Head coach Todd Haley must be happy that he finally got on the same page as ILB Derrick Johnson this offseason, because his reinsertion of Johnson into the starting lineup has ignited the Chiefs' defense. That was certainly the case Sunday in a 42-20 win over the Jaguars.
Johnson had six tackles (including one for loss) and three passes defended in the victory, but no play was bigger than the interception he made in the third quarter, one which he returned 15 yards for a touchdown to give Kansas City an eight-point lead.
"I was reading (QB Todd Bouman's) eyes and you've got to move fast," said Johnson about the key play. "He'd been making a couple plays on us earlier in the game, but second half we got settled down. It was a good play call and had me in the hole and that's what I do best when I read the quarterback and just jumped the route."
Johnson now has three interceptions returned for scores in his six-year career, and he was very close to picking off two other passes that could have been TDs earlier this season. He also leads the team with 49 tackles and is one of the main reasons the Chiefs have one of the five best run defenses in the league.
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Haley made a big mistake last season when he forced Johnson to play mostly as a reserve. Whether he didn't like the linebacker's work ethic or never fully trusted him, all Haley did was hurt the team by starting Demorrio Williams and Corey Mays inside. Not surprisingly, K.C. was one of the NFL's worst defenses and struggled mightily against the run.
But it has been a different story in 2010. In addition to their stout run "D," the Chiefs rank ninth in opponents' third-down efficiency and are No. 7 in points allowed. While the contributions of coordinator Romeo Crennel and players like OLB Tamba Hali, DE Glenn Dorsey and CB Brandon Flowers have had a lot to do with it, Johnson is the on-field leader of the unit and has been the playmaker that the defense was without in '09.
Had Johnson been able to corral the two likely TDs he dropped, it's very possible we'd be hearing about him as a potential Pro Bowl candidate. But all he seems to care about right now is that the Chiefs are a surprising 4-2 and atop the AFC West.
"I'm more a part of the defense now; I'm helping the team win," he said after Sunday's triumph. "That's why I'm here. Regardless of personal accolades I want to help this team win, and when I can help the team win like today, I'm happy."