As quarterback Patrick Mahomes threw for five touchdowns (and the offense exploded for 44 points), the defense held the Cardinals to just 282 yards, seemingly — at least through one game — getting out to a better start than it did a season ago.
The Chiefs allowed just 282 yards today Their season-best last year was 276. Cardinals surpassed that number only in the final minute.— Sam McDowell (@SamMcDowell11) September 12, 2022
Speaking to the media Monday on a Zoom conference call, Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo complimented several of his rookie players for their efforts.
“Bryan Cook stuck out in a couple of things he did — he made some tackles,” said Spagnuolo. “Jaylen [Watson] going in and Josh [Williams] having to go in a little bit, I thought they all did a nice job. George [Karlaftis] was solid. He came right up to me after and gave me the two or three things he did wrong, which is George — he’s always going to try to get better, but I thought he helped us a little bit... Leo [Chenal] got in there and got a couple of snaps in our base defense and some at the end when we got ahead.”
According to Pro Football Focus, rookie starter Trent McDuffie accumulated 21 snaps in coverage, and he was not targeted once before he left the game due to pulling his hamstring, per Spagnuolo.
“I thought he was real solid,” said Spagnuolo of McDuffie. “What was challenging for us a little bit was because they did some tempo — was getting the calls, and I think that was new to Trent, and that was a little bit of a struggle early, but once we got that calmed down, I thought he did a nice job.”
With McDuffie out of the game, Watson allowed one reception on two targets in 25 coverage snaps, including a pass breakup down the right sideline. Williams allowed one reception on two targets in 12 coverage snaps.
“[I] was really happy with how Jaylen went in there and did what he did. They challenged him right away, which is what real good teams do. And he made that play down the sideline, which was good to see.”
Like Karlaftis, veteran defensive lineman Chris Jones knocked down a ball at the line, but he also hurried Cardinals quarterback Kyler Murray six times and forced a fumble.
“There’s some hidden production there from Chris,” said Sapgnuolo. “He tipped that one, which was huge. And there’s a couple others in there where you see him pressure the middle of the pocket and Kyler Murray had to move around — and that helps us. It extends the down. The guys extend their coverage... so I thought Chris played really solid. He had the [forced] fumble. We couldn’t come up with it.
“Overall as a pass rush, I thought the guys were relentless in their pass rush. I thought Carlos Dunlap got his sack because he just kept rushing the passer, and we preach about that all the time — pass rushers keep rushing the passer, and if your coverage is good on the back end, you could find a way to get the quarterback on the ground. The guy we just went against, he’s pretty slippery — so it didn’t show up in the stat column with sacks and all that, but to get him to run around and off timing-wise, I thought was a good thing for us.”
Murray finished with under 200 passing yards and 29 rushing yards — one of them being a 21-yard scramble that would eventually lead to Arizona’s only first-half touchdown.
“It’s funny. You can go three quarters of a game and contain a quarterback — and then all of a sudden, when they spring that one, it’s a back-breaker, and it did lead to points for them, so our goal was to not have that happen at all,” continued Spagnuolo. “But I was excited about the fact that we did collapse the pocket, kept them caged on a number of occasions. I think there was a few balls there he threw away, which was a good win for us. But we are going to see a lot of these guys.
“I think the next guy (Los Angeles Chargers quarterback Justin Herbert) we’re getting ready to play is a really good athlete. Just because he’s 6-4, 6-5, whatever he is, we don’t take away the fact that this guy is athletic — and if he wants to pull it down and run, he’s pretty good at that, too.”
Spagnuolo mentioned that he “zipped” through the Cardinals game film on the plane back to Kansas City from Arizona, and he was already focused on the Chargers when he joined the call. But the start his unit had matched what he had in mind when this group gathered for its initial meetings at training camp.
That is a welcome change from last year at this time.
“We’ve talked a lot about being an attitude defense and that attitude being relentless and physical — and I thought the guys brought that,” he said. “We played fast on a lot of plays. The only times I thought maybe we didn’t do that is when maybe there was a little miscommunication. We kind of made up for any miscommunication with making some plays — Chris knocking a ball down, somebody coming free on the inside and getting the quarterback to pull it down and not throw it on time. I did like the way they played like that.
“I think we need to continue to do that. I think this group gets confident when they play fast. We did simplify it for them going into the game. We’ll try to continue to do that because we play better that way. And yet, every once in a while, put a little nugget in there to throw off the opponent we’re playing.”