Over the last three weeks, the Kansas City Chiefs defense has looked a lot more like the team fans were hoping to see when defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was hired to replace Bob Sutton in January: aggressive, fluid and better.
Speaking to reporters during his weekly press scrum, Spagnuolo said it has much to do with the players becoming more comfortable with the changes he’s implemented — and each other.
”I think they get comfortable with each other. I think they get comfortable with the calls,” he said. ”We’re going into Game 10, so we try not to change things very much so that it does stay consistent.”
Spagnuolo also said that part of it has to do with experience facing other offenses in the scheme.
“I always say this about defensive football in this league: you can do a million walkthroughs, you can do OTAs where there’s no pads on [where] we work against one type of offense all that time. And then we see different offenses when we get into the regular season. It just takes a little while for everybody to get up to speed. But I do think the guys are more comfortable. Hopefully, they stay that way. When you’re comfortable and you’re confident, you play faster.”
That faster play is also happening because of improved communication, as linebacker Anthony Hitchens and safety Tyrann Mathieu get the hang of making the calls on the field.
”The two guys back there that really unwind it for us [are] really Hitch and Tyrann,” Spagnuolo said. “Listen, they embrace those roles. They’re really good at it. They’re cerebral players. They can slow the game down within the game and help everybody else out. So it’s been good.”
According to Mathieu, that’s also been a work in progress.
”Me and Hitch never played with each other before,” he explained, “so I’m getting a good feel for him and he’s getting a good feel for me. The more Hitch and I can be on the same page — see things the same way — it will help the other nine guys play faster.
”I think for the most part — especially in the back end — that we’re getting a lot more comfortable playing different coverages,” said Mathieu. “There are a lot of different schemes in the NFL. Most of them are the same [except] for little technical differences. I think we’re getting a good grip on how to play certain coverages.”
Then there are the contributions Mathieu makes on his own — which have not gone unnoticed by Mike Vrabel, whose Tennessee Titans will host the Chiefs on Sunday.
”I appreciate his energy level, his enthusiasm, his toughness and how he makes plays,” Vrabel said of Mathieu Wednesday. “You don’t want a guy who can just get you in the right call. You’ve got to have guys that have a great skill set — which he does. He covers and plays a lot of different positions. He blitzes. He’ll play nickel. Sometimes he’ll play safety in the deep part of the field. Sometimes he comes down. He’s a very good tackler; he’s not a big player, but he’s a very good tackler, which I appreciate. [He’s] someone we’re going to have to be aware of when we’re on offense.”
Some Chiefs fans expected the defense would gel sooner — and some were frustrated that it didn’t. But head coach Andy Reid wasn’t worrying.
“I’m not a big timeline guy,” he said on Wednesday. “Everything is different. This is a fluid business. These are different humans than [Spagnuolo] has coached before — different players. So you don’t know how people [will] adapt to whatever you teach them. You just kind of get in and you go. If you have a history, well, then you could say that it’s taken an average of teams doing it for this long — but I think everybody is different and every situation is different.
“It’s good to see them getting better, though.” Reid added. “They’re getting better and making progress. We’ve got plenty of room to grow in really all three phases. We have to keep buckling down, practicing hard and playing hard. That’s where we’re at right now.”