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Introducing the Chiefs defense: Eric Berry, Marcus Peters, Justin Houston, playmakers, playmakers, and more playmakers

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New York Jets v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs might not have the strongest offense in the league, but there’s no shortage of talent on the defensive side of the ball. Over the past four seasons under head coach Andy Reid, the Chiefs have finished 5th, 2nd, 3rd, and 7th in points allowed over the course of the season and have ranked in the top five for takeaways in three of the past four years, including a 1st overall performance in 2016.

The defense operates out of a 3-4 front and has more depth on the line than at linebacker, so when the team plays in the nickel with five defensive backs, they prefer to keep their edge defenders on the field with more defensive lineman than with linebackers.

The Chiefs boast four All Pros in EDGE Justin Houston, LB Derrick Johnson, CB Marcus Peters, and SS Eric Berry and they have plenty of playmakers elswhere on the roster. Here’s a look at the Chiefs defense.

Defensive tackle

The Chiefs have a young and talented defensive interior rotation. Second-year DL Chris Jones is one of the rising stars in the league as the 6’6, 310 pound lineman ranked second behind Dontari Poe in defensive tackle snaps for the Chiefs in 2016. He can generate a lot of push and pressure from the line and will give the Patriots guards a difficult challenge.

Alongside Jones is former Eagles DT Bennie Logan, who is a pure run stuffer. He was allowed to walk by the Eagles because he wasn’t a fit in Jim Schwartz’s defense, but few players in the league are better at stopping the run. Allen Bailey will play alongside Jones and Logan as the starters and the 6’3, 285-pound Bailey is also a stout run defender.

Rakeem Nunez-Roches, Jarvis Jenkins, Roy Miller, and rookie Tanoh Kpassagnon round out the Chiefs defensive tackles, but it’s Jones that deserves the most attention, with Logan and Bailey providing solid support. The Chiefs did rank 26th in rushing yards allowed per game in 2016, so that could be a weak point.

Edge defender

Longtime Chiefs pass rusher Tamba Hali is starting the season on the physically unable to perform list, but he wasn’t going to be a starter anyways.

“He was going to have some spot duty coming in to rush the passer,” ArrowheadPride.com‘s Joel Thorman writes. “The Chiefs could look to Frank Zombo or rookie Tanoh Kpassagnon. There is no good answer here yet so the Chiefs will probably rely on Justin Houston and Dee Ford to play the vast majority of the snaps.”

And Houston and Ford are a good combination to have. Houston was named to the Pro Bowl from 2012-15 and earned an All Pro nod for his 22 sack season in 2014. He has struggled with injuries, but when healthy there are few better in the geame.

Ford is entering his fourth season in the league and is coming off a 10 sack season, so he’s no slouch either.

“Houston and Ford, I mean, they strip sack the quarterback,” Patriots QB Tom Brady said. “So, they’re very explosive and really force the ball out of your hands quick because they get a good rush.”

Zombo isn’t a big threat as a pass rusher (6 sacks in four years with the Chiefs), but he should be the third player in the rotation. But the Patriots will have their hands full enough with Houston and Ford, both of whom are expected to play 90% of the snaps when healthy.

Linebacker

Derrick Johnson is one of the best linebackers in the league,” Brady said. “He does so many things for that defense. You can tell it really hurts them when he’s not out there.”

Johnson was named First Team All Pro in 2011 and Second Team All Pro in 2015, but he is coming back from a torn Achilles in December. He had also torn his Achilles in 2014, so the 34-year-old linebacker has a lot of wear and tear on his body.

Johnson is joined by 2015 fourth round LB Ramik Wilson at linebacker. Wilson was on the practice squad halfway through the 2016 season. The Chiefs depth at the position is pretty bad.

The Chiefs added Kevin Pierre-Louis, Ukeme Eligwe, and Reggie Ragland to the linebacker depth this year, but they aren’t expected to have a major impact in week 1. If Johnson still looks slow from his Achilles injury, then the Patriots could have a major mismatch on their hands at the second level.

Defensive backs

The Chiefs have two First Team All Pros in the secondary with CB Marcus Peters (second team 2015, first team 2016) and SS Eric Berry (first team 2013, 2015, 2016). They have earned their titles, with Peters recording an impressive 46 passes defended, 14 interceptions, and 2 pick sixes in his two years in the league.

“Eric Berry is a big time playmaker,” Brady said. “Marcus Peters – more interceptions than anybody since he came in the league...their playmakers in the secondary have eyes on the quarterback and they’re trying to make plays, too. When they’re roaming around, you can’t just stare them down where they’re right where you want to throw the ball. It’s always like a little cat and mouse with safeties and quarterbacks. But, they’ve got a lot of playmakers. That’s why they’ve forced that many turnovers.”

Berry is a beast and the Patriots will have to be aware of his location on the field at all times, especially when he’s in coverage of Rob Gronkowski. Peters will likely stay on his half of the field, so look for the Patriots to move Brandin Cooks and Chris Hogan around for positive match-ups. (And why shouldn’t the Patriots just have Phillip Dorsett running go routes across from Peters to tire the cornerback out?)

And those other match-ups are where the Patriots need to look. FS Ron Parker is dealing with an ankle injury and could be a liability, while the Chiefs lost their #2 cornerback for the year with a preseason injury.

Steven Nelson was the Chiefs No. 2 corner but he slid inside and played the slot when required,” Thorman writes. “So against the Patriots, who will be in 11 personnel all day, the Chiefs are really trying to replace that slot coverage. I don't have a good idea of how they'll do it but my early guess is that they'll lean on their safety depth and slide safety Ron Parker in to cover the slot (he has done that before) and use their third and fourth safeties, Daniel Sorensen and Eric Murray.”

Phillip Gaines is likely the Chiefs #2 cornerback now, with Terrance Mitchell as the #3, so look for Tom Brady to pick on these defenders as early and often as possible, with either Cooks or Hogan seeing a favorable match-up with Peters tied up on the other side of the field, likely not seeing many targets.

“He’s got very good ball skills,” Belichick said about Peters. “He’s got good anticipation and he’s one of those ball hawking type of players, so he has very good awareness of where the ball is, who he’s covering, where the other receivers are. A lot of times he makes plays on balls that aren’t really thrown to his player, his guy or the guy you would think he’s covering. He falls off and makes the play on somebody else.

“That’s tough for the quarterback because you think he’s occupied. He makes you think he’s occupied, but he really isn’t. He’s seeing the ball and breaking on it. He’s long, he’s hard to throw over, but very good hands, good anticipation. If you run a sloppy route, he’ll jump it, sit on it and then you’re throwing it right to him. So, he does a good job, and [Eric] Berry reads the quarterback well. On a lot of their defenses, there’s a least one free player somewhere in the defense that’s kind of roaming around. If the quarterback doesn’t see him, he’ll get the ball.”

X Factors

The Patriots can expect Peters to stay on one side of the field (unless the Chiefs throw a huge wrinkle into their game plan), which means that New England should have a solid plan on how to use their receivers. It’s tight end Rob Gronkowski that should draw the toughest match-up of the day.

“They'll probably use some combination of double coverage on him,” Thorman writes about how the Chiefs will defend Gronk. “Eric Berry or Ron Parker could get the call. I don't really have a lot of confidence in the Chiefs ability to stop Gronk. Hit him at the line, get him off his route and hope you can affect Brady's throw in time. Isn't that all you can ask for against him? I don't think there will be any secret here; Gronk will have a big day.”

Even Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton knows that he has a tough task ahead.

“He’s very effective, he understands the leverage,” Sutton said about Gronkowski. “He understands how to get his body in position, he’s like a basketball player, he can get into you and prevent you to getting around – you can be really close to him but can’t get around him. That’s just one of the things he has going for him, his size.

“And he’s just a good receiver, he has really good hands. He understands in our estimation, what they’re trying to do to take advantage of coverages and that kind of stuff. He’s just a really good, highly competitive guy. Obviously excitable, a high energy guy. He presents a huge challenge for us as a defense.”

I would expect Parker to remain deep in case the Patriots send either Cooks or Hogan or Dorsett down the field on a go route, which leaves Berry to cover Gronkowski. Either he does it alone- which would be a huge risk- or the Chiefs have to dedicate one of their linebackers to support Berry, and that could open up the Patriots for some draw plays to James White or Dion Lewis.