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Analyzing Chiefs linebackers in a game without Nick Bolton

The Chiefs’ linebackers turned in a solid performance despite being without Nick Bolton.

NFL: Chicago Bears at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

One question the Kansas City Chiefs defense faced heading into Sunday's matchup vs. the Chicago Bears was how the linebackers would look without Nick Bolton, who was ruled out with an ankle injury.

This would leave Drue Tranquill to take the Mike linebacker snaps, while Leo Chenal and Willie Gay would play the Sam and Will backer spots.

The Chiefs' defense dominated the game, and the linebackers contributed more than their fair share.

Stopping the run

Entering the game, the Bears had struggled to establish the run, but with criticism over quarterback Justin Fields and the Bears coaching staff mounting, it was easy to assume that they would come out and try to establish the ground game early.

The Bears wanted to run on early downs and control the clock, but the Chiefs were ready.

The defense came out in a few different looks early to stop the run, and the linebackers were at the forefront.

The Bears pack the line of scrimmage and come out with 13 personnel. To match this, the Chiefs come out in an odd front— with three down defensive linemen and Tranquill and Chenal lined up on the edges.

The Bears run a duo look, but Tranquill crashes through the D-gap and corrals the running back.

Having versatile athletic players in the unit like Tranquill has allowed Steve Spagnuolo to use creative looks— like the odd fronts and kept defenses guessing.

Chicago was searching for any way to run the ball and looked to run away from the strength of their formation a few times to catch the Chiefs off guard.

Chenal is lined up as the "joker" right over the tight end. The Bears run zone to the weak side of the formation, but Gay makes an excellent read through the B-gap to make the play.

The Chiefs were particularly good at stopping the run out of their base defense. With Chenal at SAM, Tranquill at MIKE and Gay as the WILL, they could fit up the Bears and hold their backs to less than 70 yards.

Chenal starts the play on a run blitz and takes on the right tackle. He shows off some serious power by shrugging off the block and meets the back in the hole. The result is another minimal gain.

Affecting the passing game

The early down success against the run for the Chiefs led to some excellent opportunities for the defense to pin their ears back and get after Fields when he dropped back on obvious passing downs.

Tranquill is initially lined up along the line of scrimmage, showing blitz, but as the play progresses, he drops back into a spy.

Fields escapes the rush from Mike Danna and decides to scramble. As Tranquill sees Fields get ready to run, he turns on the jets and brings him down before any damage can be done. He was rewarded with a half-sack for his effort.

The defense dialed up a few blitzes for Gay, and one of them resulted in a sack.

The Bears motion the tight end away from Gay, but this plays into the Chiefs' trap.

The defense is again in a base look, but when the tight end motions away from Gay, it leaves him without anyone to cover. The slot is accounted for by Justin Reid and high safety Bryan Cook is over the top to defend anything deep.

Gay takes advantage of this by exploding into a blitz from depth and although he does not finish the play, he knocks Fields off his spot and allows Danna to finish the play with a sack.

Chenal was also able to get in on the pass rush.

He plays the tight end initially and holds in place to ensure that he won't be involved with a route. Once he sees the tight end stagnate in place he shows off the short area burst and flies into the backfield to speed up the throw.

He doesn't get the sack, but he forced a quick decision from Fields who elected to throw the ball away.

Flying around the field

The linebackers all played a role in finding ways to shut down the Bears, and they also found ways to fly around the field and show off their athletic ability.

The effort from Tranquill on this play is impeccable. Not only does he stick in coverage for as long as possible, but he also turns on his second gear to run down Fields.

Gay only recorded two tackles for the game, but his impact went beyond the box score.

Instead of knifing inside initially and trying to make the play, Gay runs wide setting the edge and forcing the run back inside to his teammates.

With a dual-threat quarterback like Fields, stopping zone reads was a big emphasis for the Chiefs' defense.

The Bears show zone to the right but Fields keeps the ball. He wants to pull the ball and run to the left end, but Chenal makes a perfect read and effortlessly beats Fields to the end to take away the run.

The bottom line

With Bolton down, the rest of the lineup stepped up. Tranquill led the team in tackles with eight, while Chenal and Gay were able to make an impact beyond the box score.

Bolton's absence put on display the depth of the Chiefs' defense and showed that this is more than just a flash in the pan. With one of their key contributors down the unit didn't miss a beat. Tranquill is capable of playing multiple roles in the defense and even showed that he is a quality starting Mike linebacker when given the chance to play consistently.

Bolton's return will strengthen the unit, but in the meantime, it has been an excellent opportunity for the rest of the unit to prove that they need more playing time.

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