In some semi-Texans related news that should be filed away in the back of your heads for the next six weeks or so, Chiefs nose tackle Dontari Poe is now highly doubtful to play in Kansas City’s Week One opener against the Texans after undergoing surgery for a herniated disc in his back on July 15th. Poe, who is arguably the best nose tackle in the game and certainly the Chiefs’ best defensive lineman, has been an absolute terror for offenses for most of his young career. At nearly 350 pounds with the gracefulness of a linebacker, Poe’s ability to dominate on every down and distance is a rare commodity that quite frankly cannot be replicated. That said, I asked Joel Thorman of BRB’s sister site, Arrowhead Pride, what Poe’s loss might mean for the Chiefs defense on September 13th.
"One player might not change my confidence level but now it's two players. The Chiefs will be missing Dontari Poe and Sean Smith (to suspension), which undoubtedly hurts the defense. Poe is arguably the most irreplaceable player on the Chiefs defense given his unique combination of size and speed. Really though, his endurance is what the Chiefs will miss. Poe hardly ever took any snaps off, so the Chiefs will need two players with less experience to replace him. Jaye Howard, who played defensive end last year, is a likely candidate to be starting there. The Chiefs will also probably have to change how they do some things on defense because of the flexibility that Poe provided on every down, but I'm not even sure what that will be yet because we have so little experience in a Poe-less defense."
Poe not being on the field might be the biggest advantage the Texans could possibly have. Justin Houston and Tamba Hali are definitely a game-breaking pass rush duo, but the Chiefs' defense would not be completely screwed if either one of them were absent in Week One because they still have former first round pick Dee Ford waiting for his time to shine at a moment’s notice. Jamaal Charles is also arguably the best running back on the planet, but Knile Davis has proven before that he has what it takes to still carry Kansas City to a win if he is thrust into a starting role. Dontari Poe, however, has no actual replacement; hell, nobody could replace him even if they wanted to. If finding somebody else like Poe were so simple, he would not be the certifiably special talent that we all know and fear (a lot).
Not having a stud nose tackle in a base 3-4 defense makes life very, very difficult for Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. As one of the more successful branches of the Rex Ryan coaching tree, Sutton is a blitz-happy madman with a penchant for sending exotic rush packages into offensive lines just for giggles. He spits in the face of conservativeness and throws the kitchen sink at quarterbacks simply because he can. And do you, my dear reader, know why he can? Because Dontari Poe is his immovable, genetically superior nose tackle, that’s why.
A player like Poe changes protection schemes in ways that dramatically alter how offenses operate. When he is on the field in Kansas City’s 2-4-5 nickel package and the inside linebackers are showing blitz, five man protections are no longer an option. Sacrificing both guards to handle Allen Bailey – who played very well as a 3-technique and as a 5-technique for KC last year – and whoever else is blitzing up the gut, while the center takes on Poe all by his lonesome, is a game plan that is almost guaranteed to fail. After the pocket is crushed two or three times when the center is inevitably overwhelmed by Poe’s strength, guards start sliding over to help out just to preserve what little pocket integrity they still have left. When guards slide, that means that one of the tackles will have to slide alongside them to pick up Bailey or the free linebacker shooting up the gut. When the tackle slides, all of the sudden that puts the running back or tight end in a one on one situation with – oh, crap – Justin Houston or Tamba Hali.
That is how Poe creates mismatches just by his presence alone. When that presence is no longer there, guards do not have to slide as much, which means the tackles do not have to slide either, which means that Justin Houston has to fight his way through Duane Brown instead of Garrett Graham. I’m not saying that Brown can’t be beaten by Houston and Hali anyway, but at least it’s a damn fair fight now.
I will admit that as a fan of the sport I am sad that such a dominant player like Dontari Poe will not be on the field for a good portion of the 2015 season. I genuinely love watching that man play football, and I wish him a speedy recovery. However, the Texans fan in me is thanking the football gods above that Ben Jones doesn’t have to block that stupidly athletic man-child for four straight quarters. That would not have gone well – I promise you that.