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AirForceChief
08-02-2005, 10:43 AM
Average not attractive to KC's Cunningham

RIVER FALLS, Wis. --Thank goodness for the New Orleans Saints. It's only because that group of defensive misfits from the Bayou couldn't tackle their mothers in a telephone booth that the Kansas City Chiefs were spared from having the National Football League's worst defense in 2004.

The Chiefs allowed 377.3 yards per game last season, continuing a trend that always finds them toward the end of the line in defensive statistics.

In 2003, KC allowed 356.7 yards. The season before that it was 390.5. The Chiefs haven't allowed fewer than 300 yards since 1995, the Schottenheimer Era.

For all of the high-wire theatrics the Chiefs' offense treats its fans to, the defense sure knows how to miss the net.

Which explains why, during this four-year run of offensive explosions, the Chiefs have been in only one playoff game. And if you take away their 13-3 record in 2004, they've gotten hardly any bang for their -- well -- bang.

Which is where Gunther Cunningham comes into play.

Cunningham, the Chiefs' head coach before Vermeil replaced him in 2001, was brought in last year to fix the defense.

He must have felt like saying: "Well, gee thanks."

General manager Carl Peterson didn't go out and find any new players for Cunningham. He handed him a jalopy and told him to make it run like a Jaguar.

Cunningham is a proven defensive coordinator, but nobody could have done much with the Chiefs' 2004 defense. They were crippled from the beginning.

Finally, Peterson got the hint. Kansas City needed a defensive overhaul and the Chiefs have one.

The secondary that has barely put up resistance in recent years is filled with new names: Patrick Surtain, Sammy Knight, Dewayne Washington, Ashley Ambrose.

Those four have a combined to play 43 years in the league, but they also have 137 interceptions among them. Yes, they're all a little long in the tooth. But Cunningham is hoping their savvy will make up for their ages.

The Chiefs have added other defensive components: linebacker Kendrell Bell who, when healthy, is a tackling machine who can get to a quarterback, and end Carlos Hall.

Cunningham is adamant that some of the returning Chiefs -- in particular linemen Ryan Sims, John Browning and Junior Siavii; linebackers Scott Fujita and Kawika Mitchell; and defensive backs Eric Warfield, Greg Wesley and Dexter McCleon -- play better.

He's not asking, he's telling.

There is a theory that if the Chiefs' defense can just be average -- middle of the pack -- that the offense will carry them the rest of the way.

Try bouncing that theory off Cunningham.

He's not pulling his hair out, plotting ways to make this defense better night and day, to be average.

"I hope our goal is not to be average," Cunningham said. "I've never been average with anything in my life."

Cunningham has a reputation as a defense fixer. He did it in San Diego under similar circumstances when he worked for Don Coryell. The Chargers emphasized offensive (Air Coryell, remember?) but Cunningham still improved the team's defense from 28th in the NFL to third in three years.

He believes there is room for both a ferocious offense and a sturdy defense.

In San Diego, the Chargers made a commitment to getting better defensive players. It wasn't just Cunningham's scheme. In fact, he laughs at the notion that simply by coaching average players you can make them better.

It's much more constructive to coach great players and keep them great.

That's why he compares the Chiefs' defense to only one other in the league: New England's.

He points out how many high draft picks play on the defensive side of the football for the Patriots. It's no accident that they're the NFL's best.

Cunningham doesn't fool himself into believing the Chiefs are at the same level as New England when it comes to defensive personnel. But Kansas City does have better players, including first-round pick Derrick Johnson, a linebacker from Texas who is expected to be a major force right out of the chute.

It's too early in camp, Cunningham said, to make an assessment. He likes some of the things he has seen, particularly from the new players in the secondary.

But he's gone ballistic more than once because of the shoddy tackling of the Chiefs' linebackers and defensive linemen.

"Where we're lacking is with the fundamentals of the game and that is really disappointing me right now," Cunningham said.

He is looking for defensive cornerstones and says that if a team doesn't have one or two of them, it's nearly impossible to pull together as a unit.

Cunningham has been encouraged by the maturity of Mitchell, who has been slowed by hamstring and ankle injuries during his first two seasons.

"He's taken charge of the (defensive) huddle to the point where he threw me out of it the other day," Cunningham said. "And it wasn't an act."

Knight, even though he's new to the team, is making the kinds of noises a leader makes. So is Surtain, who played with Knight in Miami.

There's no question the Chiefs did a lot during the offseason to improve their defense. Whereas the offense is set in all but a couple of places, defensive jobs are up for grabs. Almost all of them.

But do the Chiefs have enough?

"I don't know yet," Cunningham said. "I'll be able to address that later as we make more progress. It's like anything else, like having a feel for something. And I'm not feeling it yet. But it's early. Too early."


Gawd awful stats...yeeeeeeeeshhh.

Ultra Peanut
08-02-2005, 10:54 AM
Bobby Lutz? The Ewok?

<img src="http://www.ninernation.net/uploads/av-668.jpg" style="width: 447px; height: 512px; border: 0" alt="" />

Check out that sweet 'stache, for easy referee semen retrieval.