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On defense, the Chiefs are focused on the big picture — but need it at full strength

In recent weeks, young defensive players gained valuable playing time — but bigger contributions from starters are needed.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs at Philadelphia Eagles Bill Streicher-USA TODAY Sports

Through four weeks of football, the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense has left plenty to be desired. After being gashed by the formidable offensive attacks of the Cleveland Browns, Baltimore Ravens and Los Angeles Chargers, the Kansas City defense once again struggled to get off the field during the team’s 42-30 win over the Philadelphia Eagles on Sunday. Philadelphia amassed 461 yards of offense — 358 through the air and 103 on the ground.

To this point of the season, many fans are already growing impatient with the unit — but Chiefs head coach Andy Reid has not lost sight of the big picture.

“I think it was a great day for our young guys just to get experience — especially on the defensive side,” said Reid during Sunday’s post-game press conference. “That will pay off for us down the road.”

One of the young players who is proving to benefit from increased snaps is second-year defensive end Mike Danna. After recording his first sack of the season against the Chargers, Danna added two more on Sunday — the first multi-sack game of his career.

“He was around the quarterback most of the day,” noted Reid.

Danna credited the work the defense put in during the week for some of the positive steps it has taken — and the improvements he has made in his own performance.

“It starts in practice,” he insisted. “It really comes from the preparation — and then going out on game day and executing.”

On Sunday, the defense’s preparation was evident in an area where it had been very weak.

“Our defense did a great job in the red zone,” said Reid. “We held them to field goals instead of touchdowns.”

In fact, on the six trips Philadelphia made to the red zone, Kansas City’s defense kept them out of the end zone three times. Prior to Week 4, the Chiefs had surrendered touchdowns on 12 of 13 red-zone trips. Danna said that leading up to the game, it had been an area of focus.

“We’ve been working at it, man,” he asserted. “It’s been a point of emphasis to us. It really just goes from how we start in practice. We came out here and executed when it came down to the red zone.”

But despite the promising signs of growth from its young defensive players, the team knows it soon needs the unit at full strength to compete in a division (and conference) loaded with tough opponents.

“It will be good to get some of the guys back in place coming off injuries,” acknowledged Reid.

The team’s projected first-team defense has not yet played a snap together. Linebacker Willie Gay Jr. has been sidelined in all four games with a toe injury, defensive end Frank Clark has missed three with a hamstring issue, cornerbacks Charvarius Ward (quadriceps) and Rashad Fenton (concussion) were absent from the last two games and safety Tyrann Mathieu sat out the season opener on the Reserve/COVID list. After injuries to defensive end Joshua Kaindoh (ankle) and linebacker Ben Niemann (concussion) on Sunday, reinforcements cannot come soon enough.

That’s because the defense will draw a tough matchup in Week 5. The Buffalo Bills’ offense has been impressive over the last three weeks — including Sunday’s 40-0 drubbing of the Houston Texans. Buffalo’s defense has also been stout. Entering Week 4, it ranked second in Football Outsiders’ total defense-adjusted value over average (DVOA) — and the shutout it pitched against the Texans likely pushed it past the Carolina Panthers into the top spot. If the Bills can get Kansas City’s potent offense off the field even a few times, the Chiefs will need its defense to rise to the occasion.

“We’re looking forward to it,” declared Danna. “Never take for granted Sunday Night Football. So we’re looking forward to the matchup — and we’re going to get ready for them.”

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