The Kansas City Chiefs defense has rebounded from being historically bad early in the season to being a significant part of the team’s current four-game winning streak. The return of defensive end Frank Clark — who has missed three games with multiple hamstring injuries — has been a major factor.
During Week 11’s 19-9 victory over the Dallas Cowboys, Clark delivered a first-quarter strip-sack of quarterback Dak Prescott to help set the early tone for the defense. In a Thursday media appearance, Clark discussed the defense’s (widely) unexpected turnaround — and his take on the contributing factors.
“I feel like just playing together,” Clark said of the improvement. “I said it a few weeks ago: it’s just you start the season off, and you got all these different parts. You got new guys, you got guys coming off recovering from different injuries from the past season, you got guys coming off the offseason high and just being away from ball a little bit.
“Sometimes it takes a little while to get back [to] that camaraderie of the team — being on the same page and stuff like that. The stuff that people are usually used to seeing these past few years with us is just [that] all those things take time. Like I was saying a few weeks ago: it took a little time, and we’re just starting to get back in rhythm and get some juice back.”
The Chiefs sacked Prescott five times, rendering an almost universally considered MVP candidate ineffective. Clark credited his teammates with doing the work to put him and his fellow defensive linemen in a position to be successful — particularly on third down.
“You want to do it with reasonable yards to give you a chance,” Clark explained of his craft. “You don’t give yourself a chance when you let the offense get you to a lot of third-and-2s [and] third-and-1s. It’s a higher chance of them converting that third down — and [a lesser] chance of you as the defense getting the opportunity to pass rush.
“You got a group of guys on the defensive front who are eager to pass rush. Myself, Chris Jones, you got [Melvin Ingram] that we just added. You got this group of guys and all we want to do is pass rush from third downs — but we kind of take it and make it hard on ourselves when we don’t do a great job of stopping that run on the first down [and] second down to put ourselves in position to do that on third down.”
Clark also credited his coaches and teammates for a recent improvement in team atmosphere that has been conducive to its success — and possibly his best stretch of play as a Chief.
“My coaches are putting me in the right position to win,” claimed Clark. “And putting us all in the right position to win and be successful. I said that a few weeks ago too: as a player, you want to be put in the right position to win — and have your coach coach his ass off and get you in the right mindset to go out there and do your job. And as a coach, it’s your job to do that for your player.
“And I believe that everything came full circle, and it just got back on the right track. Coaches coach, and players play — doing our jobs respectively — and we’re having fun. I said that was another thing: we had to get back to having fun. Work is never easy when you come in there, and everything is uptight and everything is quiet — that’s not football. Football is a game full of fun — it’s exciting and you never know what’s next — and I felt like we kind of got back to that.”
Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo agreed with the merits of a patient approach in evaluating his unit.
“It would’ve sounded strange saying it with as much as we were struggling,” admitted Spagnuolo. “But I did not think we were that far off. I felt that way after the Tennessee game — and that didn’t feel real good. It was 27-0 at halftime — or whatever — but something about that game’s second half and the way we operated, I just didn’t think we were that far off if we could just get it clicking. Some of it did — and hopefully, that continues.”
Clark is excited — and ready — for exactly that.
“It’s a feel,” he noted. “Kind of a buzz you get, and you start to — myself being here three years and being in the league seven years now — you kind of start feeling it when your team’s got that buzz. And you all start to feel that confidence [and] swagger. I feel like we’re kind of starting to feel that and [get] in that phase right now — and just having fun. It’s a fun game when you’re able to come in and your job is the thing you love to do. And just smile and go out there and compete with your boys and talk about it — good play or bad play — just as long as you’re doing it together.”