An NFL team possessing a quarterback like the Kansas City Chiefs’ reigning league MVP Patrick Mahomes will always tend to be regarded as one that features a high-octane offense.
But in the first two weeks of the regular season, it has been the Chiefs’ defense under coordinator Steve Spagnuolo that has stepped up the most — something in which its players have taken great pride as the offense works to re-establish its rhythm.
“This is a defense that’s young and hungry,” second-year cornerback Trent McDuffie told reporters on Wednesday. “I know Spags has been calling some great plays for us — and the defense is happy with where we’re at. But we definitely have some things that we need to clean up. We’re looking to trend in an upwards direction.”
After the first two weeks of the season, Kansas City is ranked as one of the league’s best defenses. Even including Mahomes’ pick-6 in Week 1, the team is tied for the third-fewest points allowed against the talented offenses of the Detroit Lions and the Jacksonville Jaguars.
McDuffies and his teammates aren’t interested in resting on their laurels.
“Yeah, we won the Super Bowl,” he noted, “but I know this defense definitely felt like we could’ve done more — and produced more. Coming into this year, this is something that we definitely have been looking at — and wanted to continue to succeed with. [We want to] show that because last week and the week before we held them to nine and 14 points, this is a defense that’s going to continue to do that — and be consistent with it.”
McDuffie thinks that the players built cohesiveness from the momentum they felt at the end of the 2022 season.
“Last year we were a young group — and we had to learn a lot,” he recalled. “The whole defense came back again this year. Over OTAs and training camp, I feel like we’ve grown really close as a group — as far as unit-wise — and overall as a defense.
“I think a lot of guys come in here and are willing to work each and every day. That could be huge in the future — knowing that you’re going to continue to stack days. I think that’s what Coach [Spagnuolo] is talking about: there’s a group of guys that are here to do their job — and do it the best they can.”
One area where the Kansas City defense dominated in 2022 was getting sacks, collecting 55 to rank second in the NFL. This season, things started slow — the team had just one sack in Week 1 — but on Sunday, the return of All-Pro defensive lineman Chris Jones provided a boost that helped the unit finish the 17-9 road victory with four sacks of Jaguars’ quarterback Trevor Lawrence.
Second-year defensive end George Karlaftis — who was credited with one of those sacks — thinks the team’s complementary style of football has been a significant factor in its sustained success.
Chris Jones gave Anton Harrison a few "Welcome to the NFL" moments today. Get the outside hand off of him and rips through the inside. He can't turn the corner to finish, but Karlaftis shakes the C and Danna tosses the LG to finish the play with a sack. pic.twitter.com/Dr4J5rWoqY— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) September 18, 2023
“That’s what we have to do every week,” he told reporters on Wednesday. “They put us in a position to win — and we put them in a position to win, too. That’s kind of how team sports work — and that’s how we have had this sustained greatness — just by playing off each other. When the offense needs help, the defense picks up the slack — and vice versa.”
But Karlaftis and his teammates know there is plenty of room for growth; they’re not yet where they want to be.
“We’re not even close,” he admitted. “I think that we have a lot of things to work on and improve. There’s always room for improvement. I think we’ve had a couple of good games — and it’s a good start — but consistency is the truest measure of a good defense.”
And that’s true no matter who makes the biggest play of the game.
“We’re not really focused on who gets the publicity,” noted Karlaftis, “as long as we get the win.”