The Kansas City Chiefs secondary finished its Week 5 game against the Las Vegas Raiders knowing there would be some bad tape to watch.
The Chiefs surrendered 490 total yards, 346 of them passing, including (surprising) Derek Carr gashes of 72 and 59 for touchdowns and another 42-yarder on third-and-long.
But in the NFL, there is little time for sulking.
“I think I told them this the day after the game or two days later: ’The NFL is the ultimate proving ground,’” Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo revealed on Thursday as he met with the media via Zoom. “By that, I mean you have to prove it every week. If you have a really good game, you have to prove that’s what you were. And certainly, our goal was to prove that what happened at home here against the Raiders was not what we were about, and I did think that they responded really well.”
Against the Buffalo Bills, who offer formidable weapons like Stefon Diggs, John Brown and Cole Beasley, the Chiefs allowed 66 passing yards through three quarters and 122 for the game. That is about as good as a rebound game as you can dial up.
Cornerback Charvarius Ward, who struggled against the Raiders, gave up just three receptions for 18 yards on six targets.
“I’ve told C-Dub this before,” Spagnuolo recalled. “I got all the confidence in the world in him. I still had it even after the Raiders game where part of it was my fault. We bounced back. We bounced back as a group. He bounced back. He’s a good football player for us. We need both him and Breezy (Bashaud Breeland) out there on the corners doing what they do — and if we can continue to do that, I think it will make the defense better.”
Breeland’s return from his suspension has been impressive, considering he had to be away from the team for the first four weeks of the season and has managed to pick up right where he left off from Super Bowl LIV. Breeland was good against the Raiders, recording an interception in his comeback game — and opposing teams seem to be choosing to attack other areas of the defense.
The Chiefs have been pleased with Breeland, but there are still points for the 28-year-old to work on.
“He came back in, he has a very good attitude,” shared secondary and cornerbacks coach Sam Madison. “Great for him in his first game back he was able to get an interception. One of the things we got to do and coach Spags and coach (Dave) Merritt have hit at is minimizing the little small penalties, but when you’re in a high-risk, high reward position like the cornerback position, you got to have a short memory and he definitely has that.”
Breeland might have taken three penalties for 18 yards against the Bills, but the Chiefs know they are a better team with him in the lineup.
“Just really happy with him being able to come back and gel with the guys but jumping right in there and not missing a beat,” Madison added. “Picking up where (L’Jarius) Sneed left off and being a really good teammate in the process.”
And speaking of Sneed — who could have predicted the Chiefs would miss their 4.3-running rookie this early in the season?
Sneed’s absence is especially apparent when the Chiefs play speedy receivers like Henry Ruggs and Diggs. Broncos wide receiver KJ Hamler may prove to be an even greater challenge this weekend as Sneed continues to work his way back from a clavicle injury.
The 5-1 record stemming partly from secondary play becomes more significant as you have watched them shift players like Rashad Fenton between the boundary and the slot — and Antonio Hamilton jumping in when necessary.
Having the ultimate Swiss Army knife in safety Tyrann Mathieu — who plays all over the defense — has certainly helped in that regard.
“I think just from a mental standpoint, I think it just brings out the best in me,” Mathieu said of Spagnuolo’s system, which allows him to position everywhere. “I’m able to do a lot of different things. I’m able to move around to a lot of different spots and free some other people up, and even at times be able to free myself up. So, I’ve just got to stay patient with it. I think a lot of the work I do doesn’t show up on the stat sheet, but it will later on in the season. So, I just look forward to it. I enjoy it. Obviously, I like moving around, I like not being in one spot, but I just think this defense brings out the best in me and a lot of other players on our defense.”
Juan Thornhill has looked a little better each week in his return from injury, and safety Daniel Sorensen was in the right place to haul in the game-sealing interception on Monday.
As a reminder, Sneed was injured in Week 3. The thought has been that he will be out for around six to eight weeks (for what it’s worth, the Chiefs have yet to offer a timeline). That math would equate to a potential post-bye return after games against the Broncos, New York Jets and Carolina Panthers.
Mathieu was willing to admit there has been a level of holding down the fort until the rookie can return — and then, as whole — they might be able to offer one of he best secondaries in the NFL.
“I think once we are able to get L’Jarius back, we’re going to be able to do a lot more different things,” said Mathieu. “We’re going to be able to obviously get more athletes on the field, get more speed on the field, disguise a lot more of our coverages. I think it will give us the opportunity to really have three bump, run, press-type cornerbacks on the field to really challenge the offense. So, I’m just looking forward to him just obviously getting back healthy, but I know once he comes back, I think he’s definitely going to put his hand in the pile and help us finish this season off strong.”