KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Back when he entered the NFL as an assistant coach for the New York Giants in 1981, Romeo Crennel knew just what to do when repeated breakdowns plagued his defense as they did the Chiefs in Sunday’s season-opener against Atlanta.
Crennel could take the players out to the practice field and let them beat on one another as long as necessary to get the point across.
“You could have contact, padded practice, for however long it took,’’ Crennel said. “But this is a different day and age. We have to work within the rules that are set forth. You talk to them. You show them tape.”
The Chiefs have enough to correct from the 40-24 loss — in which the Falcons scored on their first eight possessions — that Crennel under old NFL rules might need to keep them on the field continuously until their next game Sunday against the Bills in Buffalo.
The Chiefs also started poorly on defense last year, when they gave up 41 points to the Bills. If last year was an omen, things will get worse for the Chiefs before they get better. They allowed 48 the following week to Detroit.
The Chiefs showed signs through a shaky preseason that their defense would have problems once the season started for real. The Chiefs also played against Atlanta without four defensive starters, three with injuries and one suspended.
But the play of their defense was still a tremendous letdown. The Chiefs finished last season playing well on defense and returned not only the entire defensive coaching staff, including Crennel as defensive coordinator, but also eight starters.
But they still looked like complete strangers on defense against the Falcons.
“Every year is a new year in the NFL,” Crennel said. “The coaches are back, but the team doesn’t stay the same. You’ve got new people added to the team, and they’re playing in the games and it takes awhile to develop that chemistry. You try as hard as you can in training camp to develop that, but until you start playing in games and guys have pressure on them to have to make plays in pressure situations, that’s when that chemistry begins to mold together and the unit begins to become more of a unit.’’
Since NFL rules no longer allow for endless practice, Crennel said there’s little the Chiefs can do to speed up the process.
“You have to let it take its course … and you go from there,’’ he said. “Last year, the first two games defensively weren’t very good at all, but you keep working with them and keep working with them, and toward the end it turned out to be halfway decent.”
In the Bills, the Chiefs will face an opponent with similar struggles. Buffalo lost the opener 48-28 to the Jets and will play against the Chiefs without two of their top offensive players — running back Fred Jackson and wide receiver David Nelson.
Both were injured against the Jets.
The Chiefs still could be facing a confidence crisis. They sagged noticeably early in the third quarter against Atlanta when Ryan Succop missed a field goal that would have tied the game at 20.
Instead, the Falcons drove for a touchdown to take a 27-17 lead and at that point, the Chiefs collapsed. Their deficit was only 10 points, but it might as well have been 100 given the way the defense was playing.
“There were some good plays made by the defense,” Crennel said. “We didn’t play well in the passing game, but there were some good plays that were made. The fact we were able to stop them when they ran the ball, that was a positive. We were able to get some pressure on the quarterback, but the ball was coming out quick.”