What a difference an offseason can make.
Let's quickly revisit Week 15 of the 2009 season when the Browns visited Kansas City. It was in that game that RB Jerome Harrison had one of the greatest days in NFL history, rushing for 286 yards and three touchdowns on 34 carries. Not surprisingly, Cleveland defeated the Chiefs 41-34.
Now, fast-forward to this past Sunday when the two teams matched up again, this time in Cleveland. On this occasion, Harrison could only muster 33 yards on 16 attempts, and the Browns ran for a mere 73 yards in a 16-14 Chiefs victory.
Just two games into the 2010 season, one thing is abundantly clear: It's a new and improved era in Kansas City. But it's not the offense that has transformed the Chiefs from divisional doormats to AFC West contenders — it's the defense. Namely, it's D-coordinator Romeo Crennel.
While an offense that was expected to be significantly better has lagged behind, Kansas City's stop unit has outperformed all preseason projections. A group that finished 30th last year and was second-to-last against the run has made leaps and bounds since '09, allowing just 91 rushing yards and 14 points per game.
A substantial amount of the credit for this rapid turnaround has to go to Crennel, an accomplished coordinator who helped lead the Patriots to three Super Bowls. Joining K.C. in the offseason, he has the club playing with much more intensity and aggressiveness than it did a year ago under Clancy Pendergast. The former Browns head coach also has the "D" doing a much better job filling gaps to stop the run and getting after the quarterback.
Easily one of Crennel's best moves, though, has been reinserting ILB Derrick Johnson into the starting lineup. Playing mainly off the bench while in head coach Todd Haley's doghouse last season, Johnson has provided the spark that the unit was missing in '09. After notching 12 tackles and forcing a critical fumble in the team's Week One upset of the Chargers, he came back to get seven solo tackles against Cleveland.
It hasn't only been Johnson, however. DE Glenn Dorsey looks like he's finally mastered the 3-4 end position and is not budging against the run, and the addition of first-round pick Eric Berry has provided the Chiefs an impact safety who can consistently penetrate the opponent's backfield; he had two tackles for loss on Sunday.
With QB Matt Cassel and the offense sputtering, it's clear that Kansas City is going to have to win games ugly this season. But if the "D" continues to be stout up front, the Chiefs very well could be the shock of the 2010 season.