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06 Oct 2004

Every Play Counts: Chiefs' Front Seven

By Michael David Smith

The Chiefs' defense got off to a bad start on Monday night. Facing the Baltimore Ravens, the team with 2,000-yard rusher Jamal Lewis and an abysmal passing game, the Chiefs started the game with four defensive linemen and four linebackers on the field -- a formation that practically screams to the opposition, "We dare you to pass on us."

So what did the Ravens do on the first play against this defense that was stacked to stop the run? They handed off to Jamal Lewis for a gain of 18 yards. Ouch. On that first play defensive tackle John Browning bought a fake so completely that ABC ought to hire him as a cameraman, and Lewis ran right where Browning should have been.

I watched the Chiefs' front seven on every play of Monday night's contest, and on that first drive I thought I was going to see some of the worst defense the NFL provides. Later in the drive I saw Chiefs tackle Ryan Sims trip, I saw Ravens tackle Orlando Brown manhandle Chiefs end Eric Hicks, and I saw end Vonnie Holliday provide absolutely no pass rush on a third down conversion pass by Ravens quarterback Kyle Boller.

But by the end of the game that Boller pass was still the Ravens' only third down conversion, and I had seen some good stuff from the Chiefs' front seven. This unit will never be confused with the 1985 Bears, but neither is it the worst in the league.

This was an atypical game in that the Chiefs' offensive game plan was obviously an attempt to keep their defense off the field -- runs and short passes were the order of the day. The Baltimore offense, likewise, was only too happy to oblige the Chiefs' plans by giving Jamal Lewis the ball only 15 times, even though he was effective when he got the chance. And let's remember that I'm judging the Chiefs' front seven against an offense with a bad quarterback and bad receivers but a great left tackle in Jonathan Ogden. I tried to adjust my grades to consider who the matchups were, but that's not always possible.

Every NFL team has its own method for grading players, but I simplified things by simply counting good plays and bad plays. Here's what I found:

Player Position Good plays Bad plays
Lionel Dalton DT 7 2
Eric Hicks DE 4 2
Scott Fujita OLB 2 1
Monty Beisel MLB 2 4
Gary Stills DE 1 0
Junior Siavii DT 1 2
Kawika Mitchell MLB 1 2
Shawn Barber OLB 1 3
Ryan Sims DT 0 3
Vonnie Holliday DE 1 8
John Browning DT 0 7

Note that Fujita and Sims both left the game because of injuries. Fujita looked pretty good before he left; on one play he made a tackle for a loss even though the entire defensive line in front of him got pushed back by the Ravens' offensive line.

I had never noticed Dalton before, but he really stuck out on Monday night. Dalton entered the league as an undrafted free agent out of Eastern Michigan, and he's played with the Ravens, Broncos, and Redskins before the Chiefs signed him this year. It was a great signing. In fact, my biggest problem with the Chiefs was that they took Dalton out too often to rotate him with Sims, Browning, and Siavii. On the first three plays of the second half, Dalton got one sack and great penetration on the other two plays. Then, oddly, the Chiefs took Dalton out, and the Ravens almost converted on third-and-21. That same drive made me lose a lot of respect for Shawn Barber. On two different plays he dropped into pass coverage and lazily jogged around, looking only mildly interested in what was happening around him. I can't imagine what Gunther Cunningham will say to Barber when they watch that series on film.

Beisel has been labeled a special teams player and nothing more, but in this game he was no worse than the Chiefs' other linebackers, and he sure looks like he's trying harder than Barber. He's OK in pursuit on running plays, but he looks lost in pass coverage.

When he was on the Packers I always thought Vonnie Holliday was a good pass rusher and adequate against the run, but he's terrible now. Aside from one third down pass he deflected, he did nothing. And if you're thinking he did nothing because he was going against Jonathan Ogden, think again. On consecutive plays during the Ravens' late-game drive that resulted in a Jamal Lewis touchdown, Holliday was single-blocked easily, first by tight end Terry Jones and then by tight end Daniel Wilcox.

Remember how badly the Chiefs wanted Sims in the draft? They made a big trade with the Cowboys to move up ahead of the Vikings, who also wanted Sims. The Vikings ended up with left tackle Bryant McKinnie, and the Cowboys took safety Roy Williams. Is there any doubt who got the worst of that? Sims was shoved five yards downfield on one play and eight yards downfield on another. I just don't think he's physically strong enough to compete as an NFL defensive tackle.

Watching this game made me think a lot of Greg Robinson, who was forced out as the Chiefs' defensive coordinator in the offseason. The Chiefs' front seven last year didn't suffer because of bad schemes; it suffered because of bad players. The defense looks a bit better than it did last year, and if it continues to improve Robinson will get the credit, but Dalton deserves it. He's a player. If the Chiefs could find six more like him, they'd be on to something.

Each week, Michael David Smith looks at one specific player or one aspect of a team on every single play of the previous game. Standard caveat applies: Yes, one game is not necessarily an indicator of performance over the entire season. If you have a player or a unit you would like tracked in Every Play Counts, suggest it by emailing mike-at-footballoutsiders.com. Next week: A special edition we'll call Every Team Counts.

Posted by: Michael David Smith on 06 Oct 2004