In each of the Kansas City Chiefs’ last two games, the team has faced a first-half deficit of at least two scores. Against the Las Vegas Raiders, the Chiefs brushed off the 14-0 hole and cruised to a 31-17 victory — but that wasn’t the case when playing the Green Bay Packers in Week 13.
The Packers’ established a 14-3 lead after two long possessions, giving the Chiefs only one more opportunity to answer in the first half. Kansas City couldn’t rebound from there in the 27-19 loss, despite the defense getting stops in the fourth quarter.
Finishing strong is obviously key, but leaders like defensive end Mike Danna and cornerback Trent McDuffie acknowledged the unit’s performance has to be better from the jump when speaking to reporters in the locker room on Wednesday.
“We can’t come out flat like we did the past two games,” Danna pointed out. “So whether it’s increasing our preparation this week, improving on our fundamentals and techniques, or simply doing our job. A lot of those plays can be eliminated if we simply just did our job.”
“I couldn’t really tell you what the sole reason is for starting slow, but that’s definitely an emphasis,” McDuffie assured. “The defense has to come out and make a statement by coming out fast, and this weekend we’re looking to do that.”
The four first-half touchdowns allowed over the last two weeks have all come on drives centered around a consistent rushing attack. Both Raiders’ running back Josh Jacobs and Packers’ running back A.J. Dillon ran tough through the Kansas City front, highlighting the absence of starting middle linebacker Nick Bolton.
Bolton has not played since injuring his wrist against the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 7. He has begun practicing, and he is designated to return possibly as soon as this weekend against the Buffalo Bills. It’s safe to say his defensive teammates are looking forward to his return.
“I’m excited to have my linebacker back, that’s my linebacker,” Jones told reporters on Wednesday. “I know he makes a huge difference for this defense. His leadership, his play calling, his adjustments to the game. He does a tremendous job for us as a leader.”
“It’s a huge impact,” Danna described of Bolton’s eventual return. “Nick’s a great player, a significant-impact player, but just having his presence. He’s a dog on that field, his football IQ is out of this world. So having him back there is going to be great. It’s great to see 3-2 back.”
With Bolton out, backup middle linebacker Drue Tranquill was filling in very well — until he left last week’s game on the opening drive with a concussion; he did not practice on Wednesday. In his place, second-year linebacker Jack Cochrane did his best to fill the void.
Danna credited both players for stepping into Bolton’s place but made it clear that the teammates surrounding that position can aid whoever is thereby playing sound themselves.
“We all have to own our gaps, we all have to play our gaps,” Danna explained. “We’re all depended on to do one job, so just doing your job as a one-11. There’s no way around that. You have to do your job, you’re expected to. You have teammates relying on you to do it, so that’s one of the biggest things we have to improve on.”
Chris Jones made it simple with his message from the defensive line:
“The front four, we’ll be better.”
The only thing worse than losing games is not knowing how to prevent it from happening again. The Chiefs’ defense sounds very aware of what has gone wrong the last two games, specifically in Green Bay: starting slow, which has been attributed to some lack of run defense.
The awareness makes Danna confident that it can be fixed and turned around soon.
“We weren’t all on the same page, and that’s no secret when you turn on the film,” Danna admitted. “If we tighten up the screws in the defensive line room, linebacker room, defensive back room, we’ll be good. We’ll get back to how dominant we were at the beginning and halfway through the season.”