In the second half of Sunday’s 44-21 season-opening victory against the Arizona Cardinals, the Kansas City Chiefs never led by fewer than 16 points. Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray — in his first game after signing an extension that provided him a higher average per-year salary than Kansas City’s Patrick Mahomes — finished with less than 200 yards passing and a pair of touchdowns. The Chiefs notched three sacks against Arizona — and Murray’s feared running ability was also kept in check as he was limited to just 29 yards.
Kansas City’s longest-tenured defensive player, however, was less than impressed.
“We played OK,” said defensive tackle Chris Jones after the game. “We missed a lot of opportunities. But overall, I think we got better as a group. Still got to build chemistry along the defense. [There are] a lot of new faces, so it’s going to be challenging along the season. But overall today, I grade us a C-plus.”
Jones largely put the blame for the missed opportunities on his position group — while still finding some positive takeaways on how the unit impacted Murray.
“I think we missed three sacks,” he recalled, “but we also got three sacks. He’s a shifty guy; hard to bring down. He ducked under me on one of them. Threw the ball [away] on George [Karlaftis] on the other one. Outran Frank Clark. We got to him; we affected him in multiple ways.”
Chiefs safety Justin Reid was more impressed with the unit’s performance — while agreeing that there were some areas where improvement is needed.
“I think that we had a great game plan put in place put together by [Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo] to really corral No. 1 (Murray),” Reid observed. “Don’t let him get any balls behind us. Don’t let him run around the field all day.
“Defensive line really did a great job keeping him contained. Secondary made sure that the big ball was taken away. And we just executed. There’s always room to get better. There’s a couple plays out there with some mistakes that we’re going to have to iron out.”
Jones was pleased with solid tackling across the defense, which he claimed was the result of added focus during the team’s training camp.
“We put an emphasis on tackling,” he explained. “We usually start the year off with 12 to 16 missed tackles the first game; everybody’s getting accustomed. But I think this year in training camp [we were] emphasizing — and making sure that — guys rally to the ball, most importantly. Making sure we get out of stacks as a defensive line [while] our linebackers are flying around. Once we all commit to that — the missed tackles go down and it becomes a gang tackle. We have to be consistent with it and hone in on that.”
In their remarks, Reid and Jones each lauded strong performances by individual teammates.
Reid praised the play of fellow safety Juan Thornhill, who just missed what would have been an incredible interception when he broke up a sideline pass from Murray.
“I wish he would have caught one of them — he had two chances,” he said of Thornhill. “But I think that he did a great job at finding the ball on that deep one. And also just coming up on the sideline and just playing fast. Not thinking about it, just going. He has that ability. I’m going to hold it to him. Like, ‘Next time, you have to catch one of those at least.’”
Jones credited linebacker Nick Bolton for strong play — and stronger leadership. He revealed a way the second-year player stepped up that those who were watching would not have noticed.
“We asked Nick to take on a larger role this year with [former Chiefs linebacker] Anthony Hitchens gone,” he noted. “He’s our play-caller. He’s been tremendous since training camp — lining us up in the midst of all the bullets [that are] flying around. In the hurry-up, a few situations, he actually called the play for us. The headphones went out. I think Nick did a really good job today. Very proud of him.”
He also noted that fellow defensive lineman Carlos Dunlap’s third-quarter sack of Murray was the 97th of his career, bringing the 12-year veteran closer to an important career milestone.
The Chiefs’ defensive performance would look better if not for a late Cardinals touchdown, which took place after a number of defensive substitutions. Jones explained that even these seemingly meaningless touchdowns bother him.
“Those are garbage scores because the game is out of reach,” he said. “That’s the time when the D-line can finally eat. You don’t run any blitzes, you don’t run any schemes, you drop the playbook. We’re rushing four, put the back end in light Cover 3 or quarter halves, and just let us eat. I put it on the defensive line. We have to affect the quarterback.”
For his part, Reid was positive that Sunday’s win will lead to better things for the defense.
“The way that the defense is really coming together now is really fun to watch,” he boasted. “We’re going to build upon it going forward.”