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Film Review: Against Chargers, the defensive line came through in timely fashion

On Thursday night, Kansas City’s defensive line was stingy against the run and provided a solid pass rush.

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs registered their second win in as many weeks during Thursday’s 27-24 victory over their AFC West foe: the Los Angeles Chargers.

It was a grind-it-out kind of game with a lot of emphasis on the play in the trenches. Over the last few years, Los Angeles has revamped its offensive line — and the front five that is now protecting quarterback Justin Herbert is a formidable group.

So facing off against this strong group was a good indicator for where the Chiefs’ defensive line currently stands. Chris Jones made a big impact with his two sacks — but George Karlaftis, Carlos Dunlap and Frank Clark are a few others who showed up to make plays for the Kansas City defense.

Let’s go to the film

The Chiefs’ run defense was strong throughout the game — and on this play, you can see why.

Defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi plugs up the middle by lining up over the weak side A gap before the snap. Then he slides over, crossing the center’s face to fill the strong side A gap. Fellow interior defender Tershawn Wharton fights off the left guard, which forces the ball carrier to cut upfield. There, defensive end Carlos Dunlap is able to take advantage of his inside leverage to make the tackle behind the line of scrimmage.

Here, Nnadi again fills the hole, causing the Los Angeles running back to cut back. Once he sheds the block from the right tackle, this time it’s defensive end Frank Clark who is able to run down the ball carrier. Chris Jones is also battling and is able to get in on the play at the end.

The Chiefs consistently used a four-man pass rush. It was effective mainly because of the interior rush.

In this clip, Jones does not get all the way to Herbert — but his active hands help him beat the right guard. He then has the awareness to get his hands up, allowing him tip the ball in the air and give linebacker Willie Gay Jr. a shot at picking it off. It falls harmlessly to the field — but the next time, it might not.

Here is another rep where the pass rush affected the play result without registering a sack.

First-round rookie George Karlaftis is able to stay home and read the play-action correctly. Then the former Purdue defensive end stays in Herbert’s throwing lane, forcing a pump-fake and a pass that is essentially thrown away.

But the pass rushers did register two sacks — both of them by Jones.

On this play, Jones nearly records a safety after swatting the left guard’s hands away and closing in on Herbert.

Kansas City did a nice job making Herbert uncomfortable with just four pass rushers, allowing more defenders to drop in coverage. Late in the game, this forced Los Angeles to settle for underneath throws and checkdowns.

Here, you can see the immediate penetration that Jones gets — but it’s Dunlap’s pressure that forces Herbert out of the pocket. While the ball does end up in running back Austin Ekeler’s hands, defensive tackle Khalen Saunders chases him down.

In this play, Jones again makes an impact — but this time as a run-stopper. He flashes an outside move, but then sheds back inside to mirror the running back’s movements. Aided by other defenders, Jones wraps him up.

Here we see more interior pressure — this time, from defensive end Mike Danna. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo takes advantage of his quickness and speed to get inside pressure. Danna is able to avoid much contact, causing an early throw.

Danna’s ability to be utilized in multiple ways makes him one of the Kansas City defense’s more important depth pieces.

The bottom line

In this game, the Chiefs wanted to get in Herbert’s face. They did so by using their interior pass rush — especially after Chargers center Corey Linsley went down with an injury. The outside rush, however, was still effective in forcing errant throws. Overall, the defensive line came through when it mattered most.

But in Sunday’s Week 3 game, the interior defenders will face an Indianapolis Colts team featuring Quenton Nelson, who is arguably the league’s best guard. That interior matchup should give us a heavyweight bout in the trenches.

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