An oft-referenced storyline from the Kansas City Chiefs’ 31-17 win over the Los Angeles Chargers last Sunday is the addition of Swiss Army Knife Charles Omenihu’s impact on what had been an already promising Chiefs defensive line.
Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo inserted Omenihu into the lineup after he served his six-game suspension. That resulted in a sack, a couple of quarterback hits and a batted ball that led to a third-quarter interception that put points on the scoreboard.
“It was nice to have a guy back there with that length,” said Spagnuolo of the 6-foot-5 Omenihu. “That was a huge play that he made. It was a third down in the red zone, a four-point play that turned into a seven-point play because we picked it off. He was some juice for us — and hopefully, each week, we can stack some more things on there for him. It was nice to see him come in — [and] in one week, just get plugged in and make some plays. I was happy for him.”
Omenihu might be new to the lineup, but the theme of batting down passes at the line of scrimmage is not, as the Chiefs have been doing it all season. Counting Omenihu’s key play, Kansas City linemen have now batted down 10 passes in 2023.
“A lot of that is innate,” said Spagnuolo. “I think we got some guys that innately get their hands up. We got a couple guys with some length: Charles and Chris [Jones]. God gave them appendages that are going to help them do it.”
Jones and Omenihu were each born with an 85-inch wingspan. Their appendages come in handy in the red zone, on third-and-short tries and against smaller adversaries.
“We preach it [getting your hands up] when we’re playing certain-sized quarterbacks, it becomes more of an emphasis,” said Spagnuolo. “A lot of what we look at is where quarterbacks are releasing the football.”
Omenihu's return allowed Spagnuolo to do what made him a champion all those years ago in New York: put four pass rushers on the line of scrimmage in critical downs. Spagnuolo knows that managing the four-monster tandem of George Karlaftis, Jones, Omenihu and Mike Danna is a difficult task for opposing offensive lines.
“All four of those guys can go inside, all four of them can go outside,” said Spagnuolo. “That’s the luxury. The pressure you put on them is to mentally know as a player — all four of those spots... if Chris wants to get in on a guard, then somebody that’s going out on a tackle knows how to do it. That’s pretty important, and that’s the intelligence of those guys that I would give credit to.
“Let’s face it. Most teams that we play are going to try to find a way to get four hands on Chris and not two. If they knew he was always going to be [on] the right tackle, it would be a little bit easier. Not knowing where he is, they’ve got to do some things.”
Karlaftis — whom Spagnuolo admitted probably slides inside the least — has been learning to become as adaptable as the rest of his teammates. He understands the benefit it can provide.
“I think that we have four guys can move around,” said Karlaftis. “I think last week, all four of us played on every single offensive lineman, so to be able to have that kind of versatility up front is huge. Having a guy like Charles that can rush on either side — from end to tackle — brings not only his skill set rushing the passer but versatility that benefits everyone. If they don’t know who’s lining up where, I think that just makes it more difficult for them.”
Many have felt this is the best defense Spagnuolo has had since arriving at the Chiefs in 2019. But in his view, it’s not all about the line; he credits the entire front seven.
“I just think the combination of the linemen we have with the linebackers makes a big difference,” said Spagnuolo. “I’m not sure we’ve had the luxury of the linebacker speed that we have right now... that’s a little bit of a luxury. I keep going back to that front group, linebacker-D-line that we’re working it, to the fact that they can all operate in multiple calls. And that’s a credit to them and how they work during the week in preparing and their football intelligence — what I call, ‘football get-it.’ We’ve got a lot of guys with ‘football get-it,’
“We’ve been five years in the system, so there’s continuity. That helps. All that is packaged together. My hope is that we can just keep doing it.”