The Kansas City Chiefs defense dominated a depleted Los Angeles Rams unit all game long, and Nick Bolton yet again played a good game. Although Bolton has had a terrific year he has been a hot topic among Chiefs Kingdom the last few weeks. A closer look into Bolton’s game is needed to see where he excelling and where he could use some improvement.
Nick Bolton is having a phenomenal season this year, and he continued his effort on Sunday. With eleven total tackles, one tackle for loss, and an interception he put himself in elite company with the likes of the Baltimore Ravens All-Pro Linebacker Roquan Smith.
This comparison of numbers isn’t the end all be all of the player comparisons, but it shows you the kind of company that the second-year linebacker is being surrounded by based on the production that he is putting up on a week-in and week-out basis.
Despite his fantastic play, there have been those around Chiefs Kingdom who have been down on the linebacker since the time the Chiefs drafted him in the spring of 2020. The bias from draft evaluations led some to carry those over to the season. Quickly erasing the pre-conceived notions about his game Bolton had a fantastic rookie year, and it has carried over to this season where he is the full-time mike linebacker and the green dot play caller for Steve Spagnuolo’s defense.
Is that to say he’s a perfect player? No, in fact, he is far from perfect. At just 22 years old he is still growing and learning as a player, which makes it ok for him to make mistakes here and there, especially if he is dominating games.
Where we see the Chiefs Mike accelerate is in run stuffing and penetrating the line of scrimmage. A big knock on his out of Mizzou was that he was a north and south linebacker, but not capable of running sideline to sideline. The Rams run a quarterback sweep to the outside, which gives them a numerical advantage with an extra blocker. Bolton knows on the snap he has to get moving, and he works over the would-be blockers.
Once he sees his teammates start to penetrate he knows he has to be the man to meet Perkins at the sideline. He turns it up once he gets to the spot and delivers a big hit as Willie Gay comes through in pursuit.
In the next play, Bolton shows what he does best. His defensive tackles eat up men, he uses his quickness to get away from the offensive line, and he finishes the play with a nice tackle for minimal gain.
Bolton is a true intellectual of the game, and it is his core understanding of how the game is played and what his assignment is that makes him the perfect play caller for a defense.
On the designed quarterback run Bolton knew it was a 2nd down and long situation, meaning he just needed to keep everything in front of him and not give up anything big. He does so, but once he does read run he quickly evades the blocker to make a sure-fire tackle on Perkins. Recognizing run quickly on the next play, he breaks away from hold and then explodes into the running back to make the stop. He is becoming hard to stop on these quick-hitting plays where he recognizes it off the snap of the ball.
So what are the areas that Bolton can improve on? The big one that comes to mind, that is holding him back from being an even run stuffer (yes, it is possible), is his inability to shed blocks consistently at the second level. By mike linebacker’s standards, he is somewhat undersized which can make it harder for him to disengage from the block when reading a play from the middle. When it comes to running downhill and creating a collision he is among the best, but when he has to square centers and guards up at the second level he can get caught and sealed.
The other area that Bolton has not been the best in is his coverage skills and unlike his issues shedding blocks in the run game this issue will more than likely linger throughout his career. That is not to say it will be a total weakness for him, but as of right now it will not be an area that he excels. The Chiefs have plenty of personnel and play calls that can help shift attention away from this weakness, but as seen above crafty coaches like Sean McVay will look to exploit these tendencies.
Yes, Nick Bolton’s interceptions have come from tipped passes. Guess what, it all looks the same in the stat book, and it all puts the ball back in the hands of Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs’ offense. It may seem like the right place right time, and for the most part, it is, but sometimes you can tell when a guy has a sense of how the momentum of a game is going, or when the crucial situations are. It’s an instinct that can’t be taught, and every team needs a handful of guys that do have the ability to step up and outplay their capability when their time is called. It’s also awesome seeing the ultimate team player get rewarded for his efforts by getting to the football.
This win was the perfect epitome of who Bolton is as a player. A strong presence, with great instinct, and an unmatched football mind. He is flawed, but he is still young by even NFL standards so it feels like he is becoming a guy capable of becoming a perennial All-Pro caliber player.
Brett Veach has had a tendency of drafting young players and molding them in the team’s image through the course of their careers. All it takes is a few positive traits early on, and time with the Chiefs coaching staff to continue to develop and grow talent. The perfect example of this philosophy, and a budding force in the league, Nick Bolton will end up being the leader of the Chiefs’ defense before his time in Kansas City is over.