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Dixon’s AP mailbag: The odd man out, Darrel, the dropkick and the defense

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As the Week 4 game against the Lions looms, what’s on the minds of our readers?

NFL: AUG 24 Preseason - 49ers at Chiefs Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images

Welcome to Dixon’s Arrowhead Pride Mailbag, where I’ll do my best to answer your questions about the Kansas City Chiefs — and anything else that’s on your mind. If you have a question, you can hit my profile page to E-mail me, or ask me on Twitter.

While you’re at it, please follow me on Twitter, too.

Who is the odd man out when Tyreek Hill returns? Should we trade that person for Ramsey?

— S.P.

Thanks for your question!

Your query seems to be presuming that the Chiefs will have to make room on the roster for Hill when he returns from injury. But they won’t have to do that, because Hill was never placed on injured reserve; he’s been on the active roster all along.

However, we do know that the Chiefs will have to create a roster spot after the Detroit Lions game on Sunday. That spot will be taken by cornerback Morris Claiborne, who has been serving an NFL suspension for the first four games of the season. It’s very difficult to predict which player will be released to make room for Claiborne... but right now, I’d bet on offensive lineman Greg Senat, who was picked up on waivers from the Baltimore Ravens before last week’s game.

I’m also going to infer from your question that somehow the Chiefs might be able to sweeten the pot in a trade deal for cornerback Jalen Ramsey by offering a player the team was going to cut anyway. Maybe a wide receiver?

But I don’t think that’s going to happen. The Jacksonville Jaguars have made it pretty clear that they want two first-round draft picks for Ramsey. We have seen reports that they have been offered a first, a third and a player for their star cornerback. Since Ramsey is still on their roster, apparently the Jaguars said no. I don’t think their answer would be any different if the player in question was... say... Byron Pringle.

Will we see more Darrell Williams?

— Joel

Thanks for asking, Joel.

Yes... I think we will. We’ll be seeing him for as long as it takes for Damien Williams to get back to 100% — and perhaps even after that.

When the Chiefs signed LeSean McCoy at the beginning of the season, it was pretty easy to see it as a move that would simply give the Chiefs depth and a veteran presence. But what we have been seeing is that McCoy has become a significant part of the offense. When Damien Williams started missing time, that created a job opportunity for Darrel Williams — one that he’s handled pretty well so far.

But as Pete Sweeney noted in these pages on Wednesday, we now have to consider the possibility that McCoy’s presence (and Damien Williams’ injury) have created a situation where we could see a realignment at the running back position. It will be interesting to see how it plays out.

What was the reason that the Ravens did a drop-kick instead of a conventional on-sides kick? Inquiring minds want to know.

— Robert

That’s a good question, Robert. Thank you.

Here’s the short answer: the time on the clock.

After the Ravens’ final score, 2:01 was left in the game. It was in the Ravens’ best interest for the Chiefs to run an offensive play before the two-minute warning. That’s the only way the extra clock stoppage provided by the two-minute warning could help them.

For this reason, if the Ravens had kicked off deep, the Chiefs probably would have attempted a return — even if they’d had to field it nine yards deep in the end zone — just to get the clock moving before they ran an offensive play.

On a traditional onside kick, the ball is kicked in such a way that it can’t be fielded cleanly. It’s kicked so it skitters across the ground through the first line of defenders, or it is kicked so that it hits the ground and bounces over the first line. The hope is that the receiving team will struggle to field the ball, creating an opportunity for a scrum where the kicking team can wrestle it away.

But once the ball is touched by the receiving team, the clock starts. Since the receiving team is more likely to recover the ball, the most likely outcome would have been that one of the Chiefs would have fielded the ball and downed it. That would take at least a second off the clock — and with it, the extra timeout the Ravens wanted with the Chiefs on offense.

But the dropkick put the ball high in the air, which did two things: it gave Mecole Hardman a chance to field it cleanly, and the Ravens time to get there before he did. If Hardman hadn’t (wisely) called a fair catch, he could have been hit in the act of catching the ball, which might have given the Ravens a good chance to get it. But since he did, the clock didn’t start; the clock doesn’t run on a fair catch unless the catch is muffed.

It comes down to this: the Ravens thought they had a better chance to get the ball back with an extra timeout than they did recovering the onside kick.

Is this the game that the defense takes a big move north? Or do we have to wait for one or two more?

— B.S.

Appreciate the question. Thank you.

It’s reasonable to think that since a new defensive scheme was installed — and a lot of new players were brought in — that it could take some time to see real improvement. And I can’t blame anyone for being impatient to see it.

Looking at the statistics, some of what you see is discouraging. The Chiefs have given up 6.3 yards per rushing attempt. That’s worst in the league — and close to a yard more than the second-worst teams. Their third-down defense and drive scoring percentage numbers are close to what they were last year — but other teams are worse, so the Chiefs are ranked more highly. Pass-rushing numbers — sacks, quarterback hits and so on — are substantially down.

There is some good news, though: when you measure it by passer rating allowed, the team has improved its passing defense a bit over 2018. They’ve allowed fewer passing yards, too.

And the best news: so far, the Chiefs are allowing five fewer points per game than they did in 2018.

After just three games, could all of that — both good and bad — be more about the teams the Chiefs have faced than their defense? You bet it could.

But here’s the thing that can’t be found in the statistical tables: the Chiefs defense is now a living, breathing thing. When opponents come out with a different approach than the Chiefs expect, the defense adjusts to counter it. When the opponents adjust to the change, the Chiefs adjust again.

That’s not what we were seeing in 2018. And by itself, that might be enough of an improvement to get the Chiefs over the hump in 2019.

All of that said... yes, I think that as the season goes on, we’ll see more concrete examples of defensive improvement as players grow more accustomed to the system and each other. But right now, I think the Chiefs defense has already taken a few steps to the north.