The Kansas City Chiefs' defensive struggles in the red zone have been well covered on these pages. On Thursday, safety Tyrann Mathieu reiterated that the Chiefs are continuing to improve this aspect of their defense.
"Coming into training camp, we had a couple of points of emphasis of things that we really wanted to get better at, things that we worked on getting better at," said Mathieu. "It hasn't really gone our way. We're not necessarily disappointed or discouraged. We know that there's just a lot more work for us to do."
Three weeks into the season, the Chiefs are in last place in the AFC West and find themselves in the unfamiliar position of having a losing record.
"Every week in the NFL, you have to have a sense of urgency," Mathieu said, when asked whether the team feels any pressure going into their game against the Philidelphia Eagles. "Every game is important... But you just got to keep chipping away. Can't necessarily change the things that have happened. You just got to paint a clearer picture of how you want things to go going forward."
Struggles before the snap
(Editor's note: Our Ron Kopp jumped into those problems against the Chargers here)
Mathieu described that much of the Chiefs' struggles could be attributed to the defense beating itself before the play even begins.
"Anytime you miscommunicate or you can't get lined up, you're beating yourself pre-snap," he explained. "That's the thing that's in our control — getting lined up, communicating the right way. And so, as long as we can continue to try to correct those things, I think our defense is amazing. Everybody has to be on the same page. Once we're able to not beat ourselves pre-snap, I think we could play good defense."
As it turns out, it has been a recurring issue early here in 2021.
"It's come up a couple of times throughout the course of each game." said Mathieu, "I think that mostly falls on the players — they're out there. That's not necessarily coaching or anything like that. You have to stay focused throughout the course of the game and especially in the secondary. Any time you miscommunicate or you take a false step, those plays are explosive. So we just got to be really conscious of that."
On the positive side, it sounds like the Chiefs' defense problems have nothing to do with the scheme. Communication and missteps are items that can be fixed in a matter of seven days.
"I think it's quickly fixable," Mathieu said, "As long as guys take the accountability and the responsibility, and accept it first and foremost and raise their hand and say, hey, that was me, that messed this up or miscommunicated. The more we could do that, the more we can correct the problems."
Part of playing on the Chiefs' defense is knowing that opposing teams will be more aggressive when playing you. With Kansas City having Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, opposing coaches know they will have to score points.
This has led the opposition to go for it on fourth down in all three games the Chiefs have played this year. In those five attempts, teams have converted six times against the Chiefs.
Mathieu explained that they embrace that challenge.
"It's a great opportunity," he said. "That's why I love playing defense, reacting to the unexpected, just being challenged — all four downs. We have to accept that challenge. Any time it's fourth and more than one yard, I feel like we should be able to win those downs. It comes down to a mindset."
Mathieu believes any progress made is to begin with the Chiefs' attitude.
"It's not too much of a responsibility," said Mathieu. "We make the kind of money we make. It's a blessing to be able to come to work, play football, play a game really for a living. It's our responsibility to handle our business in the right way... Our coaches deal with enough as it is, just like us as players. They got their own lives as well and stress builds up. And so, as players, we come to work, just try to be the best professional you can be. I think that's the best way to show your coach that, hey, this guy's still with us. He's ready. He's committed. He's going to get better."
Mathieu added that despite the team's slow start, its goal has not changed.
"It's all about the guys in the locker room, and our coaches. And as long as we kind of keep that mentality, I think being one and two, won't necessarily stop us from getting to our ultimate goal, and that's to win the championship and obviously win the division."
Sunday against the Eagles is the first step in getting those goals back on track — and the Chiefs may have their hands full in rookie receiver DeVonta Smith.
"He's a playmaker," said Mathieu. "They put him in positions to really make plays. I played against this head coach when he was in Indianapolis, and they kind of use him the same way they use T.Y. Hilton. So they're going to create opportunities for him to get the ball. The best way to handle those guys is to play press-man on them and disrupt them at the line of scrimmage to make their day frustrating."
Although the Eagles came out aggressive and tried to push the ball down the field vertically against Dallas, Mathieu said that he wouldn't be surprised if Philidelphia made running back Miles Sanders a focal point of their attack this week.
"I can see those guys coming in against us and trying to really secure the ground game," he added. "That opens up a lot of the speed that they have on the outside with (Jalen) Reagor and Smith, and even (Quez) Watkins. They got some guys that can fly down the field. And I think if they can get the run game going, they'll be able to take the shots that they really want to take."
Mathieu and the rest of the defense will need to be ready to shut them down if that's the case. It sounds like the mentality is right; now for the progress.