The Kansas City Chiefs defense had just done the improbable. The Denver Broncos, running the 20th play of their drive on fourth-and-2, called a run play for Javonte Williams. Linebacker Willie Gay Jr. met Williams at the line of scrimmage — with defensive end Melvin Ingram helping along — stopping the back in his tracks.
Turnover on downs.
The Chiefs took over at their own 11-yard line with 1:08 left in the second quarter. Andy Reid had two timeouts in his pocket, and the Chiefs would receive the ball after the break. Handoff, Darrel Williams. And there it was — as clear as day.
The Chiefs are now a defensive team. Their days of consistent, weekly offensive dominance are over — at least for right now — and the coaching staff knows it. And in 2021, that’s been OK enough. At 8-4, the Chiefs remain in control of the AFC West — and by simply winning the rest of their games, they will guarantee a home playoff game.
And for what it’s worth — as the offense sputters after Reid’s opening script, dropping the football multiple times a game and routinely finding itself out of sync — the defense has gone from historically bad to the most fun part of this football team.
The Chiefs have not allowed more than 10 points in any half of football since October.— nick wright (@getnickwright) December 6, 2021
The turnaround began with a 20-17 grind-it-out win against the lowly New York Giants on Monday Night Football on November 1 and continued to the morning of November 2, when the Chiefs stole (yes, at this point, it’s stole) defensive end Melvin Ingram from the Pittsburgh Steelers.
Ingram’s insertion at defensive end made Steve Spagnuolo comfortable enough to send Chris Jones back inside, and that has improved the play of Jarran Reed. In his own right, Jones has resumed his command of opposing interiors. A healthy Frank Clark has completed a four-man front that is driving fear into the hearts of opposing quarterbacks.
Second-year linebacker Willie Gay has come along as originally advertised, and the secondary is playing among the NFL’s elite in part thanks to the suddenly-formidable front.
Gay had a near-pick, as did Alex Okafor and cornerback Charvarius Ward (Ward actually had two). Safeties Juan Thornhill and Daniel Sorensen corraled their money balls, and Sorensen brought his to the house. The complete and utter defensive attitude shift — as evidenced by linebacker Anthony Hitchen’s block on Thornhill’s interception — should be a welcome sight, despite the penalty that Hitchens drew on the play.
What once seemed like an unsolvable unit is now the team’s unquestioned strength. Special teams did its part Sunday as well, with Harrison Butker doinking his way to 3 of 3 field goals and Byron Pringle jumping on a muffed punt that led to the Chiefs extending their lead from 10 to 13 points.
Now to the question of the moment
There is a principal question coming out of Sunday’s win against the Broncos — and it is one that actually came up on our weekly “Show and BK” podcast that previews the upcoming game each and every Friday.
Can the Chiefs win the Super Bowl if the defense is the best part of the team?
I find this answer to be no. I think the Chiefs will eventually run into an offense — maybe it’s the Bills, or Patriots or Chargers — that will score enough points to put pressure on an offense that loses confidence and direction after the initial script of Reid plays.
There is a solace — and that is that the Chiefs have five games before the AFC tournament begins. And as it turns out, the conference has come back to them. If they keep scrapping together wins — albeit mainly due to the defense — perhaps Reid, Eric Bieniemy and Patrick Mahomes can get the offense where it needs to be.
Despite the up-and-down nature of the first 12 games, I wouldn’t bet against that trio.
There is one thing I know for sure: there should be no shortage of inspiration.
Look no further than Spagnuolo’s 2021 defense — from laughable losers to the scariest unit in the league.