In Week 13, the Kansas City Chiefs get a rematch of last season’s AFC Championship game as they take on the Cincinnati Bengals. The Chiefs are hoping for a different result than the overtime loss they suffered last time around, and a big key to making that happen will be the performance of their defensive line.
It’s a saying that has withstood the test of time: NFL games are won and lost in the trenches. Fortunately for the Chiefs, their defensive line is one of the team’s biggest strengths this season. Their depth and versatility along the line stand out the most as they have a good mix of talented young and veteran players capable of playing multiple positions.
This creates mismatches all over the line of scrimmage, which the defense has taken advantage of all season long. When asked about who deserves the most credit, the Chiefs’ players all came to a consensus answer.
“One person – well actually two people, (assistant defensive line coach) Terry Bradden and (defensive line coach) Joe Cullen,” defensive lineman Chris Jones told reporters on Wednesday.
“We’ve got some of the best coaches in the building, and we’re just very fortunate.”
In his first year with the Chiefs, defensive line coach Joe Cullen has already made a lasting impression on his players. At 54 years old with 15 seasons of NFL coaching experience under his belt, Cullen joined the coaching staff this past offseason following his latest stint as the defensive coordinator for the Jacksonville Jaguars.
It’s safe to say that players on the team — like third-year defensive end Mike Danna — are grateful Cullen decided to coach for Kansas City.
Get you a coach as hyped as Coach Cullen pic.twitter.com/ICuhuRYBDk— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) September 18, 2022
“Coach is doing a hell of a job with us,” Danna said of Cullen. “Everybody in the room has improved. He’s helped us from physical to football IQ. He’s a great overall coach, man. A lot of our success can be credited to him because he came in and it was like a flip of a switch. A lot of our D-linemen started playing better football, aggressive football. He turned our room up man. I got a lot of love for Joe.”
Of course, when asked about the praise he received from his players, Cullen, as most good coaches would do, was quick to give all the credit back to his players and staff — specifically Jones and assistant defensive line coach Terry Bradden.
“(Jones) has a lot of things I can’t coach,” Cullen said. ”He’s 6’6” [and] 310 pounds, runs well, he’s athletic, he has flexibility. And the thing, like I said this before standing up here, I’ve been impressed with Chris playing the run not only just getting after the quarterback, but being physical on the double teams, hustling down field making plays. In the Chargers game a couple of weeks ago, there was an out, he’s running down field making the play. One of the third down runs in the Jacksonville game. And last week in the Rams game, when they tried to run the quarterback sweep, he disrupted the whole play, so he’s really playing both the run and the pass well.”
Cullen affirmed that Braden has much to do with Jones’ success.
“He’s right, my assistant defensive line coach — Terry Bradden, does a phenomenal job,” continued. “He will be a full-time defensive line coach in this league, and Chris is right on about that. But, he’s put the work in and when you put the work in, usually, the results happen.”
The work that Cullen and his staff have put in to improve the defensive line this season would be difficult to ignore. Throughout all of last season, the Chiefs recorded a total of 31 sacks. Meanwhile, in just 11 games this season, the unit has already led the team past that total with 35 sacks (tied for fifth-most in the NFL).
Of those 35 sacks, the defensive line is responsible for 24 of them, and Jones — a potential candidate for the NFL’s Defensive Player of the Year – leads the team with a remarkable 10 on the season.
The vast improvement has caught the eye of defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo as he hopes the unit continues to thrive under Cullen’s watch.
“Joe’s been great, along with Terry Bradden,” Spagnuolo said. “[Bradden] assists Joe and I think between both those guys and how the players have responded to them – every coach that comes in and coaches a unit brings a different flare. Nobody does it the exact same way. And so, I’m glad that the big guys have responded to it and hopefully we keep cranking away and playing good football.”