As Kansas City Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo often points out, life isn’t easy for an NFL defensive back. Receivers always have the advantage — and cornerbacks don’t have to give up very many plays before some fans think they’re bums.
It’s especially difficult when you entered the league as an undrafted free agent — like the Chiefs’ Charvarius Ward did when he was signed by the Dallas Cowboys following the 2018 NFL Draft. Traded to the Chiefs right before final cutdown day, Ward was used infrequently during his rookie season. But beginning in 2019, he became a full-time starter — and has more than held his own.
In his first season holding down one of the outside corner positions, Pro Football Focus data says that Ward gave up a passer rating of just 67.3. In his second season as a starter, it was closer to average at 94.1. But in the just-completed 2021 season, it was back into the well-above-average territory at 77.0.
In Sunday’s Wild Card playoff game against the Pittsburgh Steelers, Ward “traveled” with Pittsburgh wideout Chase Claypool, who had averaged 57 yards a game (and 8.2 yards per target) in 2021. Working against Ward on Sunday, Claypool managed three catches (on seven targets) for only 25 yards — just 3.6 yards per target — as the Chiefs won 42-21, advancing to the AFC Divisional Round against the Buffalo Bills this Sunday.
“We just decided to do that in that particular game,” said Kansas City defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo of Ward’s Wild Card assignment. “You know, every game’s been different — and I thought he did a nice job with that. He had a good battle.”
Spagnuolo said that on the game film, it was clear that the two players had fought hard.
“They had a little tussle,” he noted. “Then when it ended, you could see that there was a lot of mutual respect between both guys toward the end of the game. So that’s good to see — good sportsmanship. And I thought both of those guys battled all night long.”
It’s not the first time Ward has been assigned such a task. Spagnuolo said that sometimes, it’s been because Ward has asked him — along with secondary coaches Sam Madison and Dave Merritt — for the opportunity.
“You know, some of that has been Charvarius coming to us, to be quite honest with you — where he’s watched film in the first couple-three days of the week and feels like he could match up well against [a] particular wideout. We trust him in that — I know Sam and Dave do.”
But the coordinator said that he and his assistant coaches don’t always say, “Yes,” either.
“We mix it up a little bit,” said Spagnuolo. “We’ll do the same thing in this game. I don’t know if we’ll have him right or left — or whether he’ll travel or not — I mean, we’ll figure that out on Sunday. Or people will figure it out on Sunday, based on what we do during the week.
“We just have a lot of confidence in him — the same with Mike [Hughes]. You know, when L.J. [L’Jarius Sneed] is out there at corner in base, most of the time those guys stay right and left.
“We’re trying to get the best matchups we can.”