After a year in which it struggled all season long, the Chiefs' defense looked like a different group Monday night.
Despite having nearly identical personnel as it had in 2009, Kansas City's defensive unit played light years better in a mammoth Week One victory over the Chargers, holding a potent offense to 14 points and 109 yards on the ground. New coordinator Romeo Crennel's schemes put much more pressure on the quarterback than K.C. did a year ago, when it finished 31st in sack percentage. Chiefs defenders were breathing down Philip Rivers' neck all game long, hitting him five times and sacking him twice.
The team's defensive highlight came at the very end, however, when San Diego was down seven and knocking on the door to tie the game. Rivers and Co. had first-and-goal at the Chiefs' 4-yard line with less than two minutes left, yet they could not punch the ball into the endzone.
The PFW Spin
Whatever Crennel taught the defense in the offseason, it clearly worked. Unlike in '09, when the Chiefs would consistently get gashed on the ground, this group held prized rookie RB Ryan Mathews in check, limiting him to 75 yards on 19 carries. It also played with an intensity and ferocity that was very noticeable, acting as the aggressor instead of sitting back and reacting to the other team's moves.
The switch to put ILB Derrick Johnson into the starting lineup was a good one, as Johnson led the club with 12 tackles and also forced a Mathews fumble that led to a touchdown. He should add a spark to a front seven that was terrible for most of '09.
Glenn Dorsey was also a bright spot, as he finally appears to be comfortable at defensive end. He had two hits on Rivers, half a sack and held up very well against the run. OLB Tamba Hali was also a pass-rushing force who will wreak havoc on opposing QBs.
Big plays were still an issue — the Bolts scored on a 59-yard pass to an uncovered Legedu Naanee — but that should be corrected as rookie safeties Eric Berry and Kendrick Lewis gain experience. Berry, the No. 5 overall pick in the '10 draft, had his ups and downs in his first pro game but has all the makings of a future star.
In the blink of an eye, the Chiefs have gone from a league doormat to a potential contender in the AFC West. With a very manageable schedule and a group of young talent that should improve with each passing week, they could be one of the surprise teams of 2010.