As bad as it sometimes looked for the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense during their Week 1 victory against the Cleveland Browns, they had a pretty good excuse for not playing at their best.
Safety Tyrann Mathieu and defensive end Frank Clark were game-day inactives, which caught some observers off guard. Mathieu had been on the team’s Reserve/COVID list since September 1 but had been activated to play on Saturday. While Clark had been a limited participant in practice all week and was questionable for the game with a hamstring injury, he’d been dealing with it for so long that it was easy to figure he’d be able to make it through.
On top of that, the defensive tackle, who is likely the Chiefs’ best run defender, was limited in the game. Typical starter Derrick Nnadi played just 32% of the snaps against the Browns.
These three players being healthy might have made a huge difference in Week 1. On Friday — as the team was finishing its preparations for the Week 2 matchup with the Baltimore Ravens — Chiefs head coach Andy Reid commented on the status of all three.
Mathieu’s case is the most unique. While we’ve never had an official word about whether he ever displayed any symptoms from his exposure to the virus, the effect it can have on an individual’s stamina and breathing can be hard to overcome. We’ve heard stories of NFL players who have had difficulty getting back to 100% even after they tested negative; that was the case with Cleveland’s Myles Garrett last season.
On Wednesday, Mathieu told reporters that if he wasn’t 100%, he was “getting there.” But even if he’s not all the way back, Reid said he should be on the field in Baltimore.
“Yeah, I think he’ll be out there,” said the head coach. “He’s gotten better every day that he’s been going. It was mainly getting his wind back — and I think he feels pretty good with that.”
For Clark, the hamstring issue that kept him out of every preseason game (and Week 1) is never an easy injury from which to recover. These can linger — especially for a player at his position, where you are using your legs to generate power as you explode off a step or quickly change directions.
“It’s stronger right now,” Reid assured his listeners. “Which is important — where he can actually lean on something. Before, he could run. He was just having a hard time with the strength of it. So he’s able to support it now — and that’s important at that position there.”
Meanwhile, Nnadi was a full participant in practice all week as he continued to overcome a hip injury that’s lingered since training camp.
“He’s ready to go,” Reid declared of Nnadi. “It’s just a matter of getting in and doing what you have to do. We rotate all those guys anyway, so he’ll get in there a little bit.”
With all three defensive players back in the mix against the Ravens, we should see a version of the defensive unit that’s much closer to its ceiling.