For the second week in a row, the Kansas City Chiefs defense will be missing multiple key players due to the NFL’s COVID protocol. Last week, it was linebacker Willie Gay Jr. and defensive lineman Chris Jones — and this week, linebacker Nick Bolton and cornerback Rashad Fenton were moved to the list as those mentioned above two came off.
COVID is something that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo didn’t have to deal with for the majority of this season. Up to this point, the Chiefs had seemingly been one of the NFL’s least-impacted teams — but their fortunes have changed at a crucial time.
Yet, Spagnuolo has always kept in mind the possibility of needing his reserves to step up. It’s baked into the plan at practice.
“As coaches, we’re always preparing for that to happen,” Spagnuolo explained to reporters during a press conference on Thursday. “Defensively, one of the things we do — and our assistant coaches do a great job — is typically when we have a walkthrough, we’ll do it in two groups. We don’t want the young guys standing and watching the walkthrough, you don’t get as much out of it with. Hopefully, that helps the guys that have to step up and play for us.”
One position left unimpacted this week is the defensive line unit. With Jones’ return, every player is slated to be ready to go against a Pittsburgh Steelers’ offense that will struggle to contain the group with how they’ve been playing over the last few months.
Spags isn’t counting his chickens before they hatch, however.
“We’re all keeping our fingers crossed that nothing happens between now and the game,” he admitted. “So, we’re prepared with the D-line. We’ll keep the rotation going. I think that’s going to benefit us going forward. We hope the season goes a little bit longer than the regular season. We know that’s not guaranteed right now but getting all of those guys involved is really good.”
There has been another key piece missing from the defense over the last two games — but not due to anything COVID-related. Cornerback L’Jarius Sneed has been mourning the loss of his brother and is still no guarantee to play this game.
The team has won in his absence, but his nose for a tackle around the line of scrimmage is irreplaceable. His skill set would perfectly counter what Pittsburgh likes to do most. Spags is monitoring his return to the practice field.
“Getting L’Jarius Sneed in there, we’re pushing that,” Spagnuolo revealed. “He was out there yesterday and today. He’s kind of picked up where he left off. Again, it’s been a couple of games, but he’s done such a good job and had so many reps at that particular position that we’re positive and feel like he can step in there and do what he normally has to do.”
Throughout all the uncertainty, Spagnuolo is thankful that he is dealing with it among a group of men that are anything but uncertain. His history with head coach Andy Reid helped them come together with this team, but it’s not some blind loyalty.
Spags truly appreciates the steady hand Reid provides in times like the present.
“The words that just come into my mind when you talk about Andy [Reid] is rock solid,” Spagnuolo thought aloud. “It’s kind of simple, but Andy keeps it simple. He’s direct. I think what’s really great about working and playing for Andy is you know exactly what you’re getting all the time and he’s never going to panic. That’s reassuring for many of us in this business because there’s going to be the ups and downs and sudden changes, challenges we call them, whether it’s during the game or during the week, especially in the world we live in now. It’s great to have Andy leading the charge here.”
With veteran coaches like Reid and Spagnuolo, there’s plenty of reason to trust the coaching staff to get the job done with a victory — even if they genuinely are outmanned.
That ability isn’t just utilized when it is needed; these coaches have made sure they prepared themselves to face this adversity — and it’s precisely why no other team has won more games over the last two COVID-impacted seasons.