On October 19th of 2019, Kansas City was in a panic. Reigning MVP Patrick Mahomes had gone down two days earlier with a gruesome knee injury in the team’s 30-6 blowout win against the Denver Broncos. The defense did perform at times but in the eyes of many it was still suspect. This is the time in the year when we have seen major collapses before with the Chiefs. Fans everywhere were on edge. Teams across the league knew the team was hurt and struggled stopping the run.
It was also on this day that General Manager, Brett Veach, made perhaps the most important mid-season pick up for any team in the 2019 NFL season. He came in like a ghost, or as quietly as a 6ft4 330-pound man can. Enter Mike Pennel, the man who helped put the clamps down on stopping the run in KC. Chris Jones was banged up as well at the time of the Chiefs victory against the Broncos, so the interior depth was needed. Derick Nnadi was playing at a good level but they still needed help to fill the void as well as bolster their depth. The Wichita, Kansas native and life long Chiefs had been released from the New England Patriots before the start of the regular season. It was amazing he had not been picked up by anyone, especially with five years of NFL experience between the New York Jets and Green Bay Packers.
Pennel recorded 24 tackles in the regular season in eight games played with one sack during the regular season. In the playoffs, he recorded seven tackles on the way to winning the Super Bowl. A run-stuffer with great power and use of leverage, Pennel helped stuff the run with violent plays like the one above. He gave the Chiefs the veteran depth and leadership that the team needed to get the defense on track. He also paired nicely with Nnadi and Jones and the three had a good rotation.
Pennels’ size and strength helped him play not only a three technique well but also a one technique or shade over center. In the clip above he uses his strength to get a long arm under the center and drive him back into the pocket for his only sack of the season.
Where Pennel made his largest impact was taking on double teams and clogging up gaps. He has a good feel for how to defeat doubles and also keeps his eyes in the backfield to locate the ball.
As a backside player he refuses to be reached by the right guard. He is bigger and stronger than a lot of the players he goes against so it comes as no surprise he is able to work across the guards’ face and get into the backfield to stop Henry.
While Pennel did make his fair share of big plays it was plays like the one below that don’t go in the box score, but go a long way. Pennel has the B gap on this play. San Francisco wants to run their mid line zone so the RG tries to reach Pennel. In order to keep himself from being reached, Pennel starts to work over the reach block and extends his arm almost sitting down in the hole while stalling the block. As the back makes his way to the hole Pennel creates enough seperation and is in position to make the play. This causes a cutback into the middle of the defense where the team can swarm. This is outstanding effort and he does good to play into the scheme of the defense.
Pennel also has the ability to play two gaps, which is huge as a DT. He fires his hands into the guard and locks out and surveys the backfield. He is not getting moved and Melvin Gordan has nowhere to go.
In the clip below we again see him playing multiple gaps, in a game vs the team that cut him. As the center comes to get him he stands him up and works to get square and then he comes off to make the stop.
Pennel is the ultimate team player and it is on full display here. Here he is lined up as a one technique. The Titans run a mid-zone type play and Pennel gets reached by the guard and the center in a double team. This is where the play gets awesome. He doesn’t let the center get to him and as the OG tries to come off to make the block on Anthony Hitchens, Pennel comes off and contacts him allowing Hitchens to make the tackle on Henry. Fantastic effort.
Pennel came on midway through the season but it was very apparent that he wanted to stay, and wanted to help win a championship in Kansas City. Running down the field 20 yards to chase a RB and getting a tackle out of it shows he wanted to be there and contribute. A pure effort play just to keep going a little further. Championships are won when all eleven on the field lay it all out every week for the pursuit of a common goal and get the job done by any means necessary. With a new contract, Pennel will be back for the title defense in 2020. Once again he will have the chance to use his grit and effort to help the team go back to the Super Bowl once again.