The Kansas City Chiefs played the Jacksonville Jaguars on Sunday, winning 40-26. The offense picked up where it left off, and Sammy Watkins had himself a game. However, one of the other headlines coming out of Week One is the Chiefs defense.
The recently rebuilt unit under Steve Spagnuolo had a strange game. After spending the week preparing for Nick Foles, they spent three quarters against Gardner Minshew, who’s mustache sliced and diced the Chiefs defense like he was the starter and Foles was a stand-in. Today, we’re going to take a look at the Chiefs defense in my first ever film review. We’ll be looking at the good, the bad, and the ugly, and at the end break down some takeaways heading into Week Two. Keep in mind that context matters. I’ll further explain that as we go, but it is important to have that in the back of your head as we move forward.
A Review of the Chiefs Defense
In the first quarter, the Chiefs showed their improvements in the run defense. While the stat sheet may show a different story, keep in mind that the first quarter was when the game was at its most competitive. This will probably be a consistent theme throughout the season as it was last season, where the offense will jump to a big lead, and then the necessity of a tight defense wears away in favor of a zone defense that prevents big plays or touchdowns.
On the first play of the Jag’s first possession, they hand it off to Leonard Fournette on a run sliding to the left side. Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson come in from their linebacker spots and put a quick end to it. Last season, the Chiefs struggled to contain the run. In a recent event, Chris Jones said that the defense is working on “building a wall” to stop the run. It starts with the line, and continues to the linebackers and as far back as the safeties. We’ll see some more examples of the run defense in this game, and how people from all position groups are contributing. This drive would become a three and out, as the secondary would actually stand strong and prevent the new Jaguar’s unit from moving the ball downfield.
Here we see something that we haven’t seen in a while, and that we didn’t see much the rest of the game: a forced incompletion. Bashaud Breeland reads the quarterback’s eyes and makes a play on the ball, getting his hand in to knock it away right on time. We’ll talk about cornerback in a minute, but Breeland closed in quickly on the ball. He has speed and good instincts, so it isn’t all doom and gloom at cornerback, but we’ll talk about that later.
This is the Foles touchdown on their second drive of the game. It was also Foles’ last play of the game, and potentially this season, as he suffered a broken clavicle. There’s a lot to unpack on this play, but let me start by just saying this is a great play by both Foles and D.J. Chark. Foles got the ball out right on time and put it exactly where it needed to go. Chark, a 6’ 4” wide receiver, simply used his size to beat Kendall Fuller on this play.
Had Foles been a tick later, this play would have been a sack. The pocket was collapsing, and Jones got a hit in (the one that sent Foles into the locker room). While the pass rush wasn’t flashing the way Chiefs fans certainly were hoping, they were applying pressure. We’ll discuss this further with Minshew when he enters on the next drive.
This brings us to Chark, who made a great play on the ball and benefitted from a one man matchup on Fuller, who simply didn’t have the size to properly cover where this ball was going. It was a great throw by Foles at the perfect time and a great job by Chark tracking the ball and preventing Fuller from getting his hands in the way. While we certainly won’t excuse this play – it’s the job of the defense to prevent these kinds of things – I do believe these things have to be said.
That said, and this opens up another can of worms, the Chiefs need a new CB1. Someone with speed, size, and instincts on the ball. Someone like, say, a Patrick Peterson, who already has a solid relationship with new Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu, who he played with in Arizona. But I digress…
Minshew comes in on Jacksonville’s third possession and looks poised as ever. Some of his plays were just good plays, but this is one play where he seems to go straight to his first read, which is Chris Conley on the dig. Charvarius Ward is in coverage, and gets beat to the inside, but wraps up as soon as the ball is caught to make the tackle. While this play goes for a first down, this is one example of how the Chiefs defense is improving on tackles. Ward struggled in coverage, and we’ll see some more of that shortly, but he does make some tackles to prevent further bleeding.
Because he is often able to go to his first read, Minshew was able to get the ball out of the pocket before the pass rush is able to apply pressure. The Chiefs secondary will need to improve on taking away the first reads, forcing the quarterback to make a business decision, which will open the door for the pass rush to get sacks.
Despite the issues in pass defense, the Chiefs continued to show up in the run defense. Hitchens and Wilson displayed the speed and hit power that got Hitchens a new contract here in Kansas City and Wilson a job here with him. Beyond that, you can see the defensive line moving guys into the gap, helping prevent any running room for the running back to get yards.
It’s been said that the best way to beat the Chiefs is to possess the ball, and have a ground and pound offense that can drain the clock and limit the chances for Mahomes to score. The offense will score no matter what, but if the Chiefs can stop the run and force the ball into the air, that’ll hopefully force turnovers via interceptions. The Chiefs had two on Sunday, with a fumble (that we’ll look at later) and an interception (that unfortunately wasn’t broadcasted due to technical difficulties). If the defense can manage to lock down further on defense when facing the run, and get better at taking away first and second reads, they have a chance to really be good. Teams will be less inclined to play ball control when it’s the third quarter and they’re down 20 points like the Jaguars were.
Ward gets beat pretty bad on this play. The defense played a little too aggressively against the run (which the broadcast mentions), and Ward is left all alone against Chark on a deep pass. Ward is able to close in and make the tackle, preventing the touchdown (this drive would go for just a field goal), but a cornerback like Ward shouldn’t be left to cover a receiver without support. Fortunately, he keeps Chark against the sideline and prevents the bleeding from being a touchdown.
Juan Thornhill had a good debut as a Chief. He led the team with seven tackles and showed his speed and physicality. On this play, he and Fuller both close in on Westbrook on a wheel route. Thornhill made some plays against the run as well and seemed to always be in the play. It’ll be interesting to see him next week against the Raiders, as well as his progression as a rookie throughout the season.
Thornhill isn’t the only newcomer to make an impact. Damian Wilson was flying on Sunday, stopping the run and helping out in coverage. Here, he manages to strip the ball away from Fournette, and fellow newcomer Bashaud Breeland recovers and returns the ball to the 40-yard line. If the defense isn’t going to improve from where it is right now at cornerback, it’ll be imperative that the Chiefs take the ball away as often as possible. Not only does that keep the opposing offense from making a comeback, as we saw all too often last year, it also gives the Chiefs offense another opportunity to reward them with more points, further burying opposing teams.
Speaking of things that really help this team, Emmanuel Ogbah sacks Minshew here deep in Jaguars territory. The Chiefs have depth along the line, which they can rotate in and out of the game, keeping them fresh, and allowing for more plays like this. Ogbah beats his man around the edge and gets the quarterback in the pocket. Notice how long Minshew held the ball on this play. He looked like he was about to go to someone, but held on too long, allowing for the sack. It’s plays like this that will make the difference for the defense.
The Chiefs defense looked faster and better at tackling than last year’s unit. The pass rush wasn’t as flashy as some had hoped, but that can be attributed to the struggles of a poor cornerback corps. Better coverage will keep the quarterback from passing to the first read, which will produce more sacks. Fear of the pass rush will force mistakes, which will lead to turnovers, which will lead to complete annihilation.
Let’s see what this team does in Week Two. It will be a big divisional matchup against a rebuilt Oakland Raiders team that looks to improve on a poor 2018 record. For now, let’s just hope the Chiefs find themselves a new CB1 to help take this defense to the next level. Keep an eye out for my colleague Carey Wells next article on possible cornerback trade targets, as that is directly applicable to the findings in this review.