Football games played in late December are often decided by which team wins at the line of scrimmage.
For the Week 16 matchup between the Kansas City Chiefs and Seattle Seahawks, a brutal cold front and windy conditions made it feel like it was well-below zero. The bitter chill was a factor throughout the game — and it favored the defensive units.
After underperforming in back-to-back games, the Kansas City defense desperately needed a good performance — and with the cold front came a fiery performance from the defensive line.
Stuffing the run
With elite rookie running back Kenneth Walker III coming to town, the Chiefs would have to stop the run to win. While Walker finished with over 100 yards rushing, most of them came when Kansas City held a big lead in the second half. The Chiefs held Walker to just 12 first-half yards. Their ability to stop him on early downs set up multiple third-and-long situations.
The Chiefs DL is stout here, which allows Chenal and Reid to make the play. 66 eats a double team as does 91. 56 presses the RT into the B gap constricting space for Walker to operate. Chenal rips through the LOS and is the first to the party. pic.twitter.com/W3uMN6vlKm— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) December 26, 2022
This is a good example of team defense at the line of scrimmage. Defensive tackles Brandon Williams and Derrick Nnadi both take on double teams, staying stout at the line of scrimmage. Walker wants to hit a hole in order to gain momentum into the secondary — so forcing him to to stop and redirect himself at the line gives linebacker Leo Chenal enough time to fill the gap.
In a matchup against his former team, defensive end Frank Clark played one of his better games of the season.
Frank Clark works inside here, standing up the RG and keeping his body in the B gap. Walker tries to bounce it, but Clark disengages and shows some good burst to create the TFL. Bolton gets downhill and helps finish the play as well. pic.twitter.com/TqwjjnrUdG— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) December 26, 2022
On this play, we see that despite weighing only around 245 pounds, Clark returns to the B gap (between the guard and tackle) and stands up veteran guard Gabe Jackson. Without giving up any ground, he out-leverages Jackson — while keeping the other half of his body free and ready to attack Walker if he comes into the B gap. When Walker commits, Clark explodes off the blocker. He and linebacker Nick Bolton bring Walker down.
The Chief put a clear emphasis on stopping Walker, and they executed their plan well.
Frank Clark was unblocked here. The motion man is designed to cause the edge to hold up for just a second but Frank was locked into Walker the entire time. Burst and quickness on full display the launches himself for the big tfl. pic.twitter.com/NiaULLgMiU— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) December 26, 2022
On this play, Clark is unblocked, while Derrick Nnadi and Chis Jones do not give up any movement at the line of scrimmage. Jones takes on a double team and penetrates the backfield. Nnadi fights off a reach block, taking away another lane for Walker. His hesitation once again allows Clark to bring him down quickly.
Attacking the quarterback
While the run defense was stout, Kansas City’s defense also found success while rushing quarterback Geno Smith. Early on, it even showed some scheme variation in the way it attacked him, keying in on situations that would force the ball out quickly.
3rd down Spags aligns the a 1tech, a 3tech, and a 5tech to the left side of the field + 95 on the edge. Nice bull rush from 56, he gets into the LG and knocks him back. Active hands almost knock the pas down. 95 abuses the rt. Quick pass and completion, but short of the sticks. pic.twitter.com/3AnQuDMPRJ— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) December 26, 2022
On this play from Seattle's first possession, three bodies clearly in Smith’s sight lines was enough for him to take a quick completion — even if it is short of the sticks. George Kalraftis gets his hands up in the passing lane, narrowly avoiding a tipped pass.
4th and 3. 56 aligned as a 3tech once again. Not much push, but he knows the ball is going to be coming out fast. Locks out with his inside hand, but creates some separation and goes up to swat the ball out of the air with his right hand. Great situational awareness. pic.twitter.com/hgzYYxOrjD— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) December 26, 2022
A few drives later — in this critical fourth-down situation — Karlaftis doesn’t miss.
Karlaftis’ knack for knocking down the ball is one of the more underlooked aspects of his game. This was his seventh knockdown of the season, which puts him in a four-way tie for second place among the league’s defensive linemen.
The play created a big momentum swing and pumped confidence into the rookie pass rusher.
3rd down and long. 95 lined up essentially in a 4i here. The RT throws his inside hand toward 95, but it slows him down while 56 is moving around the edge. Throwing two hands he forces a lunge and rips through, sacking Smith. 95 nearly knocks the RG off of his feet. pic.twitter.com/aGFHWp27uO— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) December 26, 2022
On this play a little later, he gets home on third down for a well-earned sack. Taking on fellow rookie Abraham Lucas, Karlaftis burns around the edge, ripping his way to the takedown.
Of the defensive end’s four-and-a-half sacks, four have come in the last five weeks. But while Karlaftis had a good game on his own merits, much of his success was due to the attention the Seahawks gave to Chris Jones.
Chris Jones: DPOY candidate
If you want to know what kind of performance a defensive player of the year gives, look no further than the work that Jones turned in last Saturday.
Chris Jones is shot out of a cannon off the snap. Quickly beats the RG with a swim through the A gap. Bolton walked up and forces the slide to the right. Jones disrupts and forces the scramble, and Dunlap stays hot in pursuit to force the incompletion. pic.twitter.com/qmPIbe7uQH— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) December 26, 2022
In a dominating effort from start to finish, Jones demonstrated his quickness, power and alignment skills against Seattle’s interior.
In the last few weeks, opposing teams have found that once they have locked into the Chiefs’ pass-rushing plan, they could move the line to Jones — double-teaming him on every play.
Chris Jones waits till the RT tries to wash him down and then gets through the C gap. 87 has no chance to block him up and Smith gets rid of the ball quickly to the check down. Good tackle by Willie Gay. pic.twitter.com/JGLoheFYN7— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) December 26, 2022
But against the Seahawks, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo exploited Seattle’s fear of the Kansas City blitz to get Jones into favorable one-on-one matchups. To the Seahawks’ guards — both of whom are shorter, stockier players that want to grind out plays in the running game — Jones’ length and quickness were an immediate issue.
This is too easy for Jones out of a 4i. The RT is going to have to reach across his face, the RG leaves, and he is able to play the entire gap and get the stop. Willie Gay comes in to help also. pic.twitter.com/owsjsYinBT— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) December 26, 2022
Jones typically plays as the 3-technique — just outside of the guard’s shoulder — but on Saturday, he widened out to a 4i-technique (on the inside shoulder of the tackle) several times. This put him in space against the less-athletic guards — while also allowing him to use his strength to power through the tackles on the inside.
A game of inches. Chris Jones destroys the RG. He swats one hand down, but the RG resets. Jones feels this and proceeds to turn it into an all-out bull rush. He gets the RG to flip his hips cutting down the angle and dropping him right in front of Smith. Play was just a touch off pic.twitter.com/6wYyxgFHSR— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) December 26, 2022
All afternoon, Jones kept blockers off-balance with a variety of moves — but late in the game, he used power rushes to fight his way into the backfield.
Chris Jones in a 3tech. Bad step by the LT allows Jones to shoot the B gap right off the snap. The guard doesn't give any presence, and Jones smacks Walker in the backfield. His alignment changes through the game gave Seattle fits. pic.twitter.com/Ac20YB5kO4— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) December 26, 2022
Against the run, this was one of the best games of Jones’ career. Creating penetration several times, he was able to meet Walker in the backfield, stopping him before he could get going.
After the game Chris Jones had it was awesome seeing him get a sack to close it out. Lined up as a 4i he attacks with power first, then swims into the B gap. Two-hand punch and extension then works inside, create separation, and finish with a sack. #12 on the year. pic.twitter.com/sULNnkUtVW— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) December 26, 2022
Jones was finally rewarded for his all-out relentless effort throughout the game by closing the contest with his 12th sack of the year.
Jones finishing with four tackles, two tackles for loss, a sack and multiple pressures. His dominating performance sparked the big day for the Kansas City defense.
The bottom line
The Chiefs’ effort in the trenches led to a solid performance by the defense — one that can hopefully be something that the unit can build upon for the playoffs. being able to consistently stuff the run (and affect the passer) will be keys for playoff success.
While Jones is a clear candidate for defensive player of the year, he alone will not be enough. It will take the entire unit. So seeing Karlaftis’ late-season emergence — along with a well-focused Clark — should provide optimism for the playoff run.