The Kansas City Chiefs were hoping to ride the wave of their second-half dominance against the Washington Football Team into Tennessee. Instead, they were smacked down by the Tennessee Titans 27-3 in a game that didn’t look that close.
Patrick Mahomes and the offense looked out of sync and continued their streak of giving the ball to the other team by committing three turnovers. The defense allowed big plays in the run and pass game all day long. When the Chiefs were able to put back-to-back plays together and force the Titans into third-and-long situations — the calling card of what Spags wants to do — the defense would commit a terrible penalty or allow a big play. Nothing went right.
The one, singular silver lining of the day was the play of rookie linebacker Nick Bolton. Bolton filled in as the MIKE linebacker after starter Anthony Hitchens was ruled out of the game with a left arm contusion. Bolton played 84% snaps on Sunday, wearing the green dot for the defense — a tough ask for any rookie in the Spags system. Bolton accounted for a team-leading 15 tackles in those snaps, including four tackles for loss, putting the defense in many advantageous situations that they couldn’t capitalize on.
Better as the game wore on
The first quarter wasn’t great for the rookie linebacker.
He was washed out on a few run plays, and it felt like he was adjusting to the Titans instead of putting his mark on the game. As the second defensive drive was underway, he did make a few sure tackles with Khalen Saunders. He didn’t allow any extra yardage on a quick end-around — one of the most significant flaws of the second level of the defense over the last few years.
The second quarter was better. Bolton — known for his terrific burst when getting downhill and attacker ballcarriers — had two run stuffs, including a tackle for loss when he could shoot through the gap.
Unfortunately, his weakness in coverage playing in space also showed up. He was too deep on a second-and-12 that allowed the tight end to settle underneath, making third down very manageable. Later in the same drive, his drop wasn’t deep enough, and Tannehill was able to find the tight end between Bolton and deep safety Juan Thornhill.
Late in the second quarter, Bolton showcased his best rep to date. On a goal-line situation, with the NFL leading rusher Derrick Henry looking to get into the endzone, Bolton showed that downhill playstyle and stuffed Henry, causing a loss on the play.
Bolton was able to play in the backfield and hit Henry before he could get going and bring him down to the ground.
Thought Nick Bolton had himself a solid game vs the run... Good job flying downhill all day. Really a solid job on Henry today despite the scoreboard pic.twitter.com/Q4GffiJVaP— Ben Fennell (@BenFennell_NFL) October 25, 2021
This is a trait that the Chiefs have been missing over the last few years — the ability to play downhill and in the backfield of an opposing offense’s run game while being the aggressor when tackling.
“There was an emphasis on stopping the run,” said Bolton in a post-game press conference. “We know what caliber of running back they had over there. So, our D-line did great overall and allowed our linebackers to be downhill all day. I feel like we played pretty good on first and second down in the first half. We’ve just got to get off the field on third downs.”
Bolton has only played seven games this season, and this one is the first in which he primarily played the MIKE, and he showed that he was up for the task in today’s game. Bolton leads the team with 55 tackles (39 solo) and nine tackles for loss.