Tempers rose on the Chiefs' sideline during their Week Four game with the Vikings, as head coach Todd Haley and QB Matt Cassel had a heated exchange following some poor plays by the team. Cassel was upset that a play call had been sent in to him late, which forced the offense to be unprepared on a key third-down play. Haley was upset at the execution, as the quarterback had thrown the ball away on back-to-back downs that wasted a valuable scoring opportunity. With the Chiefs winless and losing to the equally bad Vikings in the second quarter, the sideline shouting match looked like it could be the final straw the broke the camel's back for the team's 2011 season.
The straw was removed and the camel was saved, for at least the time being, thanks to a strong second-half performance by the defense and a big showing from the special teams. Kansas City emerged with a 22-17 win to improve to 1-3, which momentarily allows both Haley and Cassel to keep their current jobs.
The PFW Spin
Once the coach and quarterback make up and apologize for their outbursts, they should look for OLB Tamba Hali in the locker room and give him a big thank you. The linebacker was all over the field on Sunday, halting the Vikings' run game, pummeling QB Donovan McNabb and leading the K.C. defense to its best performance of the season.
Hali, the AFC's leader in sacks in 2010, has been equally disruptive this year. He was at his best vs. the Vikings, finishing with seven tackles, a pair of sacks, and five quarterback hits. When he wasn't bearing down on McNabb, he was sniffing out wide receiver reverses and forcing multiple blockers to look his way, helping K.C. allow their least amount of points and yards in a game this season.
It might be much to ask Hali to duplicate that performance every week, but if the Chiefs want to turn around their season and save that camel for as long as possible, defense will need to be at the forefront. The unit held Adrian Peterson to just 3.5 yards per carry and no touchdowns, an impressive showing against the league's best running back. With some winnable games in the coming weeks, the time is now for the defense to play at that level on a regular basis.
Against the Vikings, the Chiefs' defense forced three three-and-outs, one fewer than it had in its first three games combined. Coordinator Romeo Crennel has had to do a lot of mixing and matching because of injuries, and his unit is nowhere near as fast or as athletic as he'd like, but there is clearly progress being made. Across from Hali, rookie OLB Justin Houston settled in a bit, registering two tackles for loss on Sunday, while SS Donald Washington (replacing John McGraw, who was replacing Eric Berry) finished with five tackles and did a decent job defending the pass. The defensive line often had a good push up the middle, and though pass coverage is still a great concern, there were even some improvements made in that department.
Next week, the Chiefs travel to Indy to take on the equally hapless Colts before heading into their bye week. When they return from the time off, division foes Oakland and San Diego are on the schedule, before more winnable games with the Dolphins and Broncos. Assuming Haley and Cassel haven't strangled each other by then, improved defense by the Chiefs could lead to return to relevance for Kansas City.
Follow Eli Kaberon on Twitter