On Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs defense showed up in a huge way, actively outplaying the Jacksonville Jaguars defense, and holding the Jaguars to 14 points — seven of which were in garbage time — and forcing five turnovers.
The Chiefs offense was better than they’re being given credit for. In the first half, the Chiefs did pretty much anything they wanted on just about every drive — but that simply can’t be the story after the defensive performance.
As much as I’d love to bring everyone down into The Laboratory to watch snap after snap of Dee Ford dominating — while I munch on popcorn and drink some tea, as I do on the AP Laboratory Podcast that drops Wednesday mornings — even that can’t be the lead story for this week.
The Chiefs lost safety Eric Murray on the first drive of the game — a game in which the Jaguars threw the football over 60 times! Murray was replaced by fourth-round rookie Armani Watts for most of the first half. But then Watts suffered an injury and 18th string safety Jordan Lucas had to step up and play huge snaps down the stretch.
These young safeties were not only asked to play major roles, but played a significant part in this defensive performance — and are giving Chiefs fans a preview of what could be around the corner for them.
So let’s fire up all the screens in The AP Lab, and start digging through the film to see how these guys were able to help the Chiefs achieve an AFC Clash Of The Titans win.
Safety Armani Watts
Editor’s note: We should remind you that on Tuesday, the Chiefs placed Watts — along with right guard Laurent Duvernay-Tardif — on injured reserve. Safety Dan Sorensen was already on injured reserve. All three could conceivably be ready to play before season’s end, but under NFL rules, only two can return to the roster this year. So it’s a fairly safe bet that unless Duvernay-Tardif’s injury keeps him out much longer than expected, Watts is done for the year.
In college, Watts really struggled in man coverage — whether it was on slot receivers or tight ends. His short area quickness and change of direction just aren’t exceptional, making it hard to stick with athletes in space. That carried over to training camp. In camp, Watts also had a hard time handling press coverage, and was often beaten quickly off the snap.
Version of this that doesn't skip pic.twitter.com/toNma7MOm3— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 9, 2018
Austin Seferian-Jenkins isn’t the most athletic tight end in the NFL right now — or maybe even offensive tackle on his own team — but here, Watts does a great job fighting through the physicality to hold the press. Watts keeps Seferian-Jenkins from getting into his route — or picking off another defender — and shows good feet in the process.
This was good
In college, Watts was an aggressive player that had good instincts, and always looked to make plays on the football.
Nice job by Watts not to fall for the jump cut before the slant, keep his hands off the waist of ASJ, and get underneath of him for the PBU on 4th down. pic.twitter.com/K27Z3S1B2n— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 9, 2018
This is another rep against Seferian-Jenkins — this time on a slant over the middle with no help in man coverage. Watts does a good job staying balanced during the opponent’s outside fake, and trails behind him without getting grabby. When you are trailing by this much, it’s hard to undercut a slant route without hooking the receiver’s waist and extending across their body, but here, Watts pulls it off perfectly.
Why to be skeptical
Watts spent the vast majority of his snaps against Jacksonville in man coverage or underneath zones, and while his man coverage was solid overall, he wasn’t challenged or pressed in zone at all. His ability to have proper zone spacing — as well as his ability to read and react to multiple routes — is still an unknown. But the bigger question right now is still his run fits.
Armani Watts is still out there piecing it together but it was nice to see him get some playing time. DS run fits are definitely something to work on. Gets super deep w/ no threat, then comes forward, stops and puts his feet in mud rather than reducing the field for the RB. pic.twitter.com/w4cA7FNwXs— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 9, 2018
The depth Watts gets here is debatable — and that could be a coaching issue — but the worry comes from how hesitant and slow he is to come to the run. Watts comes downhill slowly, and then commits the cardinal sin of slowing his feet, getting stuck in mud, and trying to react laterally to what the runner is doing.
Watts has to learn to attack and reduce the running lane to the sideline, and react more quickly to the run — especially when he plays up in the box.
Safety Jordan Lucas
Before being traded to Kansas City just before the season started, Lucas hadn’t seen much playing time in the Miami Dolphins defense, and while this is just one game, Lucas looked really good.
Lucas was exceptional in nearly every aspect of the game, and it’s worth noting the Chiefs played him as the center field safety more than anywhere else. He also saw a few reps in underneath coverage and man-to-man.
Jordan Lucas is on an island with Niles Paul on this corner route and fights very well to stick with him through the entire route. Lucas is definitely seen as more of a FS, or so it seems from this game, as Parker slid into the box while Lucas played deep or in man exclusively pic.twitter.com/JwZggzzEd8— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 9, 2018
Jacksonville tight end Niles Paul is a solid athlete, and here he has a one-on-one matchup with Lucas on a corner route, with the only help coming on a slant or drag. Paul tries to shake Lucas off the line, but Lucas stays patient. When Paul tries to press vertically into his body, Lucas responds with physicality to stick right on his hip as Paul breaks to the corner.
Later in the game — also in man coverage — Lucas showed fantastic feel working through traffic on a crossing route, and working from depth to undercut another pass attempt to Paul.
Jordan Lucas' INT was pretty impressive for a guy in his first real game for KC. Playing single high vs four verticals is extremely tricky but Lucas does a great job working into position to take both inside routes. Reads the QB's eyes and then turns into 4th string RB Lucas. pic.twitter.com/orwCvHuh13— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 9, 2018
This interception looks like a simple overthrow by Blake Bortles, but Lucas’ ability to read the field and stay in a position to take away both seams was impressive. Lucas does a good job balancing his positioning with his hips so he can break on either route immediately — all while climbing to depth.
As soon as the quarterback steps to deliver the ball, Lucas is tracking it so he can adjust while coming downhill. The return is just amazing from every angle.
Lucas’ ability to read the field as a center field safety like this — on a difficult route combination — is very impressive for a player with so little playing time.
This was good
Lucas really flies around the field — but does so responsibly, and with purpose. He breaks quickly with good angles overall — really squeezing into help or the sideline — and seems to have a fantastic grasp of each situation.
Here he adjusts Terrance Smith’s alignment to play with outside leverage based on the receiver split and the coverage, and then Lucas stays home to help Smith as the post is shown. He breaks out with the receiver just in case he can undercut the ball, but as soon as the ball is thrown to the underneath receiver, he breaks immediately with speed and a great angle. This is big-time help in a clutch fourth-down stop.
Why to be skeptical
None of this is to say Lucas was perfect against the Jaguars, but all in all, there just isn’t much to be worried over. There are small zone spacing issues — as well as knowing when a guy can be passed off early and when he has to stick on them the entire way — but that will come with experience.
Jordan Lucas looks comfortable back deep. Active feet, works with the routes and QB, and makes the right read. His angle starts off too steep for one step or he'd have another INT already. Bonus, good long arm into a bull rush by KPass. pic.twitter.com/RUsg7rMb3u— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 9, 2018
This is a bit of a nitpick, because Lucas reads this play perfectly, stays over the top and works the routes across the field. The one problem is that his first step on his break is overly aggressive, which ends up allowing the reception just in front of him.
You’d like to see Lucas attack from depth-forward, or to break laterally and then come downhill at the ball — like his interception from later in the game — so he’s the one cutting off the wide receiver, rather than trying to run behind the receiver on the route.
Are these young guns ready to push for even more snaps?
Not only was this a great game for the Chiefs, it also gave some young talent the opportunity to showcase their abilities. Watts had been seeing his snap counts increase due to injuries — and was picking up the defense — so Watts being placed on injured reserve is bad news.
But the good news is what we saw from Jordan Lucas. Even though Lucas hadn’t been given many opportunities, he made one heck of a case to be given more — thanks to his ability to close on the ball carriers quickly, read the field as a deep safety, and execute well against good athletes in man coverage.
And with Eric Murray’s sprained ankle, it seems likely that Lucas could get those opportunities, and prove that he can contribute in the NFL.