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At the line of scrimmage, Chiefs’ defense flexed its muscles against Patriots

Kansas City swarmed to the ball on defense, suffocating New England’s running and passing game.

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Kansas City Chiefs v New England Patriots Photo by Sarah Stier/Getty Images

Going into the Week 15 game against the New England Patriots, the Kansas City Chiefs knew that their defense would need to play with high levels of effort and physicality — because the 2023 Patriots need short, low-scoring games. In New England, that starts with establishing the run.

But by the end of Sunday’s 27-17 victory, the Chiefs had limited the Patriots to 52 rushing yards on 16 attempts. Their starting running back Ezekiel Elliott had managed just 2.3 yards per carry — and didn’t earn more than five yards on any of his 11 rushes.

New England quarterback Bailey Zappe found early passing success by getting rid of the ball quickly and in rhythm — but by the game’s end, Kansas City had accumulated four sacks. According to PFF, the defense pressured Zappe on 49% of his dropbacks.

Let’s consider how the defense got it done in Foxborough.

Physical run defense from the secondary

The defensive front — starting with defensive tackles Derrick Nnadi and Chris Jones — was stout against the run. When coupled with aggressive linebacker play, the Chiefs’ front seven could plug gaps successfully, leaving clean-up duty for the unit’s third-level players. Safeties Justin Reid and Chamarri Connor stood out in those opportunities, coming down hard to the line and squaring up Elliott to minimize yardage.

On this third-down play, Elliott finds space up the middle — but Reid greets him ahead of the marker and drives him back. On a later first-down run, Connor stands Elliott up at the line of scrimmage. While in the box, cornerback L’Jarius Sneed also had a strong tackle against the run; he had two tackles-for-loss from the perimeter.

Sneed ended the game as the unit’s leading tackler (9); Reid finished second (7). While Sneed has come a long way as a coverage player, he is still one of the league’s most reliable defensive backs against the run.

Charles Omenihu rushing from the edge

Just one of Kansas City’s four sacks on Sunday came from an edge rusher. Defensive end Charles Omenihu also added a quarterback hit. It’s significant because Omenihu has typically been most effective rushing from the inside — but on Sunday, he showed he can also have an impact from the edge.

In the second play of this set, Omenihu starts on the edge before collapsing inside on a stunt to nail Zappe as he throws. His long legs and arms get him to the quarterback quickly, but he also stays tight to the lineman — and doesn’t retreat to go around the guard at all. While defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton sets him up with a strong rush to create space, this play shows how quickly Omenihu can blow up a pocket — even from the edge.

In the final play shown here, Omenihu uses his favorite pass-rushing move — a double-hand swipe — to win around the outside. Staying tight to the corner as he beats the left tackle’s hands, Omenihu ends up in the back of the pocket before wrapping up Zappe.

It’s worth noting that this was only Omenihu’s eighth game of the season — and on Sunday, he earned a sack in his third consecutive game. He might be hitting his stride.

Playmaking linebackers

In New England, linebacker Nick Bolton looked much more comfortable than he did against the Buffalo Bills. He ended the game with five tackles — four of which were successful run stops. When Drue Tranquill spelled Bolton, he immediately earned a sack from a first-down blitz.

Linebacker Leo Chenal tied Bolton with five tackles in the game. He also had a defended pass that stopped an early New England possession.

On this third down in the first quarter, the Chiefs ask Chenal to show man coverage on the tight end before the snap. After Zappe reads the defense and begins his cadence, safety Justin Reid comes down to replace Chenal — who then rushes from the edge.

Zappe wants a quick throw to his tight end because it’s a mismatch against Chenal. But at the snap, the linebacker is coming untouched in the very lane to which Zappe wants to throw. That leads to the batted-down pass — but only because Chenal rushes with attention to detail: as he is sprinting, he keeps his arms raised for five full yards.

In the third quarter, Willie Gay Jr. got in on the playmaking by intercepting a poorly-thrown pass. He shows good awareness by picking up the tight end getting to the sideline, staying underneath him to be in position for exactly what happens: a hurried quarterback trying to squeeze the ball into a window that is too tight.

Gay takes the ball all the way to the Patriots’ 7-yard line, setting up a Chiefs’ touchdown on offense. That excited his teammates, but some of them also let him know that he had a chance to score.

The Chiefs’ social media caught Omenihu and Tranquill both giving Gay a hard time for not punching the ball into the end zone. After the game, Gay admitted that he got too comfortable — vowing to score on the next opportunity.

But even without the touchdown, the play was representative of the defense’s strong effort at the line of scrimmage. Defensive end Mike Danna’s relentless rush hurried Zappe — just one of many examples where the Chiefs were swarming to the ball in Gillette Stadium.

With the season’s stretch run now upon us, we need to keep seeing this kind of performance; all three levels of Kansas City’s defense must continue winning at the line of scrimmage.

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