In their 30-24 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs allowed Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert to complete 26 passes for 281 yards and four touchdowns. His passer rating of 125.0 was the largest the team had given up this season.
Part of the problem seemed to be that the Chiefs could get no pressure on Herbert. They accumulated just one sack in the game — only the team’s fourth of the season. Speaking to the press on Monday, Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo acknowledged that his defensive line’s production has been inconsistent.
“As a whole, it’s come in spurts, [so] maybe it’s been a little inconsistent,” he noted. “But I’ll tell you what: Mike Danna did a great job yesterday. The sack he had was just a relentless sack. We had some other ones where we were right there; I know Chris Jones pushed the [offensive] tackle into the quarterback one time. There are other ones that stick out a little bit; we were just there — just missing a little bit.”
Other data bears out Spagnuolo’s recollection. Pro Football Focus data reveals that on Sunday, the Chiefs collected 15 pressures — four each for Danna and Jones — on 41 Los Angeles dropbacks. That pressure rate of 36.5% was the team’s best mark of the season.
“Part of that comes back to [that] I’m not sure we’ve had enough of those downs and distances,” said Spagnuolo. “We had more yesterday — with the third downs where we could actually pin our ears back and come after the quarterback — and I really felt [that] early, we did a good job of it.”
Again, the data bears that out. Herbert was at his least effective in the first and third quarters, in which his respective passer ratings were only 82.3 and 71.7.
“The guys in there are [able]; I see some good things,” maintained Spagnuolo. “Alex Okafor — some of them are sticking out in my mind — he had a really good pass rush on the left side. But this quarterback got rid of the ball. He’s big — he stands in there big — so I’ll give a little bit of credit.”
That’s fair. Herbert finished his 2020 rookie season with the league’s 12th-best passer rating — but it’s also fair to point out that even with the Chiefs holding him back during two quarters of Sunday’s game, he turned in the third-best performance of his young career.
Does that add up to Spagnuolo having a desire to fiddle with his defense — for example, by moving Jones from defensive end back to defensive tackle?
“I think if you go that route,” said Spagnuolo, “I think it’s really more just to change it up pass rush-wise for Chris. I mean, two weeks ago, the Baltimore Ravens chipped him on first and second down out there — so it made it tough.”
Still, Spagnuolo says it’s been considered.
“We’ve talked about it,” he said. “We’ll see where we go with it.”
But once again, it’s important to remember that in Spganuolo’s scheme, Jones was often playing on the outside — even when he was listed as a defensive tackle. In 2020, PFF statistics said he had 32% of his snaps on the outside. And now, as a defensive end, he’s still playing a chunk of his snaps (so far, a relatively small one — just 12.5%) on the inside.
“Obviously, we get him in there on third down; you guys see that,” Spagnuolo reminded reporters. “We’ll just see how games go. It’d be nice to get him in the second-and-15 and then put a dime defense [out there].”
So just as Spagnuolo kept saying before the season, Jones will be used where the team thinks he will give them the most benefit — and that decision will be based on a variety of factors, including the opponent and the specific game situation.
“To be honest, we did do that yesterday,” revealed Spagnuolo. “You may not have caught it. But we went in at halftime and talked about getting to dime on second-and-long for that reason. They ran the ball one time and did it; I can’t remember exactly what happened on the other one.
“We’re kind of on track. We’ll just see how each game goes — and whether we’re able to do it or not.”