On Wednesday, Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid set the tone for the week when he essentially expressed there would be no talk about any potential AFC bye week. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo continued the head coach’s course on Thursday, several times referencing that the Chiefs’ focus is solely on playing well against the Atlanta Falcons.
The Falcons, despite being 4-10, have been no slouches through the air in 2020. They enter Sunday’s game fourth in the league with 273.4 passing yards per game. The Chiefs’ secondary will be tested by former MVP quarterback Matt Ryan, and Spagnuolo would like to see a solid 60-minute game from his unit.
“To me, it would be consistency,” replied Spagnuolo when he was asked about what is left to accomplish before the Chiefs head into the playoffs. “I think we’ve played some really good downs. I felt that in this past game, like I thought there were a lot of really good, productive downs against the Saints. Yet, there’s an explosive play here, a red zone non-stop there and all of a sudden, they’ve got 29 points. So, if we could find consistency in our good play, I think our guys would all feel a lot better about it, and that’s what we’ll keep chasing.”
Kansas City sits last in the NFL in red-zone scoring at around a 77% conversion rate, though the team has been optimistic it can get better — especially as rookie cornerback L’Jarius Sneed continues to show out as the team's nickel cornerback. It is shifting toward a league-wide consensus that the Chiefs got one of the steals of this year’s NFL Draft in the fourth round.
“I did like the way he worked out on film,” recalled Spagnuolo of Sneed. “I did like the interviews we had with him. I mean, everything pointed in that direction, but really until you get any of these guys in here — it could be a first-round draft pick — you really don’t know until they get here. You throw them in the fire, when the bullets are flying, how do they react, and I think LJ’s done a nice job. All those young guys we have I think have done a nice job.”
His feelings extend to rookie second-rounder Willie Gay, who continues to see the field only sparingly as he learns Spagnuolo’s system. Third-year linebacker Ben Niemann has seen much more action — to a vocal part of the fan base’s dismay — but Gay could be in line to see more time against Atlanta.
After missing the last two games, linebacker Damien Wilson has missed the first two practices of the week — and Anthony Hitchens is currently on the reserve/COVID list.
“We’re going to put the guys out there that we think can help us against Matt Ryan and against that offense, which I think is explosive and pretty good — Willie will be one of those guys. He has to play for us, we know he plays in the base defense, we’ll have to see where he fits in other spots.
“But I’ve got a lot of trust in the guys that are still here. If we are without Hitch (Anthony Hitchens) and Damien (Wilson), the next guy has got to step up.”
Gay already has at least one prominent believer in what he can do.
“He has the potential to be really, really good in this league,” said defensive tackle Chris Jones. “Just got to keep working, keep his head down. He can fly around, man he can fly around, and that’s definitely why he went in the second round. But he’s made a huge impact to this defense.
“We’ve been able to use him multiple ways, and we just got to keep working and keep at it.”