The Kansas City Chiefs Defense Is Better Than We Thought

With all the news about cornerback trades flying around, it’s no surprise that Chiefs Kingdom has been seeing an opportunity to gain more skill at one of the weakest positions on this roster. I, too, in previous articles have pointed out the need for a CB1. Unfortunately (or fortunately, depending on how you look at it), the Kansas City Chiefs defense showed what it can be when it plays good football on Sunday. That will almost certainly have a direct impact on Brett Veach’s view of this defense and the needs at cornerback.

With the Kansas City Chiefs 28-10 win on Sunday over the Oakland Raiders, the Chiefs now own the all time record in Oakland against the Raiders at 21-19-1. The Chiefs also shut the Raiders out the final three quarters of the game. Derek Carr completed 23 of his 38 passing attempts for just 198 yards, including one touchdown and two interceptions. The running game did a lot better, gaining 129 yards total. 51 of those yards came on just one play, which we’ll look at.

As I mentioned last article, context matters. In the first quarter, Oakland was rocking. High off a home opening win against the Denver Broncos, the Raiders stopped the Chiefs offense on its first drive, and they scored 10 points. Adjustments made the difference in this game, as the Chiefs completely locked Carr and the Raiders offense down the remaining three quarters and produced two turnovers and three sacks.

Is the Kansas City Chiefs Defense Better Than We Think?

The Raiders came out ready to play some AFC West rival football. Tight end Darren Waller made some plays, rookie Josh Jacobs looked great driving through tackles and gaining every extra yard possible, and the Raiders were the first to put points on the board with a field goal on their opening drive.

They also challenged the Chiefs deep, and benefitted from a huge pass interference call on Tyrann Mathieu. If you watch Mathieu’s eyes, it looks like he’s more focused on tracking this ball than he is the receiver, and probably doesn’t realize he’s about to collide until it’s too late. A little more awareness and this play could have been a pick. We’ve also seen plenty of examples of where this becomes a touchdown. More awareness on the part of Mathieu will help in the future, but being that he’s one of the best safeties in the league, I’m sure he already knows that and about this play.

That play put the Raiders inside the five-yard line, and the Chiefs were playing on their heels. Here, the Chiefs have pretty much all of their secondary lined up on the goal line. Tyrell Williams puts a move on Kendall Fuller, and as Fuller slips, Williams is left wide open in the back of the end zone. We’ll see another play later of a goal-line stand by the Chiefs that goes exceptionally well, but for right now, let’s focus on the defense on this play.

The Chiefs rush four and the rest play shallow zone. Fuller was most likely responsible for covering Williams, but nobody drifts deeper to cover him as Fuller goes down. Carr puts the ball up there and Williams is able to use his height to grab it, without the ball being swapped down by the linebacker. This would be the last time the Raiders score.

The Chiefs clog up the interior gaps, forcing Josh Jacobs to try to bounce to the outside. Unblocked, Tanoh Kpassagnon is waiting to wrap him up off the edge. Kpassagnon will be back later in this article, but he showed some stuff on Sunday. It’s no surprise that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo used the Chiefs depth on the line to rotate guys in and out. As Chris Jones had his dominant performance throughout the day, the line began to shift more to cover him and Frank Clark. This left guys like Kpassagnon open to make plays themselves. This will more than likely become a theme this season, as the line begins to live up to their potential.

The Raiders made their passing yardage happen via short to intermediate passes. Carr used play action to get receivers to the outside, where the secondary had to rush to push them out of bounds. However, on screen attempts, the Chiefs were solid. This isn’t the only example of the Chiefs snuffing out a screen, as Kendall Fuller made a solid tackle on a screen later in the game. However, here Frank Clark and Darron Lee come crashing down to pummel Jacobs behind the line of scrimmage. The Raiders would later move away from screens, and given the Chiefs’ early ability to beat screens, both Sunday and in Jacksonville, it wouldn’t be surprising to see opponents attempt either more exotic screens or move away from them altogether.

On the Raiders first possession of the third quarter, down by 18 points, they show their trust in Josh Jacobs as they hand it off to him for a 51-yard scamper. This was the biggest play by the Oakland offense all Sunday. Notice how Denzelle Good gets away with a hold on Anthony Hitchens, which certainly helped contribute to the big gain, but that went uncalled.

On the previous note on solid goal line stands, here is Bashaud Breeland’s interception in the end zone. Tyrann Mathieu makes a motion on the edge, and Carr recognizes that pressure is coming from that side. While that pressure goes unblocked, Carr gets the ball out of his hands quickly. Unfortunately for the Raiders, he sent it too deep into the end zone and Breeland was able to turn his hips and make a play on the ball without the wide receiver being able to knock it away. With the Chiefs up 18 points, Carr was more willing to take chances, and this is a point I’m going to talk about more in a moment.

The Chiefs get an interception on the very next drive, when Mathieu accidentally bumps into the receiver running on a slant, and Ward is left wide open to catch the football. It was talked about a little in the broadcast, but if you watch Mathieu’s eyes, he is so focused on reading Carr’s eyes that he doesn’t even realize the receiver is right on him. As I said before, more awareness would help prevent an accidental PI penalty. However since this was an accident, and it happened inside the 10 yard line, it essentially goes as a pick play. Charvarius Ward makes a good read on the football and grabs himself his first INT of the season.

Breeland, having already notched a few tackles and an interception, follows a huge tackle on Jacobs with another open field tackle. Watch him change direction quickly, on the dirt, no less, and prevent a potential first down by making the tackle. He’s shown his speed, but he’s also shown his ability to make solid tackles in the open field, which is incredibly important. Last season, the Chiefs struggled in tackling, and the ability of the Chiefs defense to put people on the ground so far this season has been a huge reason why short to intermediate passes aren’t becoming bigger plays like they were last season.

Kpassagnon gets a big sack on this play. The Chiefs are playing cover 2 man, which opens up the crossers that take a moment to develop. Unfortunately for Carr, he feels the pressure before those receivers can come open, and tries to dance out of the pocket, only to be taken down by Kpass. Tanoh is facing a double team on this play, and yet he’s able to spin further outside and uses his size and speed to get past the tackle and lays the hit on Carr.

Things to Take Away

The rotation of the defensive line played a huge role in this game. Chris Jones had a monster day, earning a sack himself. With the offensive line moving protections around to cover Jones, they left guys like Tanoh open to make plays off the edge or on the inside, where he recorded his sack. With fresh linemen, you can easily tire out an offensive line by bringing guys in fresh to constantly challenge the o-line.

The Chiefs also brought pressure from different places. Kendall Fuller got a sack the play before Kpass got his, and it was clear as the second half moved forward that Carr knew he had to get the ball out quickly. Because they were down three scores, he was willing to take more chances, which resulted in incompletions or, in two cases, interceptions. They did, however, keep a surprisingly slow pace.

This may be in part due to the defense keeping the ball ahead of them and not allowing for bigger plays. As the offense was able to complete short to intermediate passes, they would only gain five to eight yards. The clock spun down as the Raiders marched down. This is a solid strategy for a team that put up 28 points in 15 minutes. It isn’t hard for the Chiefs to score, clearly. What will be hard is for the Chiefs to keep the game from becoming a shootout, which is where they took some losses last year.

If the offense can continue to get out to a quick and early lead, the defense can allow the opposing offense to play “ball control”, despite being down. Yes, this limits the Chiefs’ opportunities to score as the game goes on. However, it also limits the opponent’s chances. You can only really play ball control if you trust your defense to get off the field, and who can trust their defense if Pat Mahomes is lining up on the other side?

The cornerbacks had a great game on Sunday. Sure, I’d love to see them add another cornerback. That said, Breeland led the team in tackles, Ward got an interception and didn’t get beat deep (he was playing zone on the deep PI on Mathieu), and the rest of the secondary kept the play in front and made tackles.

This next week against the Baltimore Ravens will show us a lot about this defense. The Ravens are coming in hot, and the offense is looking good (for a unit led by a running back). It will be another challenge that I’m sure Spags and his unit are ready for.

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