The Kansas City Chiefs defense clearly misses Nick Bolton

Drue Tranquill has been a super sub but the unit still misses its tackling leader.

Los Angeles Chargers v Kansas City Chiefs
Los Angeles Chargers v Kansas City Chiefs / David Eulitt/GettyImages
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Offensively, there's not much to be thrilled about when it comes to the 2023 Kansas City Chiefs. That side of the ball was yet again the main reason for Kansas City's demise versus the Green Bay Packers on Sunday Night Football. There are plenty of offensive issues for Chiefs Kingdom to discuss that people will continue to beat to death for the rest of the week.

However, the Chiefs' defense does appear to have an Achilles heel that teams have taken advantage of as of late: stopping the run. This isn't to say that the defense is to blame for any of the Chiefs' recent losses. That would be unfair as the defense has consistently held teams under 30 points, which seemed like a dream scenario for a Patrick Mahomes-led offense to rack up wins. The offense doesn't feel all that fixable at this point of the season, though, so people are looking for any areas in which the Chiefs can improve.

The defense has been fantastic this year. There's no doubt about that as they've given the Chiefs offense sufficient opportunities to take control of games this year only for them to turn around and do nothing with said opportunities. It's currently the biggest issue that is holding Kansas City back from winning more games. That said, the defense has struggled to stop the run and it's allowing teams to keep some games too close. Also, the margin for error that the defense was giving the offense is starting to be erased.

There seems to be a direct correlation between the struggles in run defense and the loss of starting middle linebacker Nick Bolton to a wrist injury. Since Bolton went down against the Los Angeles Chargers several weeks ago, the Kansas City Chiefs have allowed 6.2 yards per carry to opposing teams' starting running backs. That's quite high. Additionally, the Chiefs were gashed this past Sunday by Green Bay Packers backup running back A.J. Dillon, who averaged 4.1 yards per carry. For added context, Dillon was only averaging 3.9 yards per carry on the season.

The Chiefs have also allowed some rather big plays in the run game since Nick Bolton went down, including a 63-yard touchdown to Josh Jacobs of the Las Vegas Raiders last week. The Chiefs' defense once again has been awesome this year. They rank top five in both pass defense and total defense, but the numbers take a significant dip when you pan over to Kansas City's run defense which ranks 19th in the NFL.

Given how good Drue Tranquil has looked since taking over in the heart of the defense, people tend to forget how valuable a player like Nick Bolton is to the unit. Tranquill has had a really good season for the Chiefs and has helped out in covering the middle of the field for the defense, but he still leaves something to be desired against the run.

On this touchdown run by Joshua Kelley of the Los Angeles Chargers, Nick Bolton fills his gap, forcing the running back to the left, but Tranquill gets ran over by his blocker leaving Justin Reid as the last line of defense who fails to make a play.

On this touchdown run by Josh Jacobs, Tranquill is too aggressive in attacking the first gap he sees, leaving nobody to slow down Jacobs on his way to the end zone.

This isn't to say the run defense woes are on Tranquill, but the theme is that the defense and the linebacking corps still miss Bolton's instincts and physicality in the run game. It also would've helped if Kansas City had Bolton available to match Dillon's physicality on those inside runs against Green Bay.

It's hard to single out any one player on defense, and the defensive line deserves some criticism for the weakening run defense as well, but it's easy to see how different the defense is at defending the run when Nick Bolton isn't there to clean up their mess.

Some fans have been suggesting that Bolton can be easily replaced and that there's no need for him with Drue Tranquill around to take his snaps, but that's not true. It's not one or the other. The defense is at its best when Bolton is in the middle and Tranquill is playing the WILL spot. Here's hoping that Bolton can soon return to give the Chiefs defense a boost, especially after the long list of injuries they suffered on Sunday against Green Bay.

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