Chiefs' defense making strides for opener

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The Kansas City Chiefs allowed two long pass plays, one for a touchdown, on the Minnesota Vikings’ opening drive of last week’s preseason game. It was that drive that told defensive coordinator Bob Sutton the Chiefs are close to being ready for the start of the regular season.

Not that drive, exactly, but how the Chiefs responded to it. After the Vikings went down the field for that opening score, they managed just 74 yards and a field goal against the starting Chiefs defense over the next two quarters.

The Chiefs also scored a safety when Jaye Howard knocked the ball away from Minnesota quarterback Matt Cassel and out of the end zone.

“One of the things you’re looking for that’s always a dynamic you’re never quite sure of is, what are we going to do when things go bad?’’ Sutton said. “How are we going to respond?

“This is the NFL. Things aren’t going to go the way you want them to every play, every quarter, every game. If you want to be good on defense, you have to be able to handle those swings and not lose your focus, not lose your confidence, not stay back on your heels.

The Chiefs’ defense is having its share of issues. The Chiefs have allowed several big pass plays, which was a problem for them last season. They’re trying to identify a starting inside linebacker to replace the injured Joe Mays. Two starters, safety Eric Berry and end Mike DeVito, have yet to play in the preseason because of injuries.

But the defense appears much closer than the offense to being regular-season game ready. Sutton is hopeful the defense will play well in the Sept. 7 regular-season opener against Tennessee at Arrowhead Stadium, but acknowledged he isn’t certain.

“If you’re going to be honest and frank about it, you’ll probably not know what your team is going to be like until you play [in the regular season],’’ he said.

Then he rattled off a list of players who have done well in the preseason, including Tamba Hali, Justin Houston, Derrick Johnson, Allen Bailey, Dontari Poe and Howard.

That made him feel better.

“Those are things we’ve been watching over the last 10 days to where we can say, ‘We’re finally inching forward to where we want to be,’ ’’ Sutton said.