In the Kansas City Chiefs thrilling 34-28 overtime win over the Los Angeles Chargers, most of the conversation is being centered around Patrick Mahomes and Travis Kelce who both orchestrated the game-winning drive.
However, the defense, despite missing three starters and one at each level, stepped up in a massive way and was able to cover for the Chiefs’ struggling offense that forced them to make crucial stops.
The player from the defensive side who stands out most of all, though, was linebacker Nick Bolton who totaled 14 combined tackles, a QB hit, and three passes defended.
Wherever the ball was for the Chargers, so was Bolton and his performance was noticed on a national level and earned praise multiple times from last night’s broadcast. He truly was the heart of the defense and made plays to get the defense off the field.
Nick Bolton made his case for more playing time
The most significant takeaway from Bolton’s performance was his snap count. Bolton played 79 defensive snaps which were 99% of what was possible for him to play and he out-snapped Anthony Hitchens who played 85% of the team’s defensive snaps. Essentially, when Nick Bolton plays, good things happen.
Bolton had what many would consider his best game as a Chief last night which was saying a lot considering Bolton single-handedly shut down Derrick Henry in a game earlier this season. If you remember, that was when Hitchens was out of the lineup due to injury and Bolton filled in as a full-time middle linebacker which eventually led to his Defensive Rookie of the Month bid.
Then, when Hitchens returned, we saw him split middle linebacker snaps with Bolton, and Bolton’s snaps drop to around 30%. He hadn’t played more than 70% of the snaps since the New York Giants game. With Willie Gay now out with COVID, Bolton once again answered the call to step up and he did so while playing a lot of his snaps at dime linebacker which we are not used to seeing with Bolton.
Bolton struggled early in the year in coverage and there were always concerns surrounding his coverage ability, but as we saw last night, with a better understanding of the defense and some more basic zone assignments Bolton was able to thrive and break up multiple passes from Justin Herbert. To be a sledgehammer in the run game, and Bolton has been, is one thing but if Bolton can improve to the point where you don’t have to hide him in coverage all the that would be huge.
As a die-hard Missouri fan and someone who has followed Bolton for his entire career, I never doubted his NFL potential given his mind for the game but even I am surprised at just how quickly Bolton has become very good. His effort has to go unquestioned at this point and despite his athletic shortcomings, he just has what it takes to be a great linebacker.
That being said, Steve Spagnuolo needs to go with Bolton as much as possible even if it means cutting down on Anthony Hitchens’ snaps. You drafted Bolton for this very reason and if it is happening sooner than the Chiefs thought, so be it, but you have an opportunity to make the defense even better by supplementing the middle of the defense with Bolton.