Chiefs defense is finding identity at right time under Steve Spagnuolo

Kansas City Chiefs Bashaud Breeland (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images)
Kansas City Chiefs Bashaud Breeland (Photo by Adam Glanzman/Getty Images) /
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Kansas City Chiefs Frank Clark
Kansas City Chiefs Frank Clark (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images) /

What should Chiefs fans expect going forward?

It’s foolish to believe that all of the defensive problems would be solved in one offseason. While there are still holes, major improvements have been made at every level. Whether that is through players stepping up, developing, or scheme related, this defense is not the defense that brought down the team in 2018.

Spagnuolo and the rest of the defensive staff deserve significant credit for the turnaround that they have been a part of in Kansas City. Veach deserves credit for his ability to find players that fit the system, while also bringing in the attitude and competitiveness that this team desperately needed. Under a simpler, more aggressive scheme that Spagnuolo is willing to adjust when needed, this team has seen a major uptick in production.

Sutton was known for his lack of aggressiveness and his unwillingness to blitz. He was consistently predictable with his playcalling as we saw against the Patriots in the AFC Championship game as Tom Brady moved his offense at will. During the previous match, we saw Spagnuolo and his staff dial-up pressure packages consistently that would affect Tom Brady. Despite having three top-end pass rushers in 2018, Sutton was unable to get to Brady.

The positional coaches deserve credit for the success this season as well. Players, including Tanoh Kpassagnon and Emmanuel Ogbah have displayed their best performances. Khalen Saunders projected to be a developmental project which has become a good rotational piece along the interior. Second-year cornerback Charvarius Ward has shown improvement under Merritt and Madison. Thornhill has consistently looked better every week throughout the season. Even safety Daniel Sorensen has been utilized well in the new system.

Spagnuolo has put his players in a position to have success by utilizing their strengths. He’s willing to adapt and make changes to his defense based upon his personnel. That is simply something that Sutton was unwilling to do during his time in Kansas City. Sutton wanted to play his defense no matter what personnel he was working with, which was another primary reason for the poor performances the past few seasons.

According to Football Outsiders, the Chiefs defense ranks 6th in pass-defense DVOA and 13th in overall defense DVOA. Kansas City ranked 26th in Defense DVOA in 2018. Football Outsiders also shows that the Chiefs have played the hardest defensive schedule in the league this season.

Even while Patrick Mahomes was out for two games, the defense kept the team in the game against the Green Bay Packers while also shutting down the Minnesota Vikings. Both of those teams are playoff-caliber teams. It’s a unit that can come up with stops throughout the game and in critical moments. There is better communication and understanding of the defense among the players allowing them to make plays on the ball.

So what are the expectations for the defense moving forward? It should be evident that fans shouldn’t expect an elite defense by any means from the Chiefs in 2019. What’s changed is that the defense has been able to make average and bad offenses look worse, and they have stepped up against good offenses throughout the season. The offense no longer has to ultimately carry the defense as we saw in 2018.

We will see how this offense looks against the top offenses in the league when it comes time for the playoffs. As for right now, the unit is gaining momentum and confidence at the right time as we finish up the regular season. While teams like Baltimore are a more prominent opponent than they were in Week 3, the defense shut down that offense through three quarters. It wasn’t until garbage time that Lamar Jackson was able to put up a decent stat line and points on the board. Spagnuolo took away Jackson’s favorite weapons over the middle of the field while doing his best to contain the running attack as best as he could.

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