On Thursday night against the Denver Broncos, the Chiefs were forced to see and remember two important things: Patrick Mahomes’s knee injury, and the rise of the defense.
The most complete victory of the season ended in a 30-6 win for the Chiefs as a much-improved defensive unit, piling up nine sacks along the way and breaking an old record from the 1980s. It was almost painful to watch Joe Flacco being sacked continuously.
The Chiefs entered having lost two straight games and the defense was widely criticized … until the Denver game.
The first drive for the Broncos did not show anything new. It was a clean drive up to the end zone, with some helpful penalties to keep them alive and score a touchdown.
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. It could perhaps be a simple sense of pride, but the defense rose to the task. And they will have to keep playing that way until Mahomes returns. The defense will be much more important in the next few games.
“Whatever happened before, that’s over with,” said linebacker Reggie Ragland. “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 a pair of sacks. “We can put that one to rest. We stepped to the challenge.”
The Patriots, Lions, Colts, and Texans found one of the few weaknesses of this Chiefs team. They played aggressively, played man coverage, and ran everything in the middle, taking advantage of the defense’s lack of presence.
The new scheme had promised to be more aggressive. What everybody complained about last season was the lack of creativity and adjustments, and that’s exactly why they brought Steve Spagnuolo in. On Thursday night, it was obvious that that aspect of the Chiefs’ defense has changed.
The blitzes were constant. Delayed blitzes were used as well. Spagnuolo sent safety Tyrann Mathieu off the edge to chase down a backside run. He also left four defensive ends on the field at the same time in multiple moments of the game to create a pass rush.
Somehow, the Broncos didn’t get any help in the run game either, averaging only 3.4 yards per carry. The result was pretty bad for them: seven punts, two turnovers on downs, a fumble, a missed field goal, and many sacks.
The first post-injury touchdown was provided by the defense, a poetic justice. Linebacker Anthony Hitchens sacked Flacco and stripped the ball, which bounced around until Reggie Ragland scooped it and scored from 21 yards out, increasing the lead to 20-6.
The defense wasn’t finished making big plays. Frank Clark added two sacks. Others who added to their sack totals were Hitchens, with two, and Emmanuel Ogbah, Ragland, and safety Armani Watts, all with one.
The pressure was on.
Defensive end Frank Clark also had a redeeming performance on Thursday night. The highest-paid player on the team has been criticized by many for his lack of production this season.
Spagnuolo chose to use Mathieu in the slot cornerback position early to presumably take some pressure off rookie cornerback Rashad Fenton. The young player showed good coverage skills, as he only allowed a total of five yards after the catch on the four receptions he allowed.
The success of young players like Fenton is very good for the team’s future, and with the help of motivated veterans like Mathieu and Clark, this new-look defense could be what the Chiefs needed to ensure a spot in the Super Bowl.