Sharpe unlikely to gouge Chiefs' defense this time

Updated: October 3, 2003, 3:37 PM ET

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- One look at Kansas City's revamped defense tells Shannon Sharpe he is unlikely to enjoy his visit to Arrowhead Stadium this weekend as much as he did last year.

"They're a lot better football team," said Denver's veteran tight end. "From a defensive standpoint, they have some talent. I'm prepared, just in case they let me run free again."

Last Oct. 20, in the greatest receiving game any NFL tight end has ever had, Sharpe exploited a plodding and confused Kansas City defense for 214 yards on 12 catches. Included in the Broncos' 37-34 overtime victory was an 82-yard catch-and-run where he outran three defenders into the end zone.

"I really don't think that's going to happen this year," safety Greg Wesley said. "A lot of breakdowns last year. Everybody knows it's a whole new defense."

As much as the Chiefs (4-0) would love to forget that day, they have been reminded of it all week while getting ready for the Broncos (4-0) in Sunday's showdown for the AFC West lead.

Against a player the caliber of Sharpe, it doesn't take many mistakes to get hurt.

"We made two huge mistakes in coverage alone," said coach Dick Vermeil. "I just think we won't break down like that again."

Kansas City's defense may have changed, but Denver's tight end seems to be the same old Sharpe. He's caught a touchdown pass in each of the last three games and been a big part of a hot streak in which Jake Plummer has thrown seven touchdown passes and no interceptions.

"You always have to evaluate your scheme and how you're handling their whole formation packages and their receivers," Vermeil said. "He doesn't make many mistakes, that guy."

However, the defense Sharpe sees Sunday will bear little resemblance to the one he schooled last year.

Newcomers Dexter McCleon, Vonnie Holliday and Shawn Barber have upgraded the entire unit. Plus, veteran safety Jerome Woods is back after sitting out all season with a leg injury and second-year defensive tackle Ryan Sims is providing a push up the middle that was sorely lacking the day Sharpe set the NFL record for tight ends.

After four games last year, the Chiefs had five interceptions. This year they have 10. Excluding return scores, the Chiefs are giving up only 12.8 points per game, more than 20 below their average a year ago.

In total offense, the Chiefs are yielding 125.5 fewer yards. They've permitted nine fewer offensive touchdowns and recorded four more sacks.

Also different is the mood of the fans. For one thing, they're glad Vermeil ignored their demands to fire defensive coordinator Greg Robinson.

"I'm the only one who had the responsibility to make decisions and I was never close to making a decision based on anything anybody said to me, whether it's media or fans or radio talk shows, or whoever it may be," Vermeil said. "I know Greg too well."

One could hardly blame the Broncos for feeling nostalgic for the old Kansas City defense.

"Woods and Sims, those guys are playing at a high level," said wide receiver Rod Smith. "I really think the schemes they put in now this year make those players better, and they're playing aggressive.

"As a defense, they're about as top-notch as you get in the NFL right now."

Sharpe certainly has fond memories of his days in Kansas City.

"I still feel that is one of the two or three best places in the NFL to play a football game," he said. "You have 85,000 fans, all dressed in all their red.

"I love playing there. It's a very tough place to win, but when you win there, the satisfaction you get is double anywhere else you win."

This story is from ESPN.com's automated news wire. Wire index