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Chiefs defense Week 8 film review: Taking care of business

Let’s see where the Chiefs defense found success (and failure) against the Jets.

New York Jets v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

The New York Jets had not won a game in 2020 — and in most relevant statistical categories, their offense was ranked near the bottom of the league. The Kansas City Chiefs were clearly the better team — and they needed to make sure they avoided a let-down game.

That was decidedly not a problem for the Chiefs on Sunday They put the hammer down on a bad Jets team.

Let’s take a look at where the Chiefs defense showed well — and where it didn’t — and then we’ll find the good, the bad and something you may have missed in the Week 8 game against the Jets.

The numbers

The Chiefs defense started the game a little bit soft on first down, allowing nearly six yards per play during the first half. That set the Jets up with some favorable down-and-distance scenarios, allowing New York to drive into field goal range on their first three drives. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo then made some adjustments against the run — and the natural flow of the game forced more passes — so that in the second half, the Chiefs were able to flip the script, allowing under three yards per play on first down.

On Suinday, Frank Clark led all defenders with just 2.33 yards per rush allowed. Derrick Nnadi’s 70% run defense success rate led the Chiefs. But no down lineman allowed more than 3.7 yards per rush — and none had a a defensive success rate lower than 54%. For a defense that has struggled against the run, that is an outstanding day.

Taco Charlton’s pressure rate of 25% once again led all pass rushers — primarily as a dime rusher. He’s a nice weapon in that role — and on the season, he’s leading the Chiefs in pressure rate. Chris Jones — who sees far more quick passes as a base and nickel defensive tackle — has also been outstanding; his 15% pressure rate on the season ranks second on the team.

The good

Tyrann Mathieu has once again been an impact defender this year. On Sunday, his biggest plays came against the run.

The Chiefs’ run fits were much better this week than they have been throughout the season, but this one in particular is an impressive one for Mathieu. It’s a well-designed play with an extra blocker out in space — just in case the running back is able to bounce outside. But Mathieu’s pursuit — looping from the edge to the back side B gap — shuts down any attempt to cut the play outside.

Make no mistake: Anthony Hitchens and Tanoh Kpassagnon also do a terrific job containing this run; even without Mathieu’s terrific run fit, it likely would have had limited success — but the veteran safety shut it down.

Thus far, Hitchens has had his best season as a Chief. He’s playing faster because he’s more comfortable in the scheme. While his pre-snap work has always made him valuable to the Chiefs, he now has trust in the players in front of him, too. That has resulted in plays like these two.

As we see here, Hitchens’ quick reads (and trust in the front) allow him to beat climbing blockers and slip a reach by the center. In the past, this is the kind of play he probably wouldn’t have made — but plays like this one now show up regularly. They’re making a big impact on the Chiefs defense.

Sometimes the stat lines don’t reflect Hitchens’ improvement — somehow he logged no tackles on Sunday, despite being in on the tackles in both of these plays — but it’s clear his fingerprints were all over the defense, continuing a strong stretch of play.

The Jets really couldn’t move the ball particularly well on the ground, tallying just 3.4 yards per carry on designed running plays; the longest was just nine yards. That was due to terrific run fits like this one.

Run defense is team defense — and for the Chiefs, this season’s run defense has been marginally better than last year’s. There have definitely been hiccups — the Denver BroncosPhillip Lindsay comes to mind — but on the season, it definitely feels like the Chiefs are able to step up and make more run stops. While they are still 28th against the run in DVOA — which is not good — over the last four weeks, we have seen more good than bad. There’s reason to believe that the team’s run defense is trending up.

The bad

There honestly wasn’t much bad in this week’s game — this play where Charvarius Ward was unable to locate the ball was the Jets’ only big offensive play — so instead, I’ll mention Daniel Sorensen getting the base safety snaps over Juan Thornhill.

With the Jets’ depleted wide receiving corps — and Spagnuolo blitzing on 43% of the first-half plays — the base defense’s need for a true deep safety was diminished. This led to Sorensen getting the safety snaps in base; he’s just a better box safety than Thornhill. Spagnuolo expected the ball to come out quick — and short— so in base, he trusted the cornerbacks to handle the Jets receivers without a deep safety.

But when the Chiefs went to their nickel and dime defenses, Thornhill came in as the deep safety; there’s no concern about his spot on the roster. We’ll monitor this, of course — but Sorensen playing as the base safety seems to been a wrinkle introduced just for the Jets.

Something you may have missed

Chris Jones has been on a heater since the Las Vegas Raiders game — and this week was no exception. He has been truly dominant rushing the passer — particularly against single blockers. On Sunday, Spagnuolo and Brendan Daly implemented a slight wrinkle to help him get those matchups.

Here — near the end of the first half — the Chiefs are in their dime defense; the threat of a run is minimal. Jones is in a 2i alignment, with Tershawn Wharton in a 4i alignment as a wide-nine defensive end. This makes it difficult for the Jets to slide protection to double Jones, so he’s able to get a one-on-one against the center. Jones gets quick pressure on Sam Darnold — something he did all day, but Darnold was getting rid of the ball very quickly — and forces an inaccurate throw.

This play is a prime example why film study is so important for the Chiefs defense.

Mathieu blows up the jet sweep in the backfield for a loss of six yards, causing the broadcast team to remark, “He’s seen that play every day in practice” — referring to the Chiefs offense’s propensity to run these touch passes.

But Clark identifies the play even before the Jets motion out of the bunch formation. Clark sees the receiver split, running back alignment and point man in the bunch before turning and motioning to Mathieu to keep his eyes on the jet sweep. As the play develops, Mathieu shoots upfield while Clark stays home, moving laterally to cover the space that Mathieu evacuated. After making the tackle, Mathieu acknowledges Clark — and the Chiefs defense is set up in a third-and-long.

While Clark doesn’t make the tackle, his impact is immense. Mathieu might have sniffed out the play anyway — we know his film study is also fantastic — but Clark set his team up to succeed, helping to make a big play.

The culture that Clark and Mathieu have brought to the team has been widely publicized, but the work that they put in off the field may be their biggest impact on this team. The Chiefs covet these qualities in Mathieu and Clark for one reason: because they help breed even more of it.

The bottom line

For the Chiefs defense, there’s not much to take away from this game; they handled their business to beat a bad Jets team.

But that in itself is a positive thing. As Chiefs fans, we have become somewhat accustomed to the idea that the team can play “down” to their opponents. That was not the case on Sunday; the Chiefs were dominant in every phase of the game. While the Jets offense was able to drive into field goal range in the first half, we all know that settling for field goals is not the way to beat the Chiefs.

In the second half, the Chiefs defense didn’t allow the Jets to cross their own 40 yard line until there were less than two minutes remaining. In my preview for the Jets game, I talked about the need for the Chiefs to finish off a bad team — and that’s exactly what they did.

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