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Defense Remains the Chief Concern in K.C.

By Christian Swezey
Special to The Washington Post
Wednesday, September 8, 2004; Page H17

Everyone loves a trend. How else to explain all those annoying Texas Hold'em leagues run by people who had never heard of poker six months ago? The Chiefs kind of started a trend in their division after offensive coordinator Al Saunders brought the Air Coryell offense with him from St. Louis in 1999. The offense features several three- and four-wide receiver sets, along with some two- and three-tight end formations.

AFC West rivals Oakland and San Diego are running versions of it this year.


But no one is rushing to emulate Kansas City on defense. The team finished 29th in total defense last year, and 32nd -- that's out of 32 teams -- in the same category the year before.

The 434 yards the Chiefs gave up in a 38-31 loss to Indianapolis in the playoffs last year was only the most disappointing in a stretch of poor performances. The Chiefs gave up 508 yards in a 45-27 loss to Denver in December; two weeks later, they gave up 469 yards in a 45-20 loss to the Vikings.

"When you win 13 games, you aren't terrible on defense," Coach Dick Vermeil said of last year, when the team went 13-3 after a 9-0 start. "Where we break down, and what distorts the performance, is how we performed against three highly skilled offensive teams."

The defense brings back 10 starters. The only addition is coordinator Gunther Cunningham. You may remember him: He went 16-16 as the Chiefs' head coach in 1999 and 2000, and found out he was fired after 2000 via the Internet.

The offense would appear to have no such worries. Quarterback Trent Green (4,039 yards passing, 24 touchdowns, 12 interceptions), running back Priest Holmes (1,420 yards rushing) and tight end Tony Gonzalez (71 receptions) are back.

The offensive line includes tackle Willie Roaf, guard Will Shields and center Casey Wiegmann; all three are considered among the top five in the NFL at their positions.

But the wide receivers are in trouble. Starter Marc Boerigter likely is out for the year with a back injury. The other starter, Johnnie Morton (50 receptions), is out indefinitely with an Achilles' injury.

"I'm just doubtful" when Morton will come back, Vermeil said in August. "I don't know for how long [he's out]. I'm just doubtful. I think it gets longer every day. I'm just doubtful right now."

Vermeil's uncertainty leaves three rookies -- Sammie Parker, Jeris McIntrye and undrafted Richard Smith -- joining Eddie Kennison and return specialist Dante Hall as the main receivers.

So until Morton is back, those with Gonzalez in their fantasy football teams can thank their lucky stars on the way to their Texas Hold'em game.


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