While the results of the two games could not have been any more different, in the last two games, there has been one consistent theme: the Kansas City Chiefs defense appears to have taken some steps forward.
Through the first six weeks of the season, the defense totaled 11 sacks and 24 quarterback hits. But just in the last two games, the Chiefs notched 14 sacks and 21 quarterback hits.
“Listen, I’m proud of them,” said Chiefs head coach Andy Reid after Sunday night’s 31-24 loss to the Green Bay Packers. “There’s not a lot of them. [Alex] Okafor went out and now there’s even less. Those guys battled. They played good, aggressive football — and that was without Chris [Jones] also.”
The object of their aggression on Sunday night — Packers quarterback Aaron Rodgers — credited new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
“Yeah, Steve Spagnuolo has a great scheme,” Rodgers said after the game. “It stresses you a number of different ways. They brought empty pressures [and I] had to hold on to the ball all the time.
“That scheme really stresses you in the noise and environment,” he added. “It is tough, but I have to keep doing a good job of getting the ball out of my hands and avoiding a couple of those hits.”
Reid, however, expressed concerned about the injuries the defensive front has suffered.
“All of a sudden the numbers start going down a little bit — and we’ve got to get the numbers to go back up. Got to get guys healthy and back in there. We never use that as an excuse, but as you get your numbers up you can keep your rotation up. In the fourth quarter, that helps you out, so you’ve got to get that done.”
Reid had a solid point. While most fans probably felt the Chiefs defense never got off the field in the second half, the clock actually told a somewhat different story. In the third quarter, the Packers held the ball for 9:52, while the Chiefs held it for 5:08. In the fourth quarter, however, the Chiefs actually held the ball longer than the Packers: 7:54 to 6:30.
But unfortunately for the Chiefs, the Packers made better use of their time with the ball, outscoring the Chiefs 17-7 in the second half.
And the composer of that tune was Aaron Rodgers, who spotted a favorable matchup against Chiefs linebacker Anthony Hitchens and broke the Chiefs’ back with a 67-yard pass to Jones halfway through the fourth quarter.
“Yeah, they caught us sleeping a couple of times,” remarked Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu. “Found a mismatch. Any time that you have a quarterback like that, that’s always possible. Each and every play.
“I mean, Aaron Rodgers is Aaron Rodgers,” said Mathieu. “He is going to make those plays. We can’t get them back, so we’ll just go to the film and clean it up. Got another big game next week. That’s the NFL.”
Still, Mathieu felt that by and large, the secondary is holding up its end.
“I like our group,” he said. “I like the guys that we have. I think our secondary was playing amazing; pressing guys, being physical. Like I said, I thought the front did a good job as well, making Aaron run around.”
One of those guys on the front was rookie defensive tackle Khalen Saunders. As the season began, it wasn’t clear Saunders was going to get much playing time in 2019; it was distinctly possible he was headed for a redshirt NFL season. But injuries along the defensive line have given him the opportunity for playing time — and on Sunday night, he collected his first NFL sack to go along with three tackles and a quarterback hit in the game.
“He’s a good athlete,” said Reid. “You can see that. You saw him run Aaron [Rodgers] down. He’s coming on. He’s still young, but he’s coming on. That helps us. In the long run that will help us. I’m proud of the effort that he’s given and how he’s working.”
Linebacker Damien Wilson also caught the attention of both fans and coaches on Sunday night, notching six tackles (including a tackle for loss), a sack and three quarterback hits. His intensity was obvious — although it once resulted in a penalty for hitting Rodgers out of bounds.
“I thought he did a nice job,” said his head coach. “He played physical football. I thought he played physical football and seemed to always be around the ball. When he made contact, it was pretty hefty contact, so he played it out. Played hard.”
Luckily for the Chiefs, Wilson’s penalty was one of only three the Chiefs committed in the game — another step forward for the often-penalized team. But despite these steps, Wilson was among the defenders who felt their effort still wasn’t good enough.
“We really didn’t step up when it mattered the most,” he told reporters. “That’s all we can really go off of. Wins and losses are the only things that matter.”