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tk13
10-16-2005, 01:12 AM
http://www.kansascity.com/mld/kansascity/sports/football/nfl/kansas_city_chiefs/12913826.htm

Under THE GUN
Cunningham takes cover and bears down as new defense gets shelled

By ELIZABETH MERRILL
The Kansas City Star


Gunther Cunningham’s bunker doesn’t have an address. Maybe it’s tucked in the corner of the fourth floor at Arrowhead Stadium. Maybe it’s at the 30-yard line on game day. Maybe it’s just a place deep inside himself.

Truth is, nobody knows exactly where Cunningham goes to regroup when his defense is playing poorly. For more than a month, the Chiefs defensive coordinator has declined almost all opportunities to speak out, through the high of the season-opening 27-7 win over the Jets and the low of the 30-10 pasting by the Broncos.

You want to talk? Good luck.

Elevators after practice are never good. He’s too wound up. Phones don’t really work, either. Cunningham, friends say, rarely returns messages. But he always listens to them, and he may throw out a thank-you six months later.

“It just means the guy is focused,” says Neil Smith, a former Chiefs Pro Bowl defensive end. “He’s always deep in thought.”

There is plenty to ponder these days as Cunningham hunkers down. He was brought back to Kansas City in 2004 to repair the defense, the last piece of the puzzle that was keeping the Chiefs from being a Super Bowl contender. But now he’s the leader of a defense that finished 31st in the league last year and is ranked 27th this season.

Cunningham is the strategist who requested and received an infusion of talent in the offseason, the whiskered face behind a unit that has struggled in a 2-2 start. The Chiefs say it’s too early to judge this product, especially when Kansas City just finished what was considered the toughest stretch of its schedule.

Privately, Cunningham is positive with his team, praising players for their progress. Publicly, Chiefs fans and critics wonder whether the last two games prove that there hasn’t been enough improvement for a defense that has scraped along near the bottom of the NFL for the last five years.

They won’t be hearing any excuses from Cunningham. Mostly, they won’t be hearing anything.

“He’s gone to the mattresses,” says Bill Maas, an NFL analyst for Fox Sports and former Chiefs defensive lineman. “You’re by yourself, and all you’ve got is you and the guys that are there. You’ve got to get it fixed, you’ve got to go to war, and there’s no time to talk about it.

“To me, there are no more excuses. You needed a linebacker, you got a linebacker. You needed a shut-down corner, you got a shut-down corner. All the pieces are in place. You’ve raved about Kendrell Bell; you’ve got him. Now go do something.”

Kawika Mitchell will speak about the state of the defense. For 12 miserable months, Mitchell was somewhere below Cunningham’s doghouse, in a place underneath the dirt reserved for second-round draft picks who weren’t panning out. Whenever Mitchell tried to make excuses last year, Cunningham spit out the same six-word response.

“I don’t want to hear it.”

Now that Mitchell is the Chiefs’ starting middle linebacker, he’s become, oddly enough, a spokesman for this defense, and he stands under a locker with a strip above it that reads, “Change is forever.”

“I’ll be honest,” Mitchell says. “I don’t think we’ve gotten there yet. We have to have the mind-set that we’re not going to take any steps backward.”

In the last two games, it would be tough to measure any steps forward. The Chiefs held their first two opponents to 12 points a game but have given up an average of 33.5 to the last two. They rank eighth in the NFL in rush defense but 30th against the pass. They held Philadelphia scoreless for more than a quarter, then gave up 31 straight points and watched helplessly as Donovan McNabb threw for 369 yards.

Kansas City is allowing 367.8 yards a game, which is considerably higher than last year’s total of 318.5 in the first four games. They’ve done it with one of the most talked-about overhauls in the NFL, a group that includes Pro Bowlers Patrick Surtain, Sammy Knight, Bell and rookie linebacker Derrick Johnson, a first-round draft pick.

Chiefs owner Lamar Hunt could end up paying $106 million for the offseason additions. But even he says it’s too early to wonder what kind of return he’ll get on his investment.

“Anything like this is always a work in progress,” Hunt says. “You don’t just plunk down a check and go 16-0. It doesn’t work that way.”

Hunt, who walked around the locker room and shook hands with the defense after the season-opening win over the Jets, says defense wasn’t the only problem in the Eagles game. He pointed to four turnovers and an offense that hasn’t been the same since Pro Bowl left tackle Willie Roaf was knocked out with a hamstring injury.

He says if the defense would have made one more stop, or the offense had one fewer turnover, the Chiefs would probably be 3-1 right now and nobody would be talking about an unfixed project.

“I think we’re better,” Hunt says. “I think we’re a better team than we were a year ago defensively. Frankly, we haven’t made the yards we made a year ago offensively.”

When president/general manager Carl Peterson does his weekly player grading, he sees vast improvement at linebacker, moderate strides in the secondary and work to be done with the front four. He says defensive penalties are down from a year ago. The Chiefs’ takeaways are up. In 2004, they had 21 for the season. They have seven in their first four games.

Peterson says any GM is happy as long as his team is making steady improvement each week. But can seven shaky quarters in the last two games be considered progress? Peterson will correct you: The defense played 1½ good quarters against the Eagles.

He says they need time. A year ago, Cunningham wasn’t only teaching the team a new defense, he also was educating nearly his entire staff. Then came the new guys this summer, then the growing pains. Johnson is a perfect example, Peterson says. He makes rookie mistakes, but “he’s making them at 100 mph and he doesn’t usually repeat them.”

“I’m not at all disappointed or discouraged with the defense,” Peterson says. “I think we’re making progress. But the proof in the pudding will be the next four weeks.”

If Jared Allen talks about the public perception of the defense, he’ll probably get angry.

Allen is in only his second year with the Chiefs, and he hasn’t taken the beating that veterans like Eric Hicks have for not upholding the tradition of Buchanan, Bell and Thomas. But he’s already getting tired of the barbs that are being thrown in this 2-2 start.

Ask Allen what he thinks when people say it’s the same old defense, and he says, “My response is what I can’t say on TV or the paper.”

“I couldn’t care less what people say or think,” Allen says. “Everybody’s a coach on the outside. We know what’s going on. We practice it every day, we live it every day. The defense is totally different.”

Cunningham, apparently, is exactly the same. He isn’t one for warm fuzzies if he thinks his defense isn’t getting the job done. One time, after a bad game in the 1990s, Smith and Derrick Thomas decided they’d count all the swear words in the team meeting. Smith tallied 164. Thomas counted 165.

When training camp rolled around this summer, Cunningham let the expletives fly and held little back. He challenged the tackling techniques, their heart, their reasons for standing there in the July Wisconsin heat.

When the defense met on Monday, after the off week, Cunningham was noticeably calm. He said their mistakes were mental. For months, Cunningham has been talking about changing the culture of the defense. Johnson has heard it at least 20 times. Maybe part of that culture is eliminating the negative vibes.

“If I think too much about how it used to be,” Hicks says, “I’m just going to suck myself back into that same mentality.

“So I try not to pay attention to what people say about us now. I just worry about what Gunther has to say to us. He tells us if we can correct the mental mistakes, we could be pretty dominant.”

Injuries have taken a toll on the defense. Defensive tackle Ryan Sims was finally showing flashes that made him a first-round draft pick before he injured his foot in the season opener. Keyaron Fox, a key element in the Chiefs’ 3-4 defense, suffered a season-ending knee injury in week two against Oakland.

Veteran linebacker Shawn Barber could give the Chiefs a boost in the coming weeks. Barber, who’s been out for a year because of a knee injury, has watched the defense since training camp.

“If the defense was a stock and you were asking me for a little insider information,” Barber says, “I would definitely say buy. Buy right now. The media and some of the soothsayers have jumped off the bandwagon. They don’t think we can get it done.

“As long as the guys on the field, the guys in the meeting rooms, the coaches, as long as we stick together, we know where we’re headed. It’s just a matter of time.”

Maas is still skeptical. He says the effort level on defense has improved since Cunningham returned. The attention to detail from the players, he says, has not.

“The second you take a breath of relaxation for one play, that’s when you get beat,” Maas says. “Your mind has to be fine-tuned. Your foot has to be in the right place, your hand placement has to be right … What I’m watching on each and every play is that somebody messes up on one little thing.

“I think there are a lot of teams out there with a lot less talent on defense that are playing much better. I think that is what is the most concerning about the whole situation when you spend that money in free-agency. You’re trying to get a last best shot you can out of an offense that has put up Super Bowl-type numbers, and you spend so you can do that. It doesn’t look very good thus far.”

If Cunningham were talking, he’d say that his best defenses have always had this haiku moment, a time when everything came together — a time when even Gunther finally emerged from his bunker.

In 1995, it happened in the snow in Denver in week eight. John Elway had the ball, the Chiefs were up by two touchdowns, and coach Marty Schottenheimer was about to have a panic attack. Cunningham called down to Schottenheimer and said: “Relax, boys, we’ve got this guy right where we want him. We’re going to be really good this year.”

When Cunningham last did a group interview, in training camp, he went back to that story and said he didn’t have the feeling yet. It’s just like a marriage, Cunningham said this summer. You just know.

On the night before training camp, Cunningham had a long talk with coach Dick Vermeil about philosophy, expectations and turning the defense around. Cunningham said that Vermeil was supportive and that he owed it to him to get the defense fixed.

Despite the numbers, Vermeil says it’s already happening.

“I look at the big picture, and I watch 11 guys play at a time and the continuity and how they’re starting to fit together,” Vermeil says. “The problem with discouraging the running game is it puts more pressure on your pass defense and your pass rush. We’ve met some very fine football teams and some very fine receivers within the last few weeks.”

Smith last talked to Cunningham at halftime of the Eagles game, when the Chiefs were up 24-13. The conversation was short. What else would you expect?

“You’ve got to understand, that’s like a chess game out there,” Smith says. “Sometimes you can ask Gunther a question and he’s there but he’s not really there.

“I love him to death. I’ll tell you what — if there’s a captain, if there’s a leader, I want him to be it. He won’t give up.”

Mr. Flopnuts
10-16-2005, 01:22 AM
This is exactly what I wanted to hear from these guys. They ARE better. They just need to figure it out. Start with the f*cking Redskins. GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!

Chiefs Pantalones
10-16-2005, 01:31 AM
This is exactly what I wanted to hear from these guys. They ARE better. They just need to figure it out. Start with the f*cking Redskins. GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!

ROFL

Heard that before... :rolleyes:

Players-- "I think I can, I think I can..."

Fruit Ninja
10-16-2005, 04:05 AM
ROFL

Heard that before... :rolleyes:

Players-- "I think I can, I think I can..."better then saying no i cant, no i cant.

ZootedGranny
10-16-2005, 04:30 AM
One time, after a bad game in the 1990s, Smith and Derrick Thomas decided they’d count all the swear words in the team meeting. Smith tallied 164. Thomas counted 165.

Hahaha, anyone want to guess who was right?

"WHAT ARE YOU TALKING ABOUT? MY MATH SKILLS ARE PERCEPTIONAL!"
http://www.avenaim.com/athletes/NFL/TEARS/neil_smith.jpg

the Talking Can
10-16-2005, 05:40 AM
“I think there are a lot of teams out there with a lot less talent on defense that are playing much better."

which means Gun is not getting it done....yet

funny he'd talk to Poz but not Merrill...scoop!

old_geezer
10-16-2005, 06:04 AM
“I couldn’t care less what people say or think,” Allen says. “Everybody’s a coach on the outside. We know what’s going on. We practice it every day, we live it every day. The defense is totally different.”

Same pathetic results so far - and that's what matters. When our CB's stop giving automatic 1st downs to every team with their 15-20 yard cushions because they are afraid of giving up the big play - then I'll start to listen.

Otter
10-16-2005, 06:17 AM
“I couldn’t care less what people say or think,” Allen says. “Everybody’s a coach on the outside. We know what’s going on. We practice it every day, we live it every day. The defense is totally different.”

It's interesting that a business that relies pretty heavily on consumer currency to keep up and running can respond in such a way. It’s not like their profits are down this year after a strong run. Their returns on investment have basically sucked for years.

Just stuff like this adding to the Rufus columns where a guy is allowed to hides like a coward and insults the people who pay his salary behind a fake name for years.

Pretty amazing marketing & PR strategy.

Extra Point
10-16-2005, 06:40 AM
"You want to talk? Good luck."

You want to write an article without communicating with a higher featured column writer? Pos got the interview. Merrill got a lot from the other people she was able to interview, including Mr. Hunt.

She didn't need to dog Gun about being inaccessible. She just needs to read Pos' article!

DaWolf
10-16-2005, 08:34 AM
“To me, there are no more excuses. You needed a linebacker, you got a linebacker. You needed a shut-down corner, you got a shut-down corner. All the pieces are in place. You’ve raved about Kendrell Bell; you’ve got him. Now go do something.”

Maas is right, there's no more excuses. I don't even wanna hear all this "it takes time" crap. You don't have time, you only have 12 games left. Either get it done now or pack your bags and get someone in here who will...