Throughout the 2022 season, the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense has been on a roller coaster ride.
During training camp, it was completely reasonable to expect defensive struggles as the season began. In the past, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has always been reluctant to play rookies — partially due to his complex schemes that require veteran experience. But with this off-season’s change in roster construction, it was clear that Kansas City would need to rely on their youth on defense.
After the team’s 4-1 start, the defense’s raw numbers are underwhelming. The Chiefs rank 14th in total yards allowed and 24th in points allowed. The defense has struggled against the pass — ranking 24th in net passing yards allowed — and has found it difficult to get pressure on the quarterback without a blitz.
It’s easy to look at these numbers and say, “Same old Chiefs.” It looks like the familiar formula: quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the offense carrying a below-average defense.
Except that’s not really telling the full story of this young defensive unit.
One of the biggest differences between previous Kansas City defenses and this year’s group is its athleticism. The Chiefs have speed all over the defense, which translates into better tackling and turnovers — two areas where the defense has struggled thus far.
The defense’s most obvious setback was the loss of its top draft pick: cornerback Trent McDuffie. After only a single game — in which the first-round corner looked promising before being sidelined with a hamstring injury — the secondary lost one of its key pieces. The suspension of Willie Gay Jr. has also impacted the unit — particularly in pass coverage. The Kansas City pass rush has also taken a hit, losing defensive end Michael Danna for several games. Then this week, the team lost defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton for the season.
Injuries (and Gay’s suspension) alone are enough to explain Kansas City’s slow start — but the Chiefs’ very difficult schedule has also played a part. Add in the expected slower development of the rookies to Spagnuolo’s usual “slow to start” defense, and there are many reasons to be optimistic about the future of the defense.
Every good defense has bad days — and every good defense also gets to face bad teams and bad quarterbacks. Eventually, that day will come for Kansas City’s defense — but so far in 2022, it has yet to happen. The worst offense the Chiefs have faced had former MVP Matt Ryan, running back Jonathan Taylor and wide receiver Michael Pittman Jr. Facing quarterbacks Kyler Murray, Justin Herbert, Tom Brady and Derek Carr has been no picnic, either. So right from the start, the defense has been dealt a tough hand of cards. And on Sunday, the defense will face Josh Allen and Stephon Diggs.
But better days are ahead for the Kansas City defense.
In the coming days, the team expects to get Danna and McDuffie back — and Gay’s suspension will end next week. Additionally, the schedule shapes up much better after this weekend. Kansas City will catch some lesser quarterbacks in the second half of the season — including the likes of Ryan Tannehill, Trevor Lawerence, Russell Wilson (twice) and Geno Smith (who might actually be good?).
As the weather turns, offenses typically cool off as well. No doubt some cold weather games in Arrowhead — and in Denver and Cincinnati — will also help. Finally, the experience that this defense will gain over the season will help it surge at the right time: during the playoffs.
In the second half of the season, look for big things from the Chiefs’ defense.