Edwards tries a balancing act


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Jan 22, 2006
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Edwards tries a balancing act
May 23, 2006, 2:12:24 AM by Jonathan Rand

Have you ever noticed how some franchises acquire permanent deficiencies? They carry weaknesses for years and years and are never quite able to correct them.

A franchise can go decades without a 1,000-yard rusher. Or a decade without a top 10 defense. Or it has a better chance of finding an extraterrestrial being than a quarterback who should start in the NFL. Or it can’t ever seem to locate a dependable place kicker.

The Chiefs are getting close to this territory with their defense. Herman Edwards becomes the fourth head coach in nine years who’ll try to restore to the Chiefs a championship-caliber defense. Or even a playoff-caliber defense.

Has it really been nine years since the Chiefs’ defense, coordinated by Gunther Cunningham, led the NFL in fewest points allowed for the second time in three years?

The Chiefs’ defense has been, more or less, spinning its wheels ever since. It hit rock bottom in 2002 by ranking last in yards allowed and 28th in points allowed. Now, the Chiefs annually come up with a plan to fix the defense – a plan that’s yet to work.

In 2003, the Chiefs signed three defensive free agents. In 2004 they brought back Cunningham to work his defensive magic. In 2005 they tried to bulk up the defense through free agency, a big trade and the draft. The defense still came up short.

Now the Chiefs are making a wholesale commitment to defense, with a defensive-minded head coach who promises to use his running game more to help his defense. Dick Vermeil’s defensive medicine didn’t work, so Dr. Edwards is performing surgery.

We’re already hearing gripes that Vermeil treated his defense as a second-class citizen. Cunningham says his job’s made easier by a defensive-minded head coach. Middle linebacker Kawika Mitchell says defensive players will have a better attitude because they’re no longer the team’s “stepbrothers.”

Before you accuse Vermeil of gross neglect of his defense, you should know he used the same plan to win a Super Bowl in St. Louis. He inherited a team that was forlorn on both sides of the ball and he tried to use his offense as a foundation for improvement. As it turned out, both the offense and defense came together in 1999 and won a championship.

After they won a Super Bowl, Rams’ defensive players joined their teammates in lauding the great family atmosphere cultivated by Vermeil. No player feels like a stepchild when he wins a championship.

Why didn’t the St. Louis plan work in Kansas City? Vermeil didn’t have as much defensive success here with draft choices, free-agent signings and player development. There are 32 ways to win a Super Bowl and there was nothing fundamentally wrong with Vermeil’s plan.

It’s difficult in the era of free agency to achieve excellence on both sides of the ball. If you’re outstanding on one side and average on the other, you should be a Super Bowl contender. Just ask the Pittsburgh Steelers, who won a Super Bowl despite having an offense that ranked right in the middle of the pack.

Edwards makes it pretty clear that he’d prefer trying to win the Steeler way — with a talented and punishing defense, a blood-in-the-mud running game and efficient passing.

It’s a coaching rule of thumb that any team should be able to do one thing really, really well. But achieving versatility and balance is an entirely different matter.

Edwards’ main challenge is to develop a top-notch defense without overseeing the demise of a league-leading offense that will have at least six starters in their 30s, be less of the team’s focal point and be asked to help keep the defense off the field more.

He will, in other words, have to make sure that everybody feels like part of the family.

The opinions offered in this column do not necessarily reflect those of the Kansas City Chiefs.
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