Over their last three matchups, the Kansas City Chiefs have allowed an average of 122 rushing yards per game — a 10-yard increase over what they allowed in the previous nine contests — and according to defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, the unit is renewing its focus on stopping the run.
“We’ve talked extensively about it this week,” Spaguolo told reporters on Thursday. “First and second down — if you look at it — has been more of a problem for us than maybe third down. We only got them to 10 third downs [against the Green Bay Packers]... And that’s not enough. You’ve got to get teams into 15, 16, 17, 18 third downs — and then hopefully you’re winning 12 or 13 of them.”
Spagnuolo doesn’t believe the fault for the unit’s issues against the run can be blamed on any one person.
“When you pull them all out — [looking] at the ones that are going for longer yardage than you really want to — everybody’s playing a part in it,” he observed. “It’s not just one guy or one person. And so, everybody needs to clean it up.”
The veteran coordinator explained that his defense needs to fight for their right to rush the passer — by first stopping the run.
“Everybody wants to get after the quarterback,” he declared. “We want to get them in the passing situations. You can’t do that until you earn the right to get them in that. So I think we all need to hone in on [the run defense] ... and just stiffen it up a little bit.”
One player who agrees with his coach is linebacker Willie Gay Jr., who told our own Aaron Ladd that winning on early downs will be crucial to keeping the Buffalo Bills at a disadvantage when they walk onto GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday afternoon.
“Man, winning [on] first down is huge,” said the linebacker, “because you get a team behind the sticks now with second and six plus. You make them do something they really didn’t want to do... To put a team like this behind the sticks a little bit, man? [Making] them throw the ball on second down is definitely a goal for us.”
One thing that will give the Chiefs a boost in their run defense is the potential return of starting MIKE (middle) linebacker Nick Bolton. On Wednesday, he logged his first full practice since dislocating his wrist during Week 7’s 31-17 victory over the Los Angeles Chargers.
“I tell you what he provides,” Spagnuolo said of Bolton’s return. “He boosts me... he’s an energy-giver. I know the guys feel that in the huddle... Everybody knows what he’s all about, what he brings and how he communicates.”
The Chiefs are going to need all the help they can get — because over their last three contests, the Bills have averaged 165 rushing yards per game. Only time will tell if the Chiefs will have what it takes to shut down Buffalo’s ground game in this crucial matchup.