A key part of the defense’s improvement this season has been the depth that’s been put in place by general manager Brett Veach. Last year, losing starting MIKE linebacker Nick Bolton for several games would have been a massive blow to the unit. But this season — when Bolton went down in Week 2 against the Jacksonville Jaguars — the defense didn’t miss a beat.
Key additions such as linebacker Drue Tranquill and safety Mike Edwards have helped fortify a defense that’s otherwise been built through the draft. Tranquill was a major contributor during the three games Bolton missed. And on Thursday night, we got a glimpse of what Kansas City’s defense can look like with four solid playmakers at the second level.
Since joining the Chiefs in 2021, Bolton has always had a knack for finding the football. He also seems to have a clutch gene that shows up in some of the biggest moments. So adding him back to a linebacker group that was already playing well makes the defense’s ceiling sky-high. Though Bolton had some rust to knock off in his first game back, he still was able to make a major impact with four tackles and an interception.
But Bolton was not alone on Thursday night. Tranquill, Willie Gay Jr. and Leo Chenal were all able to make splash plays.
“I think we’ve got about four or five starters in our room,” marveled Bolton to reporters after the game.
Still, Bolton wasn’t satisfied with his own performance.
“I felt like it was a little up and down,” he noted. “I was foggy with my tackling; I’ve got to knock the rust off.”
He was still pleased, however, with what he’s seeing from the defense.
“I’m excited for it,” he said. “We’re reaching in the right direction. We’re getting more comfortable playing with each other and executing the game plan. Guys know to be in the right spot at the right time, everyone’s flying to the football — and most importantly of all — we’re having fun.”
After confirming that the injury that kept him out for three games was a high ankle sprain, Bolton said he tried to push through to play against the Minnesota Vikings in Week 5 — but didn’t feel comfortable on the artificial turf of U.S. Bank Stadium. But he had high praise for those who stepped up in his absence.
“Everyone in that room wants to win,” he explained. “So they’re going to do everything they can to get to that point. We do what it takes. That’s what a group is about — and it’s what we embody.”
While most of the narrative around this game will be focused on a poor Denver offense, the truth is that going into Thursday’s game, Denver was ranked 10th in points scored per game and was tied for fifth in yards per play — and quarterback Russell Wilson was having a great season. But the Chiefs’ defense held Wilson to just 95 passing yards and intercepted him twice; his passer rating was a dismal 46.6.
According to Bolton, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was behind it all.
“Coach Spags did a good job of mixing up looks,” he said. “We were able to get them into third-and-longs. We’d tried to heat him up a little bit [via the blitz] and our four-man front and defensive line went to work. Our DBs were able to get their hands on some balls.”
The Kansas City defense now has ten days to prepare for the strongest AFC West contender: the Los Angeles Chargers. And for that game, former San Francisco 49ers’ defensive lineman Charles Omenihu — signed in free agency — will be past his six-game suspension.
For the Chiefs’ young defense, the future appears bright.