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Against Chargers, Chiefs’ Charles Omenihu immediately made an impact

In his first game with the team, Kansas City’s free agent defensive end turned in a great performance.

NFL: Kansas City Chiefs Training Camp Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Defensive end Charles Omenihu has returned to the Kansas City Chiefs following a six-game suspension for violating the NFL’s personal conduct policy — at a time when the team’s schedule is beginning to ramp up with more playoff-worthy opponents.

During his first game against the Los Angeles Chargers on Sunday, Omenihu immediately made an impact, playing 51% of the team’s defensive snaps and producing four pressures, two sacks, one QB hit and one batted pass, per Pro Football Focus.

Let’s take a look at how he did it.

Run defense

When Omenihu was with the San Francisco 49ers, he wasn’t usually tasked with defending against the run; he was primarily used as a pass rusher in third-down sub-packages. This allowed him to pin his ears back and rush the passer.

The Chiefs, in contrast, rotate their defensive ends onto the field for a whole series rather than in specific situations. This means Omenihu will play against the run more often — and his early returns in that role were strong.

On this play, the Chargers are running Dart, a run concept similar to a power run. The difference is that it uses a pulling tackle instead of a pulling guard.

Omenihu is playing as the strong side defensive end — that is, on the tight end’s side of the field — so his main responsibility is to spill inside one gap and clog it. (This helps keep the linebackers free as they get over the top of the offense’s climbing blockers). Omenihu does this well, holding his gap even as he falls to his knees.

Length as a run defender

Omenihu’s standout trait is his length. He has 36-inch arms (98th percentile) and an 85 1/2-inch wingspan (97th percentile). He makes use of this length against the run.

Here we see Omenihu setting the front edge. Once he reads the tackle reaching towards him, Omenihu flashes his hands to pin the tackle’s inside shoulder. Omenihu then has his pads under the tackle with great extension, which keeps the tackle from moving him from his spot. He tracks the ball well and keeps his outside shoulder clean, forming a brick wall as the running back is forced to cut away from the blocking.

Batting passes

In 2023, Kansas City has been emphasizing batted passes as an extra way to stop passing plays; George Karlaftis and Chris Jones are both ranked among the top 10 defensive linemen for batted passes. Adding Omenihu — and his pterodactyl arms — will help the Chiefs bat down even more throws.

Here we see his first deflection, where he flashes his extraordinary length and coordination to track the ball and force an interception.

To counter Kansas City’s ability to bat down passes, offenses will be forced to be more aggressive with their pass sets — which will create opportunities for pass-rushing tactics like swim or pull moves to be successful.

Rushing from defensive tackle

As a player, Omenihu’s best trait is rushing the pass from the interior — and against the Chargers, that showed up immediately.

On this play — only his second third-down rep — Omenihu collects a sack.

He stunts into the A-gap, which matches him up against the center. He begins with a bull rush, flashing his hands to get extension into the rush. The center (against whom Omenihu has a big length advantage) is forced to lunge forward to keep on his feet. Omenihu recognizes this, countering with an excellent pull move that sets up a swim move to beat the offensive lineman.

Playing off Chris Jones

Omenihu has terrific balance to go along with his fantastic length and strength, which helps him squeeze through tiny gaps — something that bigger players (like him) typically struggle to do. Now that he’s available to rush the passer from inside, the Chiefs get more opportunities to align Jones outside — where he’s been destroying the opposition.

This is the thing that has excited me the most about Omenihu’s signing: the chemistry he could build with Jones. That showed up immediately on Sunday.

Here we see Jones create an easy sack for his new teammate.

The right tackle fails to get depth in his pass set, keeping his inside hand up to deal with the stunt the Chiefs are running. I’m not sure whether it’s the guard or tackle who is responsible for the miscommunication, but both of them can’t be at the same depth. Omenihu takes advantage of the space Jones creates and simply turns inside for the sack.

As a pass rusher, Jones creates a tremendous amount of gravity, which Omenihu will often be able to use to his advantage. With the two of them playing inside-out, offensive linemen will have a lot of difficulty calling protections.

Kansas City will also be able to create good matchups for them by using different alignments that will dictate how the offensive line slides. This will lead to two-on-two situations with Jones and Omenihu on the back side — something no offense wants to see.

The bottom line

The Chiefs haven’t had a player like Omenihu since Tanoh Kpassagnon. Mike Danna does offer some interior pass-rushing ability, but it’s in a different style than Omenihu presents. From the interior, the newcomer’s crazy length and balance allow him to knock offensive linemen backward — and then use his length advantage on pull moves to get around them.

The identity of Kansas City’s defense is its versatility; it can adjust to counter any style of offense it will face. Omenihu increases this versatility. If an extra run defender is needed, Omenhiu offers value as a defensive end. He can also take advantage of smaller, shorter offensive linemen in the interior. His synergy with Jones already looks fantastic — and adds another layer to an already outstanding defense.

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s defenses have often had to trade away structure in order to play fast — but in 2023, that is no longer the case. That’s the thing I most appreciate about the Kansas City defense: it isn’t winning in unsustainable ways. Instead, it’s winning by playing fast while maintaining its structure.

As Omenihu gets more integrated into the scheme, I think the defense could get even better.

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