Through four 2022 games, the Kansas City Chiefs have now recorded 11 sacks — after only totaling 31 in all of 2021. That projects to 47 sacks this season — which in 2021, would have ranked them at seventh in the league.
But the team’s leader at quarterback takedowns is not a player who would normally be expected to be a top pass rusher.
Instead, it is cornerback L’Jarius Sneed who leads the team with three sacks. In the second quarter of Sunday’s 41-31 victory against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, quarterback Tom Brady never saw Sneed coming on a blitz. The third-year pro dropped the legendary passer for a 12-yard loss and forced a fumble. Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones fell on the ball at the Tampa Bay 20-yard line, setting up Kansas City’s fourth touchdown of the contest.
When it was over, Sneed discussed the timing of his blitzes.
“The guys on the back end disguise it well,” Sneed explained to reporters. “I try to wait. I know Tom Brady’s going to pick it up real fast. I try to wait, disguise it and blitz late.”
Before the snap, Sneed was observed adjusting his gloves and helmet, implying he was unprepared for the play. He confirmed that it was all part of the act.
“It’s just what I do to let [Brady] know I’m not coming or anything,” he joked.
Sunday night marked consecutive games in which Sneed collected a strip-sack. In Week 3, he knocked the ball from Indianapolis Colts quarterback Matt Ryan during the 20-17 loss. He credited teammates in more traditional pass rush positions with helping him prepare to be a good blitzer.
“I get knowledge from them on how to blitz,” he said. “What to do with [offensive] linemen when they come and reach me. [How to] get low on them — and stuff like that.”
The Louisiana Tech product also detailed his own study of opposing passers.
“During practice,” Sneed noted, “all through the week — whoever we are playing — I try to watch the quarterback and see what type of guy he is [and] what I can do. I know that Brady is going to get the ball out fast, so I try to show that I’m not coming. And that’s when I hit him.”
Despite his success augmenting the pass rush, Sneed claims his blitzes are always called by Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo; even if he sees something favorable, he has not been given license to change the play.
“I ain’t got to that level,” he asserted. “Not yet.”
As Sunday’s game went on, the Buccaneers' running game became almost non-existent. Tampa Bay finished with a net of only three rushing yards, forcing the 45-year-old Brady to attempt 52 passes. Sneed — who led all Chiefs defenders with nine tackles on Sunday — was happy to see the focus shift entirely to the secondary.
“It feels great,” he boasted, “because [when] they can’t run the ball, they have to throw the ball. That’s good for the back end. We can make plays back there.”
The last time the Chiefs played at Tampa’s Raymond James Stadium — which was during Sneed’s rookie season — they were thoroughly dominated by the Buccaneers in a 31-9 loss in Super Bowl LV. Like many of his teammates, Sneed appreciated the opportunity to alleviate a bad memory.
“It lingered a lot,” he admitted. “I can say as a team, we had that chip on our shoulder coming in here — that when we played them last time, we didn’t come out well.”
This time, however, the return to the site of the loss came out much better for Sneed and his teammates.
“It feels wonderful,” he added. “It feels great for us.”
Another great feeling is getting back into the win column after suffering a frustrating loss. Sneed anticipated a much more jovial return flight to Kansas City than the week before.
“It’s going to be lovely, he predicted. “A lot of partying [and] a lot of talking. It’s not going to be quiet on there.”