During the 30-6 defeat of the Denver Broncos in Week 7, Kansas City Chiefs fans were (somewhat unexpectedly) treated to one of the best defensive performances the team has had since the 2013 season, when the Chiefs held opponents to historically-low scoring during the first half of the season.
So when defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo met with the media on Thursday, many of the questions centered on what had changed. Spagnuolo noted that the Broncos ran a different running scheme than the team had faced in its previous two outings, but he credited the “edge” his defensive players had brought to the game.
“Guys have got a lot of pride and weren’t too happy about the previous two games,” he explained. “The edge and the attitude I thought was right. [We] had a little early success and it continued on through. I would have really liked it if on that first third-down play, we didn’t get a face mask; we would have been off the field and saved ourselves some legs. But sometimes that happens.”
In fact, without the facemask penalty on Frank Clark during the Broncos’ first drive — or the later holding call against Bashaud Breeland — it’s possible the Chiefs defense could have shut out an opponent for the first time since 2011.
“It’s encouraging,” said Spagnuolo, “but we’re not going to rest on our laurels from one game. We’ve got a long way to go. [Green Bay has] a different running attack — a different challenge — with a quarterback [who] adds some problems. We’ve got to do the same thing again.”
Spagnuolo was asked if he thought his players would be able to sustain the attitude and edge they displayed against the Broncos.
”I’m hoping it sustains a long way,” he replied. “The only comment I made to our guys was that our hope is this: when this thing is all done, that’s not the best game we’ve played. That would be the hope. Hopefully, the guys will embrace that.”
Safety Tyrann Mathieu said that with Patrick Mahomes out, the defense needs to be ready to take the lead.
“I’ve mentioned it, especially [after] those two losses, it felt like it was our time for the defense to step up,” he said. “We’re quite aware of what’s going on around us. I’m grateful that we’re rolling into where everyone can see our progression as a defense. We just have to control what we can control no matter where the ball is on the field. No matter the situation, our job is to play defense and that’s what we’re going to try to do.”
But Spagnuolo said that it was more than just the defense’s emotional state that made a difference in Denver. During the two-game losing streak, the defensive coordinator had spoken with pride about the third-down packages his coaches had assembled — and his frustration about not being able to make use of them.
“It comes back to coaches [doing] a great job getting guys in the right spots in the right situations,” he told reporters on Thursday. “The thing that was encouraging in this last game was that we actually got into enough third downs. The prior two games, there were a lot of first and second downs — and that’s the result of not playing good run defense. If you play good run defense, you can put yourself in those situations and get some packages out on the field. So we’re looking to try to do the same thing.”
But dominating Joe Flacco’s offense is one thing. The Chiefs defense is well aware that doing the same thing against Aaron Rodgers is quite another.
“This week presents a bigger challenge with Aaron Rodgers and all the throws he can make,” said Mathieu. “He has a lot of young guys around him and you can tell those guys are hungry and really just happy to be out there playing.”
But Mathieu noted that Rodgers has a tendency that is both an advantage and disadvantage.
“If you watch him on tape he holds that ball quite a bit,” he said. “I think he enjoys the camera on him and he enjoys those deep shots down the field. That’s going to be a challenge for us.”
“I mean, he’s got eyes all over his head,” said Spagnuolo. “He’s still athletic — been doing it for a long time. He extends the down. You’re right: from snap to when the ball is thrown is as long as anybody in the league, but I think he’s always looking to make a really big play -- which he does a lot; he chucks the ball downfield.”
Against Rodgers, Spagnuolo said that the one-on-one matchups will be critical.
“I think it’s important to win your one-on-one’s up front, make sure that the guys on the back end win their one-on-one’s and try to make it tough for number 12. He gets the last say on every play — and he is really good at it. He can change it. He knows how to get out of a bad play.”
Mathieu said that in the secondary, it would come down to winning on both ends of the route.
“The first phase of the route, can we disrupt the timing? And from there [through] the second phase, can we finish it the play? He’s going to extend some plays, he’s going to make some plays Sunday night; he’s Aaron Rodgers. The biggest thing I mentioned is just limiting the explosive plays. [If we do that,] we’ll put ourselves in a position to play some good defense Sunday.”