A closer look at the snap counts from the Chiefs win over the Saints and what they tell us.
The Kansas City Chiefs outlasted the New Orleans Saints in a tough slugfest of a football game on Sunday evening in Week 15, giving them their 13th win in 14 games. They lost Clyde Edwards-Helaire to injury, but they remained in the driver’s seat for the AFC’s top seed, so perhaps the extra time off will allow their rookie running back to return for the postseason. No one is quite sure yet the extent of the injury.
As for the rest of the Chiefs, this week’s snap counts tells us varying things about varying players and how the coaches used them. Let’s see what the numbers tell us.
Despite an ailing back, despite already having missed practice for most of the week, the Chiefs never once had to substitute for their starting left tackle Eric Fisher for a single snap in what became a very physical game against the Saints. No one would claim Fisher was at his best, but what you saw was a gritty performance by the entire line who scored when they needed to and, most importantly, bled the clock in the end. Patrick Mahomes‘ heroics aside, the fact that Fisher played an astonishing 98 snaps is noteworthy here and says a lot about his own personal toughness and dedication.
The Chiefs ran a ton of offensive plays on Sunday, but wide receiver Byron Pringle only made it into six of them. That reveals how the Chiefs adjusted offensively to a tough Saints game plan that took away the deep ball and opened up so much underneath. However, it also likely shows that the Chiefs weren’t ready to lean on Pringle as much as weeks past given that he just returned from injured reserve. Pringle played only 6 offensive snaps on Sunday when he was playing in as many as 51 percent of the team’s snaps before his injury. Expect to see more of Pringle in coming weeks.
In case his sack or interception wasn’t already proof enough, cornerback L’Jarius Sneed is back in form in the Chiefs secondary. Steve Spagnuolo initially gave Sneed a starting spot outside in the Chiefs secondary from Week 1 despite his rookie status. It was likely out of necessity given that Bashaud Breeland wasn’t yet available due to suspension. But when Sneed went down just a few weeks later with a fractured collarbone, it was clear Sneed was holding onto that starting boundary spot because he was just that good.
Ever since his return, Sneed has watched his playing time slowly increase from 22 percent of all defensive snaps in his first week back from injury (Week 11) to 54 percent (Week 12) to 71 percent (Week 14). Against the Saints, Sneed played 93 percent and fully reclaimed his starting role. Given the production, he’s not going to let go of it again.
Ben Niemann hadn’t played 50 percent or more of the team’s defensive snaps in a given game since Week 2 until just last week. In the wake of Damien Wilson‘s injury, the Chiefs largely leaned on Niemann to absorb the snaps lost by playing 90 percent of the time in Week 14. This week that trend continued as Niemann earned another 47 snaps (or 85 percent of the defensive load). If you’re curious, other linebacker numbers include Anthony Hitchens at 60 percent and Willie Gay, Jr. at 22 percent.
There are only so many reps to go around in the secondary when everyone is healthy for the Chiefs, but it’s a shame to see Rashad Fenton largely waiting on the sidelines for a chance to play. The second-year corner played a mere three defensive snaps for the Chiefs in a season in which he’s already shown he’s turned the corner. Fenton is capable of solid production and the Chiefs enjoy nice depth here in the secondary. It’s just sad on the player side that Fenton isn’t on the field more.
It’s hard to say whether or not Wis will be a permanent fixture on the line since the Chiefs are forced to make so many changes from one week to the next. However, it was nice to see Wisniewski back in the Chiefs lineup and he started all 98 snaps at right guard while the team moved Andrew Wylie outside at right tackle. When Mike Remmers gets back, things could change and Wisniewski could sit, but last year, the veteran lineman refused to let go of the opportunity he was given and he started every postseason game for K.C.’s Super Bowl run.
It’s not the debut that anyone expected, but Deandre Baker made his first appearance in a Chiefs uniform on Sunday. He had seven special teams snaps to his name, and it’s clear that he’s going to have a tough climb up this depth chart with so much talent in front of him. That said, Baker was the first corner drafted just a year ago and he started 15 games for the Giants in 2019. The potential is there and there’s likely more to come from Baker late this season.