Through three games, the Kansas City Chiefs defense has impressed anybody who has watched them. The fears of how well the youth and inexperience would do have dwindled, thanks to a unit that has allowed the 10th-fewest total yards in the NFL so far this season and basically won their team the game in Week 2 with an interception returned for a score.
Those results don't mean the unit is satisfied with where they are. Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo explained his thoughts on the unit before practice on Thursday, emphasizing that he always believes the group can play better — but especially in the realm of finishing games.
As he continued speaking to reporters, Spagnuolo clarified that he still has a lot to learn about how to best use this particular defense.
"I always want to be at gear 10 on Day 1, but I'm realistic enough to know in this league, it takes a little time," Spagnuolo noted. "I've always said it takes the first quarter of the season to figure out what you have in players and where you should put them. We have a couple, three pieces missing... but the guys that have stepped up have done a nice job."
If the season's first quarter is a benchmark, then the Chiefs have one more game in that stretch: Week 4 against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers and quarterback Tom Brady.
Brady leads an offense that has failed to produce like we are accustomed to seeing from his units, but Spagnuolo doesn't see Brady being the reason for that slow start.
"Normally, you'd see a drop off in arm strength or they don't throw it to the sideline... not so with Tom," Spagnuolo described of the difference between Brady and other veteran quarterbacks. "I think he's throwing the ball as good as he ever has, he's as accurate as he ever has been, and he is still throwing the ball deep. He has always been one to sit in the pocket, on the spot, rely on his arm strength — that hasn't changed... he's the same threat he has always been, in my opinion."
That threat has been without some of his top targets for stretches this season. Wide receivers Mike Evans and Chris Godwin have both had to miss time this season, along with other members of the receiving corps.
Even with some pass catchers slated to return this week, Spagnuolo believes Tampa Bay is in a good spot with pass catchers — including a player they signed just before Week 3.
"They still got players out there," Spagnuolo asserted. "I think Cole Beasley will continue to be what he is, and he's only been there a week. The very first pass he threw to him was right on target; they just look natural together. So I think he has plenty of weapons."
Beasley will help Brady do what he likes to do best: get rid of the ball quickly. No quarterback this season has gotten the ball out faster on their average dropback, and that helps him beat the blitz — something Spagnuolo has tended to lean on to get pressure on opposing quarterbacks.
It's what Spagnuolo likes to do, but he understands the danger of blitzing this particular player.
"By nature, it'd be nice to always bring a lot of pressure; I just think it challenges offensive lines and quarterbacks," Spagnuolo explained. "But [Brady] 's one of those guys that figures it out pretty quick. So you have to pick your spots."
That's why he'll mainly rely on his defensive front to do the pressuring, the group that played very well against Indianapolis. Spagnuolo noticed two veteran defensive ends that stood out to him the most.
"I thought Frank [Clark] did some things power-wise that I hadn't seen in awhile," Spagnuolo pointed out. I think he is really effective when he does that."
"Carlos [Dunlap] did a really nice job," Spagnuolo went on to say. "He's a pro. I watch him in our unit meetings, not only does he take notes and he's cerebral, but he asks questions and comes up with really good points. He's not afraid to chime in, he's really good that way — and he's made some really important plays for us. That sack fumble he had was a relentless pass rush, he's long. We're really glad we have him."
Those two — along with the rest of the defensive line rotation — will be put in a position to make the difference against Brady. Spagnuolo can dust off the old game plans he has used against the ageless quarterback, but that doesn't make things any easier against the greatest of all time.
Somehow — at age 45 — he is still as dangerous as ever.