The Kansas City Chiefs’ defense blew the doors down against the Las Vegas Raiders, an effort that started upfront with tremendous play from the defensive line.
The Chiefs defense is the hottest unit in the NFL right now, and they have performed as such the last five weeks. Through the six-game win streak the unit has not allowed more than 20 points in a game, and in the last three has not allowed more than nine. The Chiefs defense has held its opponents to single digits the last three weeks.
There have been many factors that have gone into this turnaround, which now sees Steve Spagnuola’s unit rank 6th in team defense after starting the year dead last, but perhaps the largest and most important impact has been the defensive line growing into the unit that they were expected to be, with a little bit by way of Brett Veach trading for Melvin Ingram six weeks ago.
A month and a half later the result of that trade has been the catalyst for a fierce pass rush that led the way in a 48-9 victory over the Las Vegas Raiders in front of a fired-up Arrowhead Stadium. With four sacks and 11 combined hit’s on Raiders quarterback Derek Carr the unit made their presence felt.
Chris Jones, Melvin Ingram, and Frank Clark all recorded half a sack, while Alex Okafor recorded a sack and half, and Tershawn Wharton tallied one as well. Jarran Reed did not join the pass rush party but on the first play of the game, he made an excellent play on the ball, showcasing some good open-field agility to track down Josh Jacobs and punch out the football that was recovered by Mike Hughes for a touchdown.
The pass rush was impressive, but the run defense was also solid. Las Vegas tried to get Jacobs going to burn some clock and slow down the pressure on Carr but the Chiefs bottled him up for just 24 yards on nine carries. The play up front paved the way for big days for linebackers Willie Gay and Nick Bolton. This pressure also kept Carr off target with his receivers and made the throws he did get off weren’t as on target making life easier for the Chiefs’ defensive backs to go for takeaways, which included a Tyrann Mathieu interception, and fumble recoveries from Hughes, Thornhill, and Watts.
The constant pressure on Carr was magnificent, a concerted effort to collapse the pocket around him lead to the entire team getting involved. Ingram’s leverage with power, Clark’s all-out effort and speed to power, and Chris Jones exploiting one on one’s vs guards allowed the role players to get involved.
Position group elder Alex Okafor had his best game of the year, capitalizing off of the attention and disruption caused by Jones on the inside. As the stars start to perform at a higher level it opens up the game for everyone else. This has been the image of what the Chiefs defense is supposed to be.
The pick-up of Ingram allowed Jones to move back to the inside, and since then he has dominated teams, going back to looking like the All-Pro caliber player that we have seen over the last four seasons.
The defense was designed to be built from the front up, with dominant pass-rushing defensive linemen who can also plug run lanes, sure tackling highly instinctual linebackers who are rarely out of position, and a physical, versatile secondary with a knack for taking the ball away.
This unit in the last six weeks has hit its stride, and now they have caught fire. The constant harassment of the quarterback, controlling the ground game, and taking the ball away have made this unit dangerous, and no longer an afterthought. The days of scheming to beat the Chiefs by simply “outscoring” Mahomes and company on offense are done. This defense provides an all-new threat altogether, one that will put even more pressure on teams as they game plan. The Chiefs offense has had to reinvent themselves, and are now picking up steam, but as any coach or opposing player knows it is only a matter of time before the juggernaut returns.
What adds to that pressure is that the Chiefs defense has been so good the past few weeks if teams can’t convert third downs early, or turn the ball over the game won’t be decided by the final seconds, it will be decided in a few possessions.
After being written off early on as we near the middle of December the Chiefs are in a very familiar position. The early season hype is starting to die, the mid-season frauds have hit their peak, and the cream is starting to rise. The AFC is any team’s to take right now, and if the defense can keep up their level of play consistently then it might very well be theirs for the taking once more.