Throughout its six-game winning streak, the Kansas City Chiefs have been carried by a dominant defense. Whether you look at points allowed, yards, turnovers or pass-rushing statistics, it has clearly been one of the NFL’s best units since Week 8.
The last three games — including the 48-9 beatdown of the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday — have looked like the best performances yet. In the wins over the Raiders and Broncos, the defense didn’t even allow a touchdown until the game was out of reach.
Specifically, the defensive line has heated up — causing more and more pressure on opposing quarterbacks each week. Against Las Vegas, the Chiefs pressured quarterback Derek Carr on 45% of his 49 dropbacks, racking up four sacks and two other times he was hit as he threw.
But even after such an incredible day from his teammates, veteran defensive end Alex Okafor still thinks this year’s team will have better performances in the future.
“It sounds crazy, but I don’t think we’re playing our best ball yet,” Okafor claimed when he spoke to reporters during Monday’s press availabilities. “We’re playing at a very, very, very high level — but I think we can continue to get better. There’s still plays that we leave on the field. [We] take pride in that and we got to continue to chase those plays.”
At least he was able to admit that it sounds crazy.
It’s hard to ask for any more from the entire unit — let alone the defensive line — but that mindset is what allows a team not to reach the peak of its performance too early. There are still four games remaining on the schedule before a potential playoff run; playing your best football matters now — but not as much as it will matter in the playoffs.
There’s no way to preserve and save your best performances to magically happen in the postseason; in the modern NFL, it’s hard enough to put in a string of one or two good days on defense. In fact, it wasn’t that long ago that the Chiefs’ defense couldn’t do anything right.
However, the individuals that make up the group always believed they were better than what they were showing.
“I remember doing an interview with the media right after the Tennessee game — and somebody asked if there was panic within the facility,” recalled Okafor. “I said no — and a lot of people didn’t like that response. Back then, the reason I said no is because we had solutions — we just had to execute those solutions. I think now, we’re starting to see that execution. It’s coming to fruition — and we’re just proud of what we’re putting on tape right now.”
Some of those solutions require contributions from players who aren’t big names — and against the Raiders, that was exactly what happend. Not only did Okafor have a sack and forced fumble, but defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton got in on his first sack of the year.
A reserve player like Okafor takes pride in being as disruptive as the players in front of him.
“That’s the key to a dominant D-line,” he explained. “Once you sub the second unit in, there’s no drop-off. You attack from all angles, you attack from all units — and that’s what we take pride in, in that room. We’ve taken pride in that room since I’ve been here — since 2019. It’s continued — and we’ve just elevated each and every week.”
This week, the defensive line’s performance was even more important. The unfortunate family tragedy that caused cornerback L’Jarius Sneed to be absent from the game put extra pressure on everyone else to step up.
The mentality is something that the organization has preached since the first day head coach Andy Reid stepped into the building.
“It’s that next-man-up mentality,” said Okafor. “So we knew we’d be fine. Most importantly for us, we were just feeling for our brother. He was down, he was hurting — and that’s what was on our minds. Football was separate — and to be honest, I don’t think anybody had a football thought when it came to LJ missing the game. It was more about his mental — his well-being — and that’s what we were concerned about.”
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo also expressed sorrow for Sneed during his Monday press conference — while also emphasizing how impactful the defensive line had been to help cover that up.
“Certainly, our defensive line took it upon themselves,” said Spagnuolo. “Knowing there were some moving pieces back there to take control of things up front; they did that right from the beginning.”
Even though the off-field relationships are more important right now, the Chiefs’ ability to easily withstand the loss of a key player is exactly why this team is firmly in contention for another Super Bowl appearance.
The small numbers of points the defense has been allowing have been impressive — but according to Okafor, its most impactful performances are yet to come.