Talent, commitment are the keys


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Jan 22, 2006
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Talent, commitment are the keys
Aug 15, 2006, 1:37:40 AM by Jonathan Rand - FAQ

Systems and philosophies won’t make or break the Chiefs’ 2006 season. Talent and commitment will.

Since Herm Edwards took over the Chiefs, there’s been constant discussion of his intention to play a cover-two defense and emphasize the running game.

And that’s a sound plan. But no head coach in the NFL has an unsound plan. If he did, his coaching career would have ended in a recreational league somewhere.

Edwards’ approach is sound for him because it represents bedrock football and that’s what he believes in. No NFL coach can win with an approach that isn’t etched into his heart and soul. But that’s still not enough unless he has the right talent.

Before you declare me a MOTO (Master of the Obvious), just look at all the time misspent lately around Kansas City talking about why Dick Vermeil’s system fell short and Edwards’ system seems better or worse suited for the Chiefs.

Vermeil, lest we forget, won a Super Bowl in St. Louis using the very system that for the Chiefs produced two league-leading offenses but no playoff wins. The key difference was that in 1999, Vermeil put together a top 10 defense. It was tough enough to eke out an ugly 11-6 victory for the Rams over the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in the NFC Championship game.

The Bucs, coached by Tony Dungy and with an assistant head coach named Herm Edwards, put on a near-masterpiece of a defensive performance. But the Rams were versatile enough to win a shootout – they beat the Vikings 49-37 the game before – or a wrestling match.

The Vermeil system beat the Dungy/Edwards system that day — not because it was sounder but because the Rams had better balance. The Rams’ defense was closer in talent to its “greatest-show-on-turf” offense than the Bucs’ sluggish offense was to its dogged defense. The Rams’ defense hung tough until Kurt Warner could deliver a late bomb.

Whenever a team with a snazzy passing game comes up short, critics point to a need for stronger defense and ball control. Whenever a defensive-minded team gets knocked out of the playoffs in a low-scoring loss, the coach gets ripped for being too conservative.

Any long-time Chiefs fan should know by now that philosophies are overrated. Except for maybe Aristotle’s, we’ve been subjected to every philosophy known to humankind. When Marty Schottenheimer arrived in 1989, he made the Chiefs a contender by playing “Marty Ball,” which is philosophically close to what Edwards wants now.

The Chiefs’ brain trust agreed that Marty Ball didn’t produce enough points, so the Chiefs in 1993 acquired Joe Montana to run the West Coast offense, which featured ball-control passing. The Chiefs finally had enough balance to reach the AFC Championship game, but as the 1990s wore on their offense became a poor relation to their defense.

Eventually the Chiefs came unglued on both sides of the ball, and Vermeil came in to duplicate his dazzling offense from St. Louis. But he never could get the defense rolling.

So now we’re told that Vermeil’s philosophy was flawed and the Chiefs need more emphasis on ball control and defense. That should work just fine, as long as the new tackles can blast open holes for Larry Johnson and the defensive players can take care of their responsibilities and get to the ball.

You can assume the Chiefs will experience bigger disappointments than a 24-14 pre-season loss in Houston. There are bound to be days when the defense resembles the same crew that’s been shredded repeatedly in recent seasons.

When the setbacks come, Edwards and his players will need to stubbornly keep the faith because no new system is going to click in a few weeks. And if it doesn’t have enough talent and commitment, it’s not going to click at all.

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

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