Before the 2019 season, the Kansas City Chiefs picked up defensive tackle Mike Pennel, signing him to a one-year deal to provide rotational depth behind Chris Jones and Derrick Nnadi.
But after observers noticed that the team’s run defense appeared to be more effective in the games in which Pennel was active, he gained not only a reputation as one of the Chiefs’ best run-stoppers, but also a cool nickname: MVPennel.
Signed to another one-year deal in the offseason, Pennel had to sit out the first two games of the 2020 campaign under an NFL suspension. In those games — particularly against the Los Angeles Chargers last Sunday, when the team gave up 183 yards on the ground — the Chiefs needed help stopping the run.
So many fans are breathing a sigh of relief that Pennel is back for Monday night’s game against the Baltimore Ravens — a team that has gained 343 yards on the ground during the first two games of the season.
Pennel knows he and his teammates will have their work cut out for them.
“They’re a real well-rounded group,” he told reporters on Saturday. “They’re a playoff group. We all know who their quarterback is. I just think we have to meet them head-on. They do a lot of [the] power-run game, so we know it’s going to be a physical game — and we’re prepared for that.”
He also noted that it will be important for his fellow defensive linemen to maintain gap integrity against the well-coached Ravens offensive line.
“You’ve just got to do your job,” he explained. “You get outside your gap, [you’re] doing things outside of your job and outside of [the] framework of what your job is supposed to be doing. So as a defensive lineman, we know we’ve got to hold our gaps; we can’t overrun or peek inside of the linebacker. We have to keep clean reads and make sure they scrape when they need to.”
Pennel said he missed being with his teammates during the suspension.
“I think it’s more just missing the guys in the locker room — the camaraderie, the brotherhood,” he said. “We won a Super Bowl together, so missing those guys was something I knew I’d have to deal with.”
He said he spent the off-time doing to best he could to prepare — so that he’d be ready when the suspension ended.
“Just watching games — watching in-division opponents, watching the Chargers games, who we’ll play, watching the Ravens game. I mean, the workouts and not being around the guys was the main thing I missed — but it was still all football.”
Pennel said he was trying to keep all the distractions of this particular game out of his mind — Monday Night Football, the two undefeated teams, Patrick Mahomes vs. Lamar Jackson and so on.
“I don’t really look at it as a rivalry; I haven’t played [the Ravens] before,” he noted. “I’m just looking more as an opponent with a great quarterback and a great offensive line group that does power running.”
The six-year NFL veteran said he’s just going to keep it simple, referring to his one-eleven: doing his part.
“You know me,” he declared. “I’m just going to come in and try to be me, man — try to do my one-eleven: contribute where I need to, make plays when I need to and keep the guys together as I need to.”