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Keeping Dontari Poe fresh boosts Chiefs defense

There are a plethora of ideas on how the Kansas City Chiefs should navigate the offseason in terms of addressing team needs. The notion that they must prioritize the safety and wide receiver positions are prevalent and valid.

Oct 27, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Jason Campbell (17) is sacked by Kansas City Chiefs nose tackle Dontari Poe (92) at Arrowhead Stadium. Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 27, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Cleveland Browns quarterback Jason Campbell (17) is sacked by Kansas City Chiefs nose tackle Dontari Poe (92) at Arrowhead Stadium. Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

However, one must consider football is a game initiated and won at the line of scrimmage. Additionally, consider the Chiefs recently experienced one of the most horrific defensive collapses in NFL playoff history.

Factoring those two areas opens a strong argument for the Chiefs to focus on upgrading their defensive line and its ability to pressure the quarterback.

The team could take a big step in achieving both areas by acquiring a quality backup for Pro Bowl nose tackle Dontari Poe.

Poe played 1,004 snaps last season which was nearly 500 more snaps than any other defensive linemen on the team, according to ProFootballFocus.com (PFF). That is an absurd workload for a man who is 6-foot-3 and decimating the scale at a mammoth 346 pounds.

Poe survived the season largely due to his youth and elite conditioning. But after shooting out of the gates with 4.5 sacks and 17 hurries through the first eight games, Poe closed out the latter half of the season with zero sacks and 11 hurries.

That is arguably a clear indication he wore down as the season progressed and lost some effectiveness as an inside pass rusher.

One could argue that injuries to outside linebackers Tamba Hali and Justin Houston largely contributed to the defensive failures towards the end of the season. However, both were healthy and without a sack in a somber 27-17 road loss to the Denver Broncos in Week 11.

Without pressure up the middle, opposing quarterbacks can step up into the pocket and avoid the outside rush. That is why Poe’s decline in generating an interior rush coincided with the defense’s decline in suppressing opponent scoring output and yards through the air.

Through the first eight weeks, the Chiefs held opponents to averages of 12 points and 223 passing yards per game. However, in Weeks 9 through 16 (Poe was inactive in Week 17) those averages rose dramatically to 27 points and 293 yards per contest.

As Poe goes, so goes the Chiefs defense. Hence, it is apparent that finding viable relief for him should be paramount for the Chiefs. There are a few avenues the Chiefs can explore to fulfill this need.

On the roster

The first place that the Chiefs will undoubtedly look to address this is from within. At nose tackle, the only serviceable backup option currently on the roster is fourth-year player Jerrell Powe.

Powe has been active in just 12 games since being selected by the Chiefs in the sixth round of the 2011 NFL draft. To his credit, he has one career start , which was against the San Diego Chargers in Week 17 of last year. Powe made the most of that opportunity by registering two tackles (one for loss), a sack, and one hurry against the Chargers starting offensive line.

At 6-foot-2 and 331 pounds, Powe has a nice combination of size, strength and surprising quickness. Nevertheless, Chiefs will want to add more big bodies to compete with Powe for the No. 2 spot on the depth chart.

Through the draft

With potential, first-day starters available at wide receiver and defensive back in the early rounds of the 2014 NFL draft, the Chiefs will most likely use the third day (Rounds 4-7) of the draft to find help for Poe.

Therefore, expect the Chiefs to take hard looks at some solid, mid-late round nose tackle prospects such as Louisiana Tech’s Justin Ellis (6-foot-2, 342 lbs), Delaware’s Zach Kerr ( 6-foot-2, 334 lbs), Arkansas State’s Ryan Carrethers (6-foot-1, 330 lbs), and Wisconsin’s Beau Allen (6-foot-3, 333 lbs).

Kerr and Ellis both possess the ability to consistently split double-teams and collapse the pocket. They also have outstanding snap anticipation and a variety of pass rush moves at their disposal. Allen and Carrethers, meanwhile, are both strong run defenders with fantastic work ethic and relentless motors.

Through free agency

Given the current cap situation, the Chiefs aren’t expected to be major players in free agency, but could seek to add another veteran to the back up Poe.

Miami Dolphins defensive tackle Paul Soliai (6-foot-4, 340 lbs) could be available on the market. Soliai, despite some nagging knee and ankle injuries, graded out as PFF’s 20th best defensive tackle overall in 2013. At age 30, Soliai and the Dolphins might part ways after seven seasons.

There’s also B.J. Raji (6-foot-2, 337 lbs) of the Green Bay Packers. Chiefs general manager John Dorsey might utilize his Packer connections to bring in Raji, who posted eight sacks as a nose tackle in 2010 before moving to defensive end from 2011-2013.

Both Soliai and Raji possess the veteran experience and skillset to take a significant portion of the workload off Poe’s shoulders and would thrive in the Chiefs’ aggressive, upfield attack.