0-3 Chiefs seek fix vs. Ravens

With offense sputtering, defense is exposed more as Monday game looms

Pro Football

October 01, 2004|By Mike Preston | Mike Preston,SUN STAFF

Two of Kansas City's losses were understandable. The Chiefs lost their season opener at Denver and their home opener to Carolina, the defending NFC champion. But when Houston upset the Chiefs last week in Kansas City, they became the major mystery of the 2004 season.

What's wrong with the Chiefs?

Well, it depends. Some say the Chiefs can't draft, having failed with first-round picks like running back Larry Johnson and receiver Sylvester Morris. Others say the 0-3 start is the result of penalties, lack of execution, an ineffective offense and poor run defense. It might be the difficult schedule or just bad luck.

It's all enough to make former NFL stars Fred Dryer, Claude Humphrey and former NBA great Charles Barkley call Kansas City coach Dick Vermeil to offer support.

But if the Chiefs, who play the Ravens on Monday Night Football, don't find solutions soon, their Super Bowl aspirations might be devoured by a schedule that includes Baltimore, followed by Jacksonville, Atlanta and Indianapolis.

"We've been through adversity before, but it seems like it's hitting us in the mouth now. We've just got to handle it," said Vermeil. "They're disappointed. It's always disappointing when expectations are high. You come off a 13-3 season. I think we're realistically thinking we'd be better right now than we are. For one reason or another, we aren't."

That could be a major part of the problem. Maybe the Chiefs weren't as good as they thought. Oh, they won 13 games, but were 5-7 in the last 12 including an embarrassing 38-31 playoff loss to Indianapolis in which the Colts never punted.

Kansas City finished the 2003 season with the No. 30 ranked rushing defense, and the Chiefs seemed certain to find immediate defensive help, either via the draft or free agency.

Instead, they re-signed their own free agents like defensive end Eric Hicks, free safety Jerome Woods and tackle John Browning, bypassing a stud tackle like Warren Sapp. They didn't get a cornerback like Champ Bailey.

Their biggest offseason acquisition was Gunther Cunningham, who replaced Greg Robinson as defensive coordinator. Cunningham had been successful in the same role with the Chiefs from 1995 through 1998, but he had cornerbacks Dale Carter, James Hasty, linebacker Derrick Thomas and end Neil Smith.

The Chiefs are currently ranked No. 29 against the run, and No. 16 against the pass. Denver's Quentin Griffin rushed for 156 yards, and Carolina's DeShaun Foster had 174 against Kansas City, career high for both players.

"Their defense is struggling, but I'm not surprised," said ESPN analyst Joe Theismann. "You have to look at their investments, and it's on the offensive side. You draw the line between offense and defense, and look where most of the money is allocated.

"Last year, they were very good inside the red zone," Theismann said of the Chiefs' offense, currently ranked No. 18 overall, 23 in passing. "They had led the league in scoring the last two years, so they thought they could remain status quo."

In some ways, the defense has played well enough to win. Last week, the Chiefs held Texans running back Domanick Davis to 12 yards on 10 carries, and Houston quarterback David Carr was sacked three times. But the offense couldn't deliver the knockout punch.

It's beyond penalties and turnovers. Starting receivers Johnnie Morton (hand) and Eddie Kennison (Achilles') missed most of training camp with injuries, but even when healthy, nobody respects their speed or the Chiefs' deep passing game.

"If you invest most of your money on the offense, you better have three superstars, and one of them better be able to stretch the field," said Theismann. "The Chiefs have only two in Priest Holmes and Tony Gonzalez. If you think you're going to just line up and go 75 to 80 yards on each drive, you're not going to win many games. The offense is incapable of creating a lot of opportunities."

And the ones it creates, it doesn't convert like the second-and-goal at the Houston 2 in the third quarter last week. Instead of going in for a possible touchdown that would have put the Chiefs ahead 21-6, Houston's Marcus Coleman intercepted a Trent Green pass and returned it 102 yards for a touchdown.

It's been like that all season. If the Chiefs had converted two fourth-down plays, they would be 2-1. They have been penalized 26 times for 243 yards.

"We definitely have the same ingredients as last year," Holmes said. "The Pro Bowlers from last year are still here. It's just a matter of turning it around, and you do that by winning the next game. Other teams don't want us to get started, because once we do, it will go downhill from there."

A lot of the Chiefs think that way. They're still optimistic. There is no better way to turn things around than on Monday Night Football. In spite of the concern in football-crazed Kansas City about his age, clock-management skills and long-winded practices, Vermeil, 67, isn't going to change anything.

"The defense has a new scheme, and we're getting better," Vermeil said. "I think I'm a little more understanding of them emotionally when they're going through what we're going through instead of winning. Fragile faces have different personalities, but I think we're going to get much better."

It has to happen soon.

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