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Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu is the blitzing badger

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Mathieu’s leadership cannot be understated, but neither should his on-field abilities

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs-Training Camp Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

There is a new leader in the Kansas City Chiefs secondary, and he hasn’t been shy about letting everybody know.

Veteran safety Tyrann Mathieu signed from the Houston Texans in March with a three-year contract worth $42 million — has embraced that role going into his first training camp with the Chiefs. He has used social media to express confidence in his new team — and his defensive teammates have been acknowledging him as their leader.

He certainly has leadership skills. Fans have noticed them because so far, that is the only tangible trait we have been able to see from Mathieu as a Chief.

Let’s just make sure we aren’t forgetting about his play on the field.

Mathieu is four years removed from a first-team All-Pro season. He’s battled injuries since then, but there’s no reason to worry about his health going into 2019. One of his abilities — blitzing — was on full display during the first weekend of training camp.

And that’s what I am examining today.

Blitzing

Tyrann has a natural instinct for all aspects of blitzing. I looked at his 2018 film and found some great examples of this ability.

He is very cognitive when rushing the passer; he shows an intuition to manipulate a blocker’s positioning and thought process. Here we see two examples where he makes the running back think he’s coming off the edge with a subtle movement at the snap — which creates a huge lane he can use.

He excels at anticipating the snap and timing his acceleration.

During the first weekend in St. Joseph, there were multiple plays where Mathieu was in the backfield almost immediately. He was playing the majority of his snaps as the strong safety — the closest safety to the line of scrimmage. Pro Football Focus premium stats show that his best season came when he was used in this way more often.

Mathieu was not utilized in this fashion as much when he was with Texans. He had an opportunity to rush the passer on only 2.9% of his total snaps in 2018 — a career low for seasons in which he played the majority of games. His previous career low was 4.6% in 2015.

In the four healthy seasons he had with the Arizona Cardinals, he surpassed 10 total pressures each year. He was only able to amass six in 2018 — although he was still able to produce a career-high three sacks. His effectiveness seems to grow with higher volume. In his All-Pro 2015 season, 27% of his pass rushing opportunities qualified as a QB pressure. He had a rate of 19% in 2018, even though he had a lower number of pass rushing opportunities.

In Arrowhead Pride’s Summer of Spags series, film analyst Craig Stout explained how defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo looks for versatility in his safeties so he can interchange them between deep zone and man coverage responsibilities. Man coverage ability is important for his blitzing strategy.

In this snap, Craig gives a great example of that importance.

Mathieu has earned enough of a reputation as a coverage player to force offenses to respect both his coverage and pass rushing abilities. The more times the defense can make a quarterback unsure about their plan, the better.

As shown in this snap, his athleticism allows him to threaten a blitz and still get in position to cover his man. This is something Spagnuolo will encourage.

Tyrann Mathieu looks to be the complete package. Not only is he a great football player, but he is becoming the vocal leader that was absolutely needed in the defensive backfield. If the defense makes notable improvement in 2019, Mathieu’s presence will certainly be one of the biggest reasons why.