As the Kansas City Chiefs prepare to face the Cincinnati Bengals in Sunday’s AFC Championship, their focus appears to be as much on themselves as their opponent.
Speaking before Thursday’s practice, cornerback L’Jarius Sneed acknowledged that the Chiefs need to address why they have lost three consecutive games against the Bengals — each by just three points after leading in each contest.
“We’ve been focusing on us, on our job [and] what to do,” Sneed explained. “The games that we lost against them have all been close games. It all comes down to timing and the end of the game. Play until the end of the game.”
When the Chiefs’ defense has been at its best this season, the third-year pro from Louisiana Tech has been a large part of the reason why. Sneed has lined up in a variety of roles within the Kansas City secondary — often alternating between manning the slot inside and shadowing the opponent’s top receivers on the outside.
He has confidence that he can play any role that defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo asks him to assume.
“It’s not very challenging,” Sneed said of his multiple assignments. “I just tell coach, ‘Put me where you need me.’ I just execute my job.”
Although he has more frequently found himself outside in tough matchups, the versatile defensive back thinks that playing the nickel role is more difficult.
“It’s very easy because I can focus on one guy,” said Sneed of shadowing accomplished receivers, “instead of playing on the inside [when] I’ve got to do this and do that — run game and all. When I’m studying one guy, I can just study him.”
On Sunday, his assignment will frequently be Ja’Marr Chase — who is one of the NFL’s best receivers. Sneed confirmed the second-year phenom is a big part of the defensive game plan — but doesn't seem worried about it.
“It’s no biggie,” he said of Chase. “We’re doing that right now in preparation. We know he’s going to be everywhere — lining up inside and also in the backfield. We’ve got things for that.”
Following the precedent set by his teammates and coaches on Wednesday, Sneed declined to respond to viral taunts from Cincinnati players.
“We’re not worried about the talking,” he reiterated. “We’re humble. We’re coming to play football — [and] put our pads on.”
The Chiefs hope that several of Sneed’s young teammates in the secondary — like Jaylen Watson and Joshua Williams — will step up on Sunday. Sneed believes they will draw from their disappointment in Kansas City’s 27-24 loss to the Bengals in Week 13.
“[Those] guys — after that game — they took it to heart,” Sneed declared. “Josh — he went in the locker room and had his head down. I went and told him, ‘Don’t put your head down.’ He took it hard to the heart — and I guarantee you that [those] guys are ready.”
Of course, the rookies weren’t a part of the team for the loss that hurts many Chiefs even more: another 27-24 upset by the Bengals in last season’s AFC Championship.
“It’s still with me,” Sneed admitted of last season’s final game. “I guarantee it’s still with a couple more guys as well. We’re coming in with a chip on our shoulder. We’re trying to not fall on the short end.”
The Chiefs selected the speedy Sneed in the fourth round of the 2020 NFL Draft. That might put him in line for a contract extension in the upcoming offseason. Speaking on Thursday, head coach Andy Reid certainly painted him as a player who has served the team well.
“We knew he was a good player coming out — really felt that,” recalled Reid. “Spags got to know him beforehand and really felt he could fit into his scheme well. We’ve just seen him grow.
“The toughest spot in there is that nickel spot — where you don’t have that sideline to help protect you a little bit. He took that, and then he added this year to where he’s back out at the corner [and] still can play some nickel or dime for you. Very well rounded. You’ve seen him grow — just knowing the scheme and all the positions within it.”