Archive for Friday, January 20, 2006

Chiefs struck gold when they hired Edwards

January 20, 2006

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Dick Vermeil's motivational motto as coach of the Chiefs and, before that, the Rams was: Gotta go to work. The best-known quote of his replacement in Kansas City, former Jets coach Herman Edwards, is: You play to win the game.

Those simple statements have helped guide Vermeil's and Edwards' teams to success in recent years. And now Edwards, who played for Vermeil more than two decades ago in Philadelphia and who cost the Chiefs just a fourth-round pick as compensation, is the right man to succeed his mentor.

"The foundation of what Herm's all about is success," says one NFC pro personnel director. "You get that right from meeting him."

For Edwards, playing to win means running the ball effectively, protecting it and working to take it away. In other words, keep the intensity and efficiency high, and keep the turnovers, penalties and other costly mistakes low. So, let's see how the Chiefs fare on Edwards' checklist.

He gets the league's most exciting young running back in Larry Johnson, who operates behind the league's best run-blocking line.

Johnson lost only one fumble in the season's second half, despite carrying a heavy load. Durable quarterback Trent Green, whose passer rating consistently is in the 90s, threw only 10 interceptions, his fewest with the Chiefs.

Under defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, who has been retained by Edwards, the Chiefs forced 31 takeaways in 2005, tied for seventh in the league.

There's more good news: No team was penalized fewer times than the Jets during Edwards' five-year reign. And Edwards inherits the league's top-ranked offense, as compared with the injury-ravaged Jets, who finished 31st this season.

Despite those numbers, Kansas City didn't make the playoffs, so there's some work to be done. The defense was overaggressive and undisciplined at times, failed to tackle consistently and struggled to avoid big pass plays. Edwards' philosophy of less flash and more fundamentals is a good remedy for those things.

Cunningham's presence gives the defense continuity, and some young talent is in place. The team's offseason shopping list must include a pass rusher to support right end Jared Allen and more speed in the secondary, but just as he did with the Jets in Jonathan Vilma, Edwards has a good, young linebacker around whom he can build (Derrick Johnson).

Edwards doesn't need to tinker with the offense too much. It has the kind of balance - conservative and explosive - his Jets teams couldn't find. As Edwards goes to work on the defense, expect extra emphasis on ball control.

Given what Edwards has inherited in Kansas City, his winning formula won't need long to take effect. In the short term, he has a much better chance to take the Chiefs deep into the playoffs than he would have with the Jets.

The Chiefs were 5-2 in their final seven games in 2005, and Johnson rushed for more than 100 yards in the final nine games. Just as important, their schedule lines up favorably in 2006; only six games are against '05 playoff teams.

If Edwards had to go to work for another team, it just wouldn't work as well. Don't be surprised if the Chiefs are playing to win the big game a year from now.

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