When Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Xavier Williams suffered a high ankle sprain in the Week 5 game against the Indianapolis Colts, the Chiefs were on the way to losing their first game of the season. Through the five games in which Williams had played, the Chiefs had given up 113 points — 16th in the league — and 1,965 yards, which was 27th.
The Chiefs were 4-1, but the defrensive unit under new coordinator Steve Spagnuolo wasn’t scaring anybody.
But 12 weeks later, Williams is back from his time on injured reserve. There are new faces. After a brief stint by Terrell McClain, fellow defensive tackle Mike Pennel joined the team in Week 8. At the locker next door to Williams is defensive end Terrell Suggs, who came on board just two weeks ago.
And there is a new attitude.
”I’ve seen a lot of improvement,” Williams told reporters in the locker room on Thursday. “I’ve kind of seen the way we call games at the beginning half of the year has changed a bit. We’re a lot more aggressive — and it’s been working out... been working well. So we just need to keep it going.”
While recovering from his injury, the 27-year-old Grandview native said he did his best to stay in the loop.
”You kind of try and stay up on it — stay up on what new plays are going in,” he explained. “I was up here every day. I still went to meetings, talked to the guys — staying around everybody, trying to keep the chemistry going with everybody.”
That chemistry has been paying off. Since Week 9, the Chiefs are 6-1, largely on the strength of their defense, which has allowed just 15.1 points per game — second in the NFL — and 316.0 yards per game, which ranks eighth in that same period.
But now that he’s back, will there be room for Williams — a fifth-year veteran — to play? Rookie Khalen Saunders got significant snaps when Williams (and Chris Jones) were injured in the same game. Pennel has been impressive. And Jones has had reps on the inside of the defensive line to accommodate Spagnuolo’s need to keep offenses guessing.
Neither the defensive coordinator on Thursday — or head coach Andy Reid on Friday — were prepared to say how much Williams would be able to play.
”It’s a luxury right now, because we’ve got five guys in there we can rotate around,” said Spagnuolo. “We’ll see when we get to game day what Coach Reid decides to do.”
That said, Spagnuolo was glad to have Williams available.
“It’s nice to have him there,” he said. “He’s one of those players that can play a couple of positions on the defensive line — because he’s a smart football player. So it’s good to have him back.”
For his part, Williams had no idea when he would be playing. But he said he feels good, and that he — and the rest of the defense — have a score to settle.
”I think everybody on the defense feels it,” he told reporters. “Everybody knew the story of the Kansas City Chiefs defense from last year — how we dropped the ball with the number one offense, how we just didn’t have much to complement them with.
“Everybody kind of takes it personally even if they weren’t here [because of] how people viewed us at the beginning of the season — knowing that they didn’t expect much from us. I think that’s helped motivate a lot of guys to pay more attention to detail — and just be better.”
Better is exactly what the defense has become — so much so that other teams would rather avoid them in the postseason.
“Please,” Baltimore Sun columnist Mike Preston begged his hometown Ravens on Christmas Eve, “don’t play the Kansas City Chiefs.”