The Chiefs secondary
While the stat sheet does the best job of identifying a struggling defensive line, the eye test is probably the best indicator of a struggling secondary. My goodness, are they struggling.
The current performance is reminiscent of the Chiefs 2018 defense under Bob Sutton, which one could argue forced Patrick Mahomes into one of the greatest seasons in NFL history. At this point though, it’s hard to pinpoint the specific problem.
If you evaluate the grades for each player who played the majority of defensive snaps for the secondary this season versus the first two years of Spagnuolo, there’s definitely a downward trend. The unit that contained the likes of Kendall Fuller and Bashaud Breeland in 2019 was Spagnuolo’s highest-graded at an average of 65.8, an objectively good score according to Pro Football Focus.
The low man on the totem pole that season was Bashaud Breeland, though his challenges were more than made up for by a number of spectacular performers. 2020 saw multiple players fall in performance but still maintain a respectable 63.2. 2021 is a different story.
Even with objectively high grades from players like Mike Hughes and Rashad Fenton, it’s not enough to buoy the unit. Both outside corners in Charvarius Ward and L’Jarius Sneed have seen their performance fall dramatically, but the icing on the cake is Daniel Sorensen.
I love Daniel Sorensen’s story. He’s a player who lacks the overall athleticism you usually want at his position but has at times made up for it in legendary fashion with great instinct. It’s unlikely that his instinct, and understanding of the scheme in year three of Spagnuolo, is what’s causing his challenges. At an extremely low rating of 35 according to Pro Football Focus, Sorensen is one of the lowest-performing starting safeties in the league.
At 31 years of age, it may simply be that Sorensen has lost one of the few remaining steps he had left. While he’s been extremely and surprisingly reliable during his career despite his athleticism, it does appear that may be at an end.
Juan Thornhill has lacked consistency, but the time is quickly coming where the coaching staff will have to opt for athleticism over experience. Add to this the aforementioned rebound in pass rush and this unit should improve markedly. While they may still be average, given the offenses’ mostly elite performance this season, it should be enough to resurrect this sleeping giant.