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Chiefs-Cowboys snap counts: secondary leads big day on defense

Using more back end players than usual, Kansas City’s defense notched an impressive performance.

Dallas Cowboys v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

In Week 11, the Kansas City Chiefs turned in a 19-9 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, moving them to 7-4 on the season.

Let’s see how Kansas City used its players in the big home win.


Starters (offensive): WR Tyreek Hill, TE Travis Kelce, TE Blake Bell, LT Orlando Brown Jr., LG Joe Thuney, C Creed Humphrey, RG Trey Smith, RT Andrew Wylie, WR Josh Gordon, QB Patrick Mahomes and RB Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

Starters (defensive): LDE Chris Jones, LDT Jarran Reed, RDT Derrick Nnadi, RDE Frank Clark, LB Willie Gay Jr., LB Anthony Hitchens, LCB Charvarius Ward, CB L’Jarius Sneed, RCB Rashad Fenton, S Juan Thornhill and S Tyrann Mathieu.

Did not play: QB Chad Henne, OL Austin Blythe and T Prince Tega Wanogho.

Inactive: QB Shane Buechele, CB Deandre Baker, RB Derrick Gore, OL Lucas Niang and DT Khalen Saunders.


Offensive takeaways


As usual, left tackle Orlando Brown Jr., left guard Joe Thuney, center Creed Humphrey, right guard Trey Smith and right tackle Andrew Wylie (in for the injured Lucas Niang) played all the offensive snaps. Nick Allegretti had a single snap as a sixth lineman — and just as he did against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 10, he reported as an eligible receiver. We should keep an eye on those situations.

Turning to tight end, we see Travis Kelce was in his usual range of use — and what looks like the establishment of normal ranges for both Blake Bell and rookie Noah Gray. Bell is clearly being used more as a blocker — but just the same, the Chiefs continue to throw to him. Both he and Gray had a single target (and catch) in Sunday’s game.

One other note: just as they did against the Raiders, the Chiefs ran heavy formations (that is, an additional tight end or a fullback) a bit more often than usual. Fullback Michael Burton was again used more than we usually see — and on average, the offense had 1.52 tight ends (or fullbacks) on the field for every play. That was a season-high.

At running back, the picture is a little cloudy because of Jerick McKinnon’s injury. He had just one special-teams snap — and none on offense. In his return from injury, Clyde Edwards-Helaire was used roughly the same amount as he was the last time he played a complete game. It appears that Darrel Williams got the snaps that would have otherwise gone to McKinnon — but until all three backs are healthy, it will be hard to know how the team intends to use them going forward. Derrick Gore was inactive for the game.

At wide receiver, we believe the stretch run pecking order is coming into focus: Tyreek Hill, Byron Pringle, Josh Gordon, Demarcus Robinson and Mecole Hardman. Hill was in his normal range of use on Sunday, while Pringle’s use was steady after a long climb. Gordon was listed as a starter for the third straight week — with usage to match — and had one catch on two targets. Robinson’s use was up a bit more after Week 9’s season-low — and while Hardman did have a pair of catches for 25 yards on three targets, he appears to be falling out of favor; the third-year wideout wasn’t even used on kick returns.


Defensive takeaways


Despite being listed as questionable with a swollen knee early on Sunday afternoon, safety Tyrann Mathieu joined Juan Thornhill and cornerbacks L’Jarius Sneed and Charvarius Ward — the latter recovered from an illness that kept him out of part of the Raiders game — for all (or nearly all) of the defensive snaps. Late in the game, Mike Hughes came in after Rashad Fenton was injured. Up to that point — according to Pro Football Focus data — Fenton played almost all of his snaps on the outside. Sneed played the overwhelming majority of his reps in the slot.

Note that Fenton and Hughes’ snaps add up to 91% of the total — meaning that the Chiefs had three cornerbacks on the field for about 9 out of 10 defensive plays.

Meanwhile, safety Daniel Sorensen’s use remained steady — and as has been the case ever since Thornhill went back to a full-time role, was primarily used on passing downs.

And yes... that means the Chiefs also had three safeties on the field for about half of their defensive snaps.

In turn, that means that there tended to be fewer players on the second level of the defense. In fact, the unit had an average of 1.67 linebackers on the field for each play. That’s the lowest figure this season — and it shows up in their snap count charts. Just as against the Raiders, the primary backers tended to see the field on running plays — while Ben Niemann was out there for a very high proportion of passing plays.

As always, one of the biggest questions is about where Chris Jones lined up. Unlike in Las Vegas, he was listed as a starting defensive end instead of a tackle. But per PFF, Jones was on the inside for 60% of his snaps. That’s very close to the proportion he played inside during 2020 — back when we only thought of him as a defensive tackle. And for the first time since the opening weeks of the season, Jones was truly back in his normal range of use — wherever he happened to be playing.

Otherwise, defensive end Frank Clark was also in his normal range — while Melvin Ingram saw his largest use of the season. Michael Danna and Alex Okafor had their usual spot use on the outside — which, in this game, tended to be on running snaps.

On the inside, Jarran Reed was in his normal range of use — although up a bit from the Raiders game. With that — and Jones playing more on the inside — Tershawn Wharton and Derrick Nnadi saw less use than the week before. Khalen Saunders was once again a healthy scratch.


Data


Offense

Offense All Pass Run
Total 66
(100%)
40
(100%)
26
(100%)
Orlando Brown Jr. 66
(100%)
40
(100%)
26
(100%)
Creed Humphrey 66
(100%)
40
(100%)
26
(100%)
Patrick Mahomes 66
(100%)
40
(100%)
26
(100%)
Trey Smith 66
(100%)
40
(100%)
26
(100%)
Joe Thuney 66
(100%)
40
(100%)
26
(100%)
Andrew Wylie 66
(100%)
40
(100%)
26
(100%)
Travis Kelce 57
(86%)
35
(88%)
22
(85%)
Tyreek Hill 54
(82%)
36
(90%)
18
(69%)
Byron Pringle 39
(59%)
26
(65%)
13
(50%)
Darrel Williams 36
(55%)
24
(60%)
12
(46%)
Clyde Edwards-Helaire 30
(45%)
16
(40%)
14
(54%)
Josh Gordon 28
(42%)
16
(40%)
12
(46%)
Demarcus Robinson 27
(41%)
19
(48%)
8
(31%)
Blake Bell 23
(35%)
10
(25%)
13
(50%)
Noah Gray 17
(26%)
10
(25%)
7
(27%)
Mecole Hardman 11
(17%)
8
(20%)
3
(12%)
Michael Burton 5
(8%)
0
(0%)
5
(19%)
Daurice Fountain 2
(3%)
0
(0%)
2
(8%)
Nick Allegretti 1
(2%)
0
(0%)
1
(4%)

Defense

Defense All Pass Run
Total 64
(100%)
48
(100%)
16
(100%)
Tyrann Mathieu 64
(100%)
48
(100%)
16
(100%)
L'Jarius Sneed 64
(100%)
48
(100%)
16
(100%)
Charvarius Ward 64
(100%)
48
(100%)
16
(100%)
Juan Thornhill 60
(94%)
45
(94%)
15
(94%)
Frank Clark 54
(84%)
43
(90%)
11
(69%)
Rashad Fenton 48
(75%)
36
(75%)
12
(75%)
Chris Jones 48
(75%)
40
(83%)
8
(50%)
Jarran Reed 45
(70%)
35
(73%)
10
(63%)
Melvin Ingram 41
(64%)
32
(67%)
9
(56%)
Willie Gay Jr. 37
(58%)
23
(48%)
14
(88%)
Daniel Sorensen 31
(48%)
28
(58%)
3
(19%)
Ben Niemann 26
(41%)
25
(52%)
1
(6%)
Anthony Hitchens 25
(39%)
13
(27%)
12
(75%)
Tershawn Wharton 21
(33%)
16
(33%)
5
(31%)
Nick Bolton 19
(30%)
12
(25%)
7
(44%)
Michael Danna 17
(27%)
11
(23%)
6
(38%)
Derrick Nnadi 17
(27%)
8
(17%)
9
(56%)
Alex Okafor 13
(20%)
7
(15%)
6
(38%)
Mike Hughes 10
(16%)
10
(21%)
0
(0%)

Special Teams

Special Teams Snaps
Total 27
(100%)
Noah Gray 24
(89%)
Chris Lammons 21
(78%)
Ben Niemann 21
(78%)
Dorian O'Daniel 21
(78%)
Armani Watts 21
(78%)
Daurice Fountain 18
(67%)
Daniel Sorensen 17
(63%)
Mike Hughes 14
(52%)
Michael Burton 12
(44%)
Harrison Butker 11
(41%)
Blake Bell 10
(37%)
Rashad Fenton 10
(37%)
Byron Pringle 10
(37%)
Tommy Townsend 9
(33%)
James Winchester 9
(33%)
Darrel Williams 7
(26%)
Nick Allegretti 6
(22%)
Orlando Brown Jr. 6
(22%)
Creed Humphrey 6
(22%)
Trey Smith 6
(22%)
L'Jarius Sneed 6
(22%)
Joe Thuney 6
(22%)
Andrew Wylie 6
(22%)
Nick Bolton 3
(11%)
Michael Danna 3
(11%)
Anthony Hitchens 3
(11%)
Derrick Nnadi 3
(11%)
Alex Okafor 3
(11%)
Tershawn Wharton 3
(11%)
Jerick McKinnon 1
(4%)
Demarcus Robinson 1
(4%)

All Snaps

All Snaps Off Def ST Total
Total 66
(100%)
64
(100%)
27
(100%)
157
(100%)
Nick Allegretti 1
(2%)
0
(0%)
6
(22%)
7
(4%)
Blake Bell 23
(35%)
0
(0%)
10
(37%)
33
(21%)
Nick Bolton 0
(0%)
19
(30%)
3
(11%)
22
(14%)
Orlando Brown Jr. 66
(100%)
0
(0%)
6
(22%)
72
(46%)
Michael Burton 5
(8%)
0
(0%)
12
(44%)
17
(11%)
Harrison Butker 0
(0%)
0
(0%)
11
(41%)
11
(7%)
Frank Clark 0
(0%)
54
(84%)
0
(0%)
54
(34%)
Michael Danna 0
(0%)
17
(27%)
3
(11%)
20
(13%)
Clyde Edwards-Helaire 30
(45%)
0
(0%)
0
(0%)
30
(19%)
Rashad Fenton 0
(0%)
48
(75%)
10
(37%)
58
(37%)
Willie Gay Jr. 0
(0%)
37
(58%)
0
(0%)
37
(24%)
Josh Gordon 28
(42%)
0
(0%)
0
(0%)
28
(18%)
Noah Gray 17
(26%)
0
(0%)
24
(89%)
41
(26%)
Mecole Hardman 11
(17%)
0
(0%)
0
(0%)
11
(7%)
Tyreek Hill 54
(82%)
0
(0%)
0
(0%)
54
(34%)
Anthony Hitchens 0
(0%)
25
(39%)
3
(11%)
28
(18%)
Mike Hughes 0
(0%)
10
(16%)
14
(52%)
24
(15%)
Creed Humphrey 66
(100%)
0
(0%)
6
(22%)
72
(46%)
Melvin Ingram 0
(0%)
41
(64%)
0
(0%)
41
(26%)
Chris Jones 0
(0%)
48
(75%)
0
(0%)
48
(31%)
Travis Kelce 57
(86%)
0
(0%)
0
(0%)
57
(36%)
Chris Lammons 0
(0%)
0
(0%)
21
(78%)
21
(13%)
Patrick Mahomes 66
(100%)
0
(0%)
0
(0%)
66
(42%)
Tyrann Mathieu 0
(0%)
64
(100%)
0
(0%)
64
(41%)
Jerick McKinnon 0
(0%)
0
(0%)
1
(4%)
1
(1%)
Ben Niemann 0
(0%)
26
(41%)
21
(78%)
47
(30%)
Derrick Nnadi 0
(0%)
17
(27%)
3
(11%)
20
(13%)
Dorian O'Daniel 0
(0%)
0
(0%)
21
(78%)
21
(13%)
Alex Okafor 0
(0%)
13
(20%)
3
(11%)
16
(10%)
Byron Pringle 39
(59%)
0
(0%)
10
(37%)
49
(31%)
Jarran Reed 0
(0%)
45
(70%)
0
(0%)
45
(29%)
Demarcus Robinson 27
(41%)
0
(0%)
1
(4%)
28
(18%)
Trey Smith 66
(100%)
0
(0%)
6
(22%)
72
(46%)
L'Jarius Sneed 0
(0%)
64
(100%)
6
(22%)
70
(45%)
Daniel Sorensen 0
(0%)
31
(48%)
17
(63%)
48
(31%)
Juan Thornhill 0
(0%)
60
(94%)
0
(0%)
60
(38%)
Joe Thuney 66
(100%)
0
(0%)
6
(22%)
72
(46%)
Tommy Townsend 0
(0%)
0
(0%)
9
(33%)
9
(6%)
Charvarius Ward 0
(0%)
64
(100%)
0
(0%)
64
(41%)
Armani Watts 0
(0%)
0
(0%)
21
(78%)
21
(13%)
Tershawn Wharton 0
(0%)
21
(33%)
3
(11%)
24
(15%)
Darrel Williams 36
(55%)
0
(0%)
7
(26%)
43
(27%)
James Winchester 0
(0%)
0
(0%)
9
(33%)
9
(6%)
Andrew Wylie 66
(100%)
0
(0%)
6
(22%)
72
(46%)
Daurice Fountain 2
(3%)
0
(0%)
18
(67%)
20
(13%)

Editor’s Note: Arrowhead Pride obtains snap count data from the NFL’s game stats and information system, which allows us to break out snap counts by run or pass on offensive and defensive plays. Because GSIS data ignores plays that were nullified by penalties, total offensive and defensive snap counts will vary from other sources, which get their data from NFL Gamebooks