There were four players in the NFL last season who made at least seven interceptions.
Then there was the Kansas City Chiefs. They picked off seven, too.
It took dozens of lousy plays over the course of the season for the Chiefs to have one of the worst years in franchise history. But their inability to cause turnovers, particularly in the secondary, was somewhere near the root of their problems.
Brandon Flowers had three of the Chiefs’ interceptions. Stanford Routt had two, and he only played half the year before being cut. Otherwise, a handful of guys managed to get their paws on at least one pass, but that was it when it came to flustering quarterbacks.
There was little surprise then when the Chiefs reworked their defensive backfield this offseason.
General manager John Dorsey traded cornerback Javier Arenas for a fullback, and then spent lavishly in free agency. Veteran defensive back Dunta Robinson was brought aboard, as was Sean Smith, who at 6-foot-3 offers Kansas City the kind of physical size on the perimeter to handle big receivers such as the Broncos’ Demaryius Thomas and Eric Decker in the pass-happy AFC West.
Now, the Chiefs’ secondary wants to be second to none.
“I think that John did a nice job of bringing people in,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said, “and then the guys that were here last year, I think you learn from the past and take care of business, and I think they did that. They’re focused in.”
As opposed to last year, when everything seemed amiss.
The Chiefs’ seven interceptions were tied with Dallas for fewest in the league — Reid’s Eagles, incidentally, were next-worst with eight. Kansas City also finished 28th in pass deflections with 72, more than 50 behind the league-leading Texans.
Part of that had to do with the lack of a pass rush — the Chiefs only had 27 sacks, tied for 29th in the league — which meant very few poorly thrown passes. But part of it also had to do with the fact that the Chiefs were also getting blown out in most of their games, and that meant teams had no reason to be throwing the ball in the second half.
“Whenever we stepped on the field, we gave it all we had, no matter what our record was,” Flowers said. “But we only had two wins and that was like, Week 16 or 16, so with a fresh start and fresh coach, the sky is the limit. We just have to put in the work.”
As the Chiefs prepare to play their preseason opener Friday night in New Orleans, no fewer than half a dozen guys have been getting repetitions with the first-team defense in practice.
Flowers and Smith have the starting cornerback spots locked down, and Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry and three-year starter Kendrick Lewis also topped the initial depth chart. But there’s also Robinson vying for playing time in nickel and dime sets, and veterans Quintin Demps, Vince Agnew and Husain Abdullah fighting to prove something to new defensive coordinator Bob Sutton.
“There is so much situational football that’s going on that you need to apply the situation to the defense that’s called,” said Sutton, basically promising to make use of just about everyone.
“You can’t be out there running a defense,” he said, “without an awareness of the personnel.”
Sutton has promised an attacking style of defense, one predicated on putting playmakers in positions to make plays. So it’s become common to see Berry around the line of scrimmage with the linebackers, blitzing the quarterback or ready to stuff the run, or Smith on the line of scrimmage on the outside of the defense, ready to jam a wide receiver.
“You don’t know who’s going to blitz on any given play. We’re a very aggressive defense,” Robinson said. “You see guys making a lot of plays out here, and I think when you come out and make plays, it gives you confidence going into Sundays and going into games.”
That aggressiveness, and that confidence, ultimately could yield more turnovers.
“If you didn’t have as many last year,” Robinson said, “you make it an emphasis.”