How is it that a team can win 13 games with the
NFL's 29th-ranked defense? Just ask the Kansas City Chiefs, who pulled off that miracle in 2003, with most of the credit going to its explosive
offense. It all starts with amazing RB Priest Holmes, who is regarded by most as the best player in the NFL today. In the past three years, Holmes has
a combined 4,590 rushing yards, 206 receptions, and 61 touchdowns, including an NFL record 27 TDs last season. The running game isn't the only strong
point for the Chiefs, as they also hail QB Trent Green, who, despite having a lackluster receiving-core, managed to throw for over 4,000 yards, en
route to his first Pro Bowl selection.
Some credit should also go to TE Tony Gonzalez, arguably the best player at his position, as he has hauled in over 70 balls in four of the past five
seasons, and Dante Hall, who had four TDs on kick-offs and punt-returns, tying the NFL record. Oh yeah, then there's that atrocious defense, which was
anchored towards the bottom of most defensive statistics. Unfortunately for KC, not much was done to improve it, except the hiring of new defensive
coordinator Gunther Cunningham, so if he can improve the D', then there's no reason why the Chiefs won't be Super Bowl-bound.
The Chiefs' weaknesses on defense were largely
to blame for last season's late collapse, as Dick Vermeil's team, once 9-0, stumbled to four losses in its final eight games including a
stomach-turning home defeat to Indianapolis in an AFC divisional playoff game. The scapegoat of the operation, defensive coordinator Greg Robinson,
was sent packing, and the franchise appointed former head coach Gunther Cunningham to resurrect a unit that ranked 29th in the NFL in 2003.
Cunningham, Vermeil, and a Kansas City fan base that has waited 35 years for a return to the Super Bowl are all hoping that it was the scheme, not the
players, that were responsible for last year's meltdown. The Chiefs have made no significant personnel changes on defense via the draft or free
agency. If the starting corps falters again, that lack of movement will be, in a word, indefensible.
Veteran Trent Green, who appears to be in the
prime of his career at age 34, will once again start for Dick Vermei's club. He does a nice job of distributing the football, goes through his
progressions well, and is good at finding check downs when under pressure. Green is also a very consistent and durable QB, starting every game the
last three seasons and passing for more than 3,500 yards in each since coming over from the Rams. Priest Holmes continues to be one of the best backs
in the league. He scored an NFL record 27 touchdowns in 2003 on top of the more than 2,100 total yards he produced. Holmes doesn't have great top-end
speed, but he is quick and possesses great instincts. He's also a huge receiving threat out of the backfield. Despite the problems at wide receiver, I
doubt the Chiefs offense will miss a beat. Green should continue to do a good job distributing the ball and, barring injury, Holmes will carry the
load on the ground again as his offensive line continues to open big holes. This offense will continue to go through the running back and tight end,
as it has during Dick Vermeil's tenure in Kansas City, and there is no reason to think those areas of the team are suddenly going to be weak. As they
did last year, the Chiefs will probably outscore a lot of teams on their way to the playoffs, but how far they go from there depends on how well
Cunningham shapes the defensive unit. They have got to show the ability to slow down the run from time to time and they have got to create turnovers.
Otherwise, Kansas City's championship hopes might end in disappointing fashion again this season.
The Chiefs were not as good as their 9-0 record of last November indicated, but they were the best team in the AFC West and that should remain the
case this season. Green and Holmes are first-class NFL players, and the receiving corps, though aging, should still have enough in the tank to be
effective. Defensively, it's up to Cunningham. The objective is to do more attacking, which should force turnovers and help compensate for a unit that
doesn't have enough marquee players. Even without a complete turnaround on defense, Kansas City should again win 10 or more games, beat out Denver for
the West crown, and make a playoff appearance. Where the team goes beyond that will be determined by how much progress Cunningham makes in his
[Edited on 13/9/04 by TRD]