Kansas City, Mo. — Buried beneath Kansas City’s 0-4 preseason record and all the anxiety over a stinky offense, a bit of good news is trying to peek out.
A defense that was the main culprit in last year’s 2-14 debacle is beginning to stir, showing signs of slowly returning to life. What’s more, in a wild reversal of form, the Chiefs are even applying pressure to the passer.
Yes, Chiefs fans, when one of your guys tackles the other team’s quarterback behind the line of scrimmage, it’s still called a “sack.”
That’s a term Kansas Citians had little occasion to use all through the 2008 season, when the Chiefs set a 16-game NFL record for pass-rushing futility by taking the quarterback to the ground a paltry 10 times. They needed a sack in the season finale at Cincinnati just to break into double figures.
But it was easy to put all that out of their mind, as long as they avoided friends, canceled the newspaper and stayed glued to the Weather Channel.
“It seemed like they were talking about it every time I turned on ESPN,” defensive lineman Tank Tyler said with a wince. “Then when we went back home, we got teased all the time — ‘You guys can’t sack the quarterback.’ I blamed myself.”
They can sack the quarterback now, at least in the preseason. In four games, admittedly all losses, the Chiefs racked up seven sacks out of their new 3-4 alignment. Also a big help, they say, is a more confident and aggressive attitude hewn from head coach Todd Haley’s unrelenting in-your-face approach.
“I’m encouraged defensively overall,” Haley said. “A lot of guys were asked to do some different things, some things they weren’t used to doing. And most of them responded.”
In a bit of a surprise, two-year starting safety Bernard Pollard was released in the final cutdown. Seeing plenty of action at that position will be veteran Mike Brown, who signed a free-agent contract in June.
Almost immediately after taking over from Herm Edwards, Haley installed the 3-4 defense. Defensive coordinator Gunther Cunningham, after seeing his Chiefs outscored 440-291, got out of town ahead of the posse and was replaced by Clancy Pendergast, also coming over from Arizona.
Also taking a big hand is linebackers coach Gary Gibbs, who was defensive coordinator the three previous years in New Orleans. And making a major on-field contribution to this massive overhaul of one of the league’s worst defenses has been veteran linebacker Mike Vrabel.
“Everybody on the defense motivates each other, especially a guy like Mike Vrabel,” Tyler said. “He made a couple of plays last week (against St. Louis) that got me real excited. He’s an older veteran and plays with a lot of passion and enthusiasm, and it feeds off to a lot of the young guys.”
Brought over in a trade with New England along with quarterback Matt Cassel, Vrabel’s experience on four Super Bowl teams has provided badly needed leadership and locker room presence in a place that’s witnessed only six wins the past two seasons.
Since he was drafted by the Chiefs in the third round in 2007, Tyler is 6-26. He and his teammates are tired of avoiding people, weary of grabbing the TV remote and then hesitating.
“It doesn’t feel good to lose and we don’t ever want to get that losing feeling back,” he said. “This is a new season for us.”