The Chiefs got back to work Tuesday after their Memorial Day break and defensively at least picked up right where they left off. Coordinator Bob Sutton called plays designed to disrupt anything the offense was trying to achieve.
“That’s the M.O. of this system, to pressure the quarterback and make him feel uncomfortable, which is easy to say and hard to do,” Sutton said. “But we’ll continue down that road. You can’t give anybody in this league, especially the good quarterbacks, a steady diet of anything because they’ll usually figure it out. So you have to have some flexibility in what you do. There’s a lot of different ways that you can put pressure on the quarterback, whether it’s physical pressure or mental pressure, whatever. That’s the direction we’d like to head.”
This represents a change from the bend-but-don’t break philosophy used by former coach and defensive coordinator Romeo Crennel. His theory was that opposing offenses would have trouble consistently driving down the field as long as the Chiefs eliminated the big play.
The trouble was that last season particularly the Chiefs put little pressure on the opposing offense. They forced a league-low 13 turnovers.
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New coach Andy Reid wanted something different, the reason he hired Sutton. A former coach at Army, Sutton worked under several coaches and defensive systems with the New York Jets, including the Cover 2 schemes of Herm Edwards before he joined the Chiefs.
Sutton more recently coached in the high-pressure system employed by Jets coach Rex Ryan. That’s the philosophy he brought to the Chiefs.
“We’re trying to develop a certain kind of culture here, not only how we do something but the way we do it,” Sutton said. “To me, that’s probably just as critical as learning the Xs and Os, the blitzes, the coverages, etc. That’s the one element that will allow you to sustain through all parts of a season. We know every season has its ups and down and when you have this culture … it really helps you. That’s one of the things the guys have tried to embrace, buy into.
“It’s the way you come to work every day. It’s important when you come into that (meeting) room, you’re excited to be in that room. We want that room to be enjoyable. We don’t want it to be drudgery coming in that room. It’s hard work. You’ve got to be ready on occasion to get your tail chewed up.
“To me, it’s the way you approach your job. It’s any every-day thing. It’s a way to get better in these little increments and that’s what we’re really striving for. I tell them that every time they come to the practice field, they should have one little specific thing they’re trying to improve on as a player.”
On the field, the players seem to have taken to it well. The defense has generally outplayed the offense through many of the first 10 full-squad practices.
“We’re working hard,” safety Eric Berry said. “We’re having fun. Everybody is in their playbooks. Coach Sutton, he comes into meetings making sure we (have) the defense down. There are a lot of moving parts to it, so for us as players and just as a defensive back, we are really trying to make sure we have everything down.
“It’s a lot of stuff going on. It’s a lot of moving parts. You just have to know what you’re doing.”
There is the occasional mistake, such as in Tuesday’s practice when the defense left rookie tight end Demetrius Harris uncovered in the end zone to catch a scoring pass from Ricky Stanzi.
More frequent are the successes. Two plays later, Stanzi was flushed out of the pocket by pressure and his off-balance pass intended for Harris in the back of the end zone was intercepted by Derrick Johnson.
Sutton, meanwhile, continues to tinker with the defense.
“We still have to learn our players,” he said. “I’m not sure we’ll ever really know them until we get into pads and we get into the preseason games. Then we’ll be able to say, ‘This is what we do best.’ That to me is still a big part of it. One of the most important things in football is to know who you are and not who you want to be. That’s going to come with learning our players and understanding what they can do. We won’t ultimately change the system but we will pull and tilt the system to our strengths.
“Our system has a lot of flexibility.”
Sutton said he has seen enough of the strengths and weaknesses of the defensive players to know they can make the system work. The Chiefs had four defensive players participate in last season’s Pro Bowl, including pass-rushing linebackers Justin Houston and Tamba Hali.
“We’ve got a real good group of guys,” Sutton said. “They’re kind of a mix of young and experienced guys. We’re blessed with some really good talent on the edges, which really makes any defense much more difficult to handle. I’ve been really pleased with the way everybody has kind of got involved in the system, tried to take it on.
“They’ve worked really hard at this point. We still have a long way to go but I’m happy with the way they’re done their business.”