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Chiefs defense won’t rely on turnovers for success against Jets

Four takeaways against the Broncos turned an easy win into a rout — but the Chiefs don’t plan to count on those.

The Kansas City Chiefs turned in their most dominant win of the season against the Denver Broncos last Sunday — thanks in no small part to four Denver turnovers.

One was an interception that Daniel Sorensen returned 50 yards for a touchdown. Another was one of those plays that we’ll continue to see on NFL blooper reels for years to come: a flea-flicker that went horribly wrong for the Broncos.

Defensive end Frank Clark made a heads-up play to disengage from his blocker, recover the ball and somehow gain 15 yards while being tackled. Defensive tackle Chris Jones said it was his favorite turnover of the season.

“Picking it up, I thought he was about to take it back,” Jones told reporters on Thursday. “You know, it’s always fun when the defensive line can get the ball and have the opportunity to score.”

And yeah... that is fun. Including Sunday’s tally, the Chiefs have acquired 13 turnovers on the season — second-most in the NFL. But defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo denied that he and his staff are making it a special point of emphasis this season.

“Listen, there’s no key reason; we’re always pounding and emphasizing punching the ball out; you know, production’s at the ball,” said Spagnuolo on Thursday. But he was also quick to say that he doesn’t want his defenders to count on getting them.

“My message, really, is that we can’t rely on that — because if you don’t get them, you’ve got to be playing good-enough defense to keep people out of the end zone and off the scoreboard.”

Instead, Spagnuolo said he and his coaches are continuing to focus on scheme and technique — like they always do.

“It’s going to sound cliché-ish,” he warned, “but it is just being better than we were yesterday. If we just focus on that, most of that stuff will just take care of itself. I don’t get involved in ‘this part of the statistics needs to improve.’ I don’t even go there. It’s just more about the scheme and what we need to do from a technique standpoint.”

Spagnuolo’s emphasis has clearly filtered down to team leaders like Jones, who said that despite the groin injury he’s been nursing this season — which he called “a little bugger” — he’s ready to play on Sunday.

“We just focus on getting better week in and week out,” said the defensive tackle, “[to] figure out things we can get better at, figuring out how we can pressure the quarterback more. Just picking up where we left off and trying to be better.”

And that includes the weeks when the team is preparing to play a team like the New York Jets — a team that has yet to win a game this season. “If I’m correct,” recalled Jones, “two years ago, we walked in to [play] the New York Giants — I think they were 1-8 or 1-9 — and we ended up losing the game.”

Kansas City Chiefs v New York Giants Photo by Elsa/Getty Images

He almost had it right: it was three years ago, the Giants were 1-8 and the Chiefs did lose 12-9 in overtime. (And yes... the Giants’ defensive coordinator was Steve Spagnuolo). But Jones’ point still stands: if the Chiefs take the Jets for granted, the same thing could happen.

“That’s a very good football team,” declared Jones. “Sam Darnold doesn’t get the credit, but he’s a very, very good quarterback. I think people tend to forget that because of their record, but they have guys out there — and they play really well. They’ve been in a lot of close games. You can’t take those guys for granted; that’s a hell of a football team.”

Spagnuolo shares Jones’ view.

“If you turn on the first half of last week’s game — the Jets versus Buffalo — Sam Darnold and Frank Gore and the runners, they had it cranking,” he noted. “They were ripping off some yardage, they were throwing the ball down on play-action. They didn’t finish a couple of drives and get in the end zone, but there’s still skill over there. Those guys are NFL players; they can certainly make us look bad.”

Jones even said that along with players like Aaron Donald, Grady Jarrett, Fletcher Cox and DeForest Buckner — a good list of the league’s top players at his position — he’s been paying attention to the Jets’ second-year defensive lineman Quinnen Williams.

“You watch the game when they played against the Broncos, he played lights out,” said Jones. “The guy’s a stud. And he’s getting better over time. He’s a plugger up in the middle; I feel like he’s the standpoint on their defense right now. [I’m] paying attention to him — seeing what kind of type of moves I can steal.”

But to Spagnuolo, a game like this one — unlike any other the team has played this season — is a special kind of challenge for both the coaches and players.

“We all know when we’re playing in the big games — the playoff games, etc. Everybody knows those. The emotions are there; you don’t even have to worry about that. It’s just matching the focus with the emotions. Now, it’s getting both the focus and the emotions where they need to be.”

The Jets haven’t won at Arrowhead Stadium since November of 1998 — and Chiefs would like to keep it that way.