On the latest episode of the Arrowhead Pride Out of Structure podcast, Matt Stagner and I somberly answered all of your questions about the Kansas City Chiefs’ disappointing start to their season — specifically, Week 7’s embarrassing 27-3 loss to the Tennessee Titans.
One topic raised from your questions is what tangible moves we’d make to the on-field lineups to try and turn the season around. We agreed on three specific alterations to the Chiefs’ player rotations.
1. Play Nick Bolton over a healthy Anthony Hitchens
The rookie linebacker was the star of the game against the Titans, totaling 15 tackles and 4 tackles for loss. He was the catalyst in neutralizing running back Derrick Henry more than any other team has done this season — outside of Week 1.
He was inserted as the starting MIKE linebacker because Hitchens had to miss the game with the injury he suffered in Week 6 — but we don’t believe the team should look back. Bolton showed explosiveness — and an ability to come downhill through gaps to make run stops — at a higher level than we’ve seen from Hitchens this season.
Bolton struggled to cover his hook zone on passing plays effectively, but Hitchens isn’t any better in those scenarios.
It’s unrealistic to expect Hitchens to ride the bench for the rest of the season, but if the Chiefs want their best defensive players in the game, Bolton should be in — and playing the middle linebacker position — as much as possible.
2. Shorten the cornerback rotation to Charvarius Ward, L’Jarius Sneed and Rashad Fenton
In recent weeks, cornerback Rashad Fenton has clearly emerged as a player the team should trust to play outside and cover talented receivers. He’s had good snaps against the Buffalo Bills’ Stefon Diggs and Washington’s Terry McLaurin — and the statistics back up his overall play.
That’s why it was frustrating to see Fenton on the sideline on an important third-and-7 on Sunday, passed up for cornerback Mike Hughes to cover Tennessee’s A.J. Brown. The play resulted in a touchdown pass on a jump ball that Brown won over Hughes.
Fenton’s 45 snaps still outpaced Hughes’ 16 — but we believe Fenton should absorb all of the snaps that aren’t going to Charvarius Ward and L’Jarius Sneed. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is known to leave his starting outside cornerbacks in for the entire game. That should be extended to their three-cornerback sets; the Chiefs don’t use four cornerbacks on the field simultaneously.
Those three players have shown enough to be trusted as the only players taking cornerback snaps moving forward.
3. Drastically minimize Demarcus Robinson’s snap count
This year, the wide receiver has played 72% of the Chiefs’ offensive snaps — more than every other skill-position player not named Travis Kelce or Tyreek Hill. Yet he’s sixth on the team in receptions — and relative to the snaps he plays, he is one of the league’s least-targeted receivers.
Wide receivers with 150+ routes run, but a target on less than 10% of their routes— Nathan Jahnke (@PFF_NateJahnke) October 25, 2021
Playing him over wide receivers Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle and Josh Gordon is becoming more and more unjustifiable. Playing Robinson is almost equivalent to taking a receiver away from the lineup on a given pass play. And it’s not like he’s been sound in other areas: three times this season, he’s been called for holding.
Even if the coaching staff plays him because they trust him to know the offense more than the others, it’s not enough to justify his lack of positive impact on the unit’s success. The other receivers should be able to provide what Robinson does — while also adding a higher likelihood of making a play in the passing game.
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