Chiefs Need to Trust Their Defensive Line in Week 2
In Week 1, the Chiefs gave the world a glimpse of what their defensive line could look like this season.
After an offseason featuring nonstop talk centered around the Kansas City Chiefs’ defensive line, the NFL world finally got to see it in action on Sunday.
The Arizona Cardinals presented a different offensive threat than most other teams, but there were still specific takeaways from the front line’s Week 1 performance. Let’s dive into three major ones.
How consistent will Chris Jones be?
Chris Jones played at an elite level against the Cardinals. Jones recorded three pressures, batted a ball down at the line of scrimmage and forced a fumble… all in the first half. He was the most dominant player on the field in that half and single-handedly wrecked the Cardinals’ interior offensive line. He was beating linemen by using a plethora of moves — dipping his shoulder, using his quickness and sometimes even bull-rushing them. No. 95 was truly “in his bag” on Sunday.
This begs the question, though: can Jones repeat this level of play? That’s been a knock on him throughout his career. Many have argued that Jones disappears in games, pointing to his zero career playoff sacks. While he may still have an impact on a game, for a player of his caliber to not get a sack for multiple games in a row is concerning without a doubt.
In the past, folks could put that on the Chiefs not having the pieces around Jones. This year, however, that isn’t necessarily the case. George Karlaftis looks like the real deal, Carlos Dunlap has always been a productive player and Frank Clark may be finding himself again. Jones should be able to take advantage of the best group of players around him since 2018. Him consistently playing at a high level could also be what helps the Chiefs accomplish their season goals.
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Chiefs making in-game adjustments
Keeping Kyler Murray inside the pocket was one of the keys of the game for the Chiefs. Early on, there were a few plays where Murray escaped up the middle and hurt the Chiefs’ defense. Those early mistakes were because the interior players overran their gaps and were unsound in their discipline. After those plays in the first quarter, though, Kansas City shut down Murray’s scrambling.
The defensive line played with great discipline from quarters two through four because they were smart in rushing Murray. The edge players still collapsed the pocket, but they didn’t do it by winning quickly up the arc. Players such as Dunlap, Karlaftis, Clark and Mike Danna were patient and prevented Murray from escaping through the B-gap. On the interior, one player tried to win and collapse the pocket from the middle while the other interior defensive lineman would hang back. Smart adjustments like this should be credited to the players for executing and Chiefs defensive line coach Joe Cullen for coaching them up.
Allow just the defensive line to work
The last takeaway is more of a connection to defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. The occasional corner blitz or Cover-0 blitz is fine, but there’s no need to make it the primary call. The Chiefs’ defense has become predictable in big spots because of Spagnuolo’s tendency to go with certain concepts.
For example, the Cardinals had fourth-and-goal late in the game and those watching likely knew exactly what the Chiefs defense would do. The Cardinals appeared to as well, calling a play to counter it that led to a touchdown. There were also other moments where this happened. Arizona receivers were running wide open because the Chiefs rushed too many players. Luckily for Kansas City, Arizona couldn’t take advantage of those miscues, but it doesn’t mean the next quarterback they face won’t.
Four down linemen were getting enough pocket push to affect the quarterback. Rushing Murray is different than rushing most other quarterbacks, so the sack numbers and quarterback hits may have looked different against a traditional pocket passer. Against a less mobile quarterback, pass-rushers could have gone to a more standard attack instead of playing contain. Give those a chance to create havoc in the backfield. There’s no need to compromise the back-end of a defense when the Chiefs were doing well up front. With a quarterback like Justin Herbert coming to town, Spagnuolo should trust his line to get pressure and make life difficult for Herbert.
The author of 5 books, 3 of which are New York Times bestsellers. I’ve been published in more than 100 newspapers and magazines and am a frequent commentator on NPR.