this year.
Believe it or not, but K Morten Andersen is still kicking field goals at the tender age of 43. After 21 years in the NFL, Andersen wasn't ready to give up the game quite yet.
Third-year punter and NFL journeyman Jason Baker will handle punting and kickoff duties for the Chiefs. In his short career, he has already been a member of three NFL teams.
**WHETTING THEIR APPETITE:**The Chiefs have a very favorable schedule the rest of the season. Already 2-0 after convincing wins over the San Diego Chargers (27-14) and the Pittsburgh Steelers (41-20), the Chiefs will only need to win half of their remaining games to be in playoff contention. Anything more than that will surely secure them a spot in the playoffs and likely give them home-field advantage.
The Chiefs are licking their chops; half of their remaining games are against teams that finished in the bottom half of the NFL in total defense last season. Only four of their remaining 14 games are against 2002 playoff teams. Besides tough road contests at Green Bay, Oakland, Denver and Minnesota, the Chiefs play the Detroit Lions, Chicago Bears, and struggling Cleveland Browns at home.
If things continue the way they have been during the first two weeks for the Chiefs, Kansas City fans can prepare for some playoff festivities for the first time since 1997. However, if they look past the Texans, who are juiced up for their home opener, the Chiefs could be kicking themselves come January.