Kansas City Chiefs general manager Brett Veach made two key acquisitions on the defensive side of the football this offseason, out-bidding the Houston Texans for safety Tyrann Mathieu and trading away a first and second-round draft pick to the Seattle Seahawks for defensive end Frank Clark.
The hope was that by adding two defensive leaders to go along with the direction of new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, the Chiefs defense would improve. And through six games — statistically speaking — it has.
But only barely.
The Chiefs finished 2018 giving up an average of 26.3 points per game (24th) and a second-to-worst average of 405.5 yards per game (31st). Through six games in 2019, the Chiefs are giving up an average of 24 points per game (19th) and 406.2 yards per game (28th).
The run defense — as to be expected — is statistically worse. The Chiefs gave up 132.1 rushing yards per game in 2018 (27th) to 161.8 rushing yards per game through six games in 2019 (30th). The Chiefs gave up 192 total rushing yards in their 31-24 loss to Houston on Sunday.
“The obvious is that there are too many holes and we have to make sure we squeeze on those and fill,” said head coach Andy Reid as the media searched for answers about the run defense. “That’s the basics of it. It’s not one person that is the problem.”
Clark, who knows that the run defense is a major issue, explained the only thing to do is to “reboot.”
“Sometimes you get away from what you are trained and coached to do over the spring and summer,” said Clark. “We have to get back to our aggression, our passion for stopping the run. As you can see, early in the season, after six weeks, we have not been able to do that. That’s just being honest. Over 100 yards rushing ever week against our opponents, some running backs are more well-known than others, but we are making everybody look awesome. We are making every running back we play look awesome.”
Against the Chiefs, Carlos Hyde did look awesome, fulfilling what’s come to be expected for any running back against Kansas City — rushing for more than 100 yards and scoring a touchdown.
“Carlos Hyde did a great job,” added Clark. “He did a great job running the ball out there. Of course, we knew that. Him coming from us, we knew he had some animosity out there towards us, of course, as any player should. He showed up. He did his thing.”
Last season, when Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes was perfectly healthy, he could make up for the obvious deficiencies the Chiefs had on defense. But that is not the case in 2019, as playing through a lingering ankle issue has made the reigning MVP look mortal at times.
“For the most part, the offenses we are playing, we haven’t shut down an offense this year,” added Clark. “That is something we have to do in order to win. We can’t keep putting the pressure on our offense to do everything. We can’t keep putting the pressure on those guys to get the job done. We know what they can do, but we’ve got to give them more opportunities. We’ve got to slow the game down, on defense so we are not getting these extended drives, nine-play drives, 10-play drives.”
On the Texans’ 93-yard game-winning drive in the fourth-quarter, Houston never saw a third down as they ran the ball on eight of the 12 plays for 48 yards. That is six yards per carry.
“Whoever gets there first has to make that tackle,” said Mathieu when asked about the Chiefs missing key tackles. “Once it gets to the second and third level, it becomes a pretty hard tackle. We just have to do a good job of building the wall, setting edges and playing off of each other.”
If there is a single bright side, it is that the Chiefs can turn the page quickly, as they take on the Broncos in just four days.
The negative is that waiting for them in Denver is the tandem of Phillip Lindsay and Royce Freeman, a one-two punch that has combined for 150 carries for 681 yards (4.5 yards per carry) on the season. The last time the Chiefs played the Broncos, Lindsay rushed 18 times for 95 yards and a touchdown.
At this point, how could you reasonably expect Lindsay and Freeman not to have their way with the Chiefs?
“We’ve got to come back in here [Monday],” said Clark. “It’s a short week, we’ve got a very short week until we are playing again. We’ve got to come out here [Monday] and watch some film and get it out of our minds so we can get on track for Thursday.”