On Thursday night football against the Denver Broncos, the Chiefs will remember of two important things: Patrick Mahomes knee injury and the rise of the defense. The most complete victory of the season ending in a 30-6 showed a much improved defensive team, piling up nine sacks along the way, breaking an old record from the eighties. It was almost painful to watch Joe Flacco being sacked continuously.
The team that had lost two straight games and the defense was widely criticized until that Denver game. The rushing defense more especially, was very weak, and did not seem to find any solution against the run.
The first drive of the Broncos did not show anything new, a clean drive up to the end goal, with some helpful penalties to keep them alive and score a touchdown. The Broncos didn’t get any help in the run game either, averaging just 3.4 yards per carry. The result: Seven punts, two turnovers on downs, a fumble, a missed field goal.
However, after that first drive, the defense became more aggressive and determined. The flow of critics the whole week after the loss against the Houston Texans for sure sparked something deep down in the defense. Could be a sense a pride, but the defense rose to the task. Task that they will have to keep tackling with a Mahomes less team. The defense will be much more important in the next few games.
“Whatever happened before, that’s over with,” Chiefs linebacker Reggie Ragland said. “We knew we had to play from start to finish even before Patrick went down. That’s what we did.”
“We didn’t like the way we played at all last week,” said defensive end Alex Okafor, one of three Chiefs with two sacks. “We can put that one to rest. We stepped to the challenge.”
The Patriots, Lions, Colts and Texans found one of the few weakness of this Chiefs team, they played aggressively, played man coverage and ran everything in the middle taking advantage of the defense lack of presence there.
The new scheme had promised to be more aggressive. The former defensive regime overstayed their welcome by lacking creativity and adjustments — and Spags showed Thursday night how that aspect of the Chiefs defense has changed.
The blitzes were not only constant — but they came in various situations. The offense expects extra pressure in obvious passing downs — so Spagnuolo countered with early-down blitzes. He sent safety Tyrann Mathieu off the edge to chase down a backside run. Spags packaged four defensive ends on the field at the same time in multiple instances to manufacture pass rush. Delayed blitzes were used well. The defensive staff understood the lack of mobility from Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco and exploited it. He felt the effects.
The first post-injury touchdown was provided by the defense. Linebacker Anthony Hitchens got to Broncos quarterback Joe Flacco for a sack and strip. The ball bounded away and Ragland had plenty of time for the scoop and score from 21 yards that increased the lead to 20-6.
But the defense wasn’t finished making big plays. Frank Clark added two sacks. Others who added to their sack totals: Hitchens with two and one each for Emmanuel Ogbah, Ragland and safety Armani Watts. The pressure was on.
The Watts sack wasn’t of Flacco but punter Colby Wadman. The Broncos, down 10-6, attempted a fake on fourth-and-4 from their 45. The play was doomed from the start. The Broncos had a miscommunication and Wadman had to attempt to get past Watts. No chance.
Defensive end Frank Clark also had a redeeming performance in some fans’ eyes. The highest-paid player on the team has been scrutinized for his lack of production this season. He has been stout against the run and has been the best pass rusher on the team outside of defensive tackle Chris Jones — but lofty expectations are set when a player’s contract can be compared to dominant game-wreckers like Khalil Mack and Aaron Donald.
Spagnuolo elected to use Mathieu in the slot cornerback position early to presumably take some pressure off Fenton — but Fenton came in and showed good coverage skills: he broke up a fourth-down pass late in the game and only allowed five yards after the catch total in the four receptions he allowed.
The success of young players is not only good for this season — but for the future of this era of Chiefs football.