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Chiefs Secondary Looking To Make A Big Impact In 2013

Dunta Robinson

By Michael Pina

Until the NFL chooses to mimic a Fantasy Football scoring system by making thrown touchdowns two points less than rushing touchdowns, the most important part of a team, by far, will remain its quarterback.

From there we transition to the defensive end, where attacking the quarterback with four lineman (without needing to blitz) has morphed from a convenient luxury to borderline necessity.

Then it’s somewhat of a tossup, with teams trying to build solid offensive lines to protect their most important player, and a quick, instinctive secondary that can stick with receivers on 30-50 passing plays a game. Both are hugely important.

It’s no coincidence that the San Francisco 49ers and Seattle Seahawks are among the league’s elite, and boast two of the best secondary units in football (having a pair of young, speedy quarterbacks doesn’t hurt). Conversely, the New England Patriots have forged an identity outscoring teams on offense, but their inability to hone consistency behind the linebackers has hurt, badly.

The aforementioned Seahawks and Niners probably have the first and second best sets of cornerbacks and safeties in the entire NFL. But in the AFC, that title could belong to the Kansas City Chiefs.

Last season they were brutal, ranking 26th in touchdowns given up through the air and intercepting fewer passes than all but one team. Football Outsiders ranked them as having the 31st best pass defense.

Over the offseason they added Sean Smith and Dunta Robinson to an already talented unit that featured Brandon Flowers and Eric Berry. Beefing up the secondary was clearly a priority, and, at least on paper, they succeeded.

Having an elite secondary in the AFC West is more important than, say, the AFC East (Tom Brady aside). The Denver Broncos, San Diego Chargers, and Oakland Raiders are especially pass happy teams with quarterbacks who, if failures at everything else, can throw fairly accurate footballs very far.

Barring injury, just under 40% of Kansas City’s 2014 season will be played against Peyton Manning, Matt Flynn, and Philip Rivers. Blanketing the field with elite corners and safeties is paramount.

Let’s start with the newcomers, Robinson and Smith. A former top-10 draft pick by the Houston Texans, Robinson was once an elite force at corner, starting 16 games his rookie year and eventually becoming the franchise’s all-time interception leader in his fourth season.

Soon after he moved from Houston to Atlanta as a highly priced free agent, where he played a tad recklessly, racking up fines and repute as a talent with dirty edges. Last year Atlanta cut him over an $8 million cap hit. At 31 years old he’s still capable of playing at a high level, and is expected to in a reduced role with the Chiefs.

Smith is 26 years old, 6’3”, and exactly the type of player Kansas City will need when they match-up against Denver’s tandem of Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker. He spent his first four years with the Miami Dolphins, bullying receivers repeatedly and forming one of the most athletic cornerback tandems in the league beside Vontae Davis.

He’s an incredible talent, and was probably the best corner available in free agency last year. Kansas City knew what they were doing when they signed him to a three-year, $18 million deal.

Now onto Flowers and Berry, the two main reasons why opposing quarterbacks and receivers will have negative fun playing the Chiefs next season.

Cornerback isn’t a flashy position; mistakes garner twice as much attention as solid play. Few are able to establish themselves in the long run as capable of dominating elite receivers week in and week out. Brandon Flowers is one of these cornerbacks. He’s the complete package, someone who lays out vicious hits while staying nimble enough to hang with his man in coverage.

In 2012 Flowers ranked as the 10th best corner in the league in yards/pass, giving up 6.1, and sixth best in Success Rate (the percentage of passes that don’t manage to get at least 45 percent of needed yards on first down, 60 percent of needed yards on second down, or 100 percent of needed yards on third down), according to Football Outsiders. Not many are better.

Berry has effectively played two seasons in the NFL (2010 and 2012—in 2011 he played one game before tearing his ACL) and made the Pro Bowl both times. The Pro Bowl is far from a be-all, end-all stamp on any player’s ability, and Berry  has his weaknesses just like everybody else. But where Flowers is currently this unit’s star, Berry could be its most important piece. And by this time next year, the team’s best player.

Bob Sutton, Kansas City’s new defensive coordinator, comes directly from Rex Ryan’s system in New York—one of confusing blitzes bred by stable versatility at all positions.

Sutton recently stated his desire to get after the quarterback, while also being able to confuse him with fluid coverage and scheme. Berry is the key here if he can stay healthy. He’s a phenomenal athlete in space and a fantastic tackler, both against the run and in the open field. Berry’s quick enough to cover most receivers and strong enough to stick with beefy tight ends (Kansas City was the 11th best defense last year against tight ends, according to Football Outsiders).

If all these guys can stay healthy (not a given in Andy Reid’s Gladiator approach to training camp), the Chiefs should be one of the most difficult teams in the league to throw on. And in today’s NFL, that means a lot.

Michael Pina is a writer for ESPN’s TrueHoop Network. He also writes for ScoreBig. Follow him on Twitter @MichaelVPina.

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