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Film review: Against Seattle, Chris Jones showed why he is a DPOY candidate

The Kansas City defense needed a good performance — and its defensive line answered the call.

NFL: Seattle Seahawks at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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