After being one of the worst defenses of all time last year, Kansas City made changes to the defensive staff and players this offseason. How much will they help, and can those changes bring them closer to a Super Bowl in 2019?
Kansas City had a fantastic season last year. Boasting MVP quarterback Patrick Mahomes, the Chiefs yielded one of the best offenses of all-time last season. Even though they were amazing on offense, there was one terrible spot; the defense. The 2018 Chiefs defense ranked 24th in scoring defense, and 31st in total yards given up. They also were 31st in yards per carry given up in 2018. Simply put, they were terrible in 2018 on defense.
Even so, they did have one bright spots; sacks. The Chiefs led the NFL in sacks in 2018, putting up a very impressive 52 sacks on the season. The Chiefs defensive line consisted of Chris Jones, Dee Ford, and Justin Houston, all elite players for their position.
Still, in the end, the lack of talent everywhere else on the defense, combined with terrible coaching, made the Chiefs doomed late in the postseason, when they lost to the Patriots in the AFC Championship Game. If Kansas City’s defense could have gotten one out of three 3rd down stops in overtime, they could’ve won.
Kansas City recognized this, and decided to make changes at every level of the defense, making a whole new unit. Were those changes productive, or will they stay at that same level of defense.
Kansas City made massive changes to the defensive coaching staff this offseason. Everyone besides Britt Reid moved on, and a whole new coaching staff came in. First, Kansas City hired Steve Spagnuolo, former defensive coordinator of the Giants. Spagnuolo brings a 4-3 Under scheme that he has used for years. Spagnuolo had been out of coaching for a season, but still had Super Bowl pedigree, beating the 2007 Patriots in the Super Bowl.
Kansas City then made other changes to the staff, hiring Brendan Daly, Matt House, Dave Merritt, and Sam Madison as position coaches. Daly, former defensive line coach from the Patriots, was given the same role with the Chiefs, but also run game coordinator as well. Daly will be instrumental in this scheme change, as he brings his stunts and blitz scheme from the Patriots to mix with Spags blitz heavy scheme. He is also very energetic, which should help the defensive line gain a tempo on Sundays.
Matt House was the defensive coordinator from Kentucky, but came as a linebackers coach. House was key in developing Josh Allen, top 10 pick from Kentucky. The Chiefs hope House brings energy to the position. Kansas City has struggled for years at linebacker, and they hope House changes that for them to win.
Dave Merritt was brought as the secondary coach for the Chiefs, while Sam Madison is going to help the cornerbacks. These guys have had a lot of success with coaching. Merritt led one of the top defensive secondaries last year in Arizona, where they were awesome in pass coverage. Madison is a new coach, but played for Spags. The hope is that he teaches good technique for the cornerbacks, they they struggled with last year.
Kansas City massively overhauled their staff, and it looks so much better this year. This defensive coaching staff will bring energy to the defense, and they also will develop game plans that will confuse offenses in 2019. They will not allow this defense to be this bad again, and I have full faith that they will make this unit much better.
No position went under more overhaul this offseason then the defensive line. First, the Chiefs cut Justin Houston, traded Dee Ford, and let Allen Bailey walk. Three of their top four defensive lineman were all gone in one offseason. Then, the Chiefs acquired Alex Okafor from the Saints, and Emmanuel Ogbah from the Browns. Both of these guys aren’t stars, but nice depth pieces to fill out their defensive line. They are also good against the run, but don’t really present much pass rush skills. In the end, they still had one issue though; a pass rusher to compliment Chris Jones.
Kansas City recognized this, and traded three picks to acquire Frank Clark. Clark, a four-year pass rusher from Seattle, is one of the best pass rushers in the NFL. Not only is he good at pass rushing, but he also is elite as a run defender. Clark was handed a five year, 105 million dollar deal with the Chiefs instantly. Yes, Clark was expensive, but he will compliment Jones very well next season, and give the Chiefs a formidable defensive line. They weren’t done yet, by drafting Khalen Saunders in the draft. Saunders will play on the interior, and provide depth for Chris Jones when he rests.
Overall, I would say Kansas City got better on the defensive line. Clark and Jones will be great, but they also added way more depth this offseason, something they didn’t have last year. Couple that with Daly’s coaching and Spags’s blitz heavy scheme, and the Chiefs will be just as good, if not better, next season.
Linebackers mainly stayed the same this year, but they did make two additions; Damien Wilson and Darron Lee. Wilson will play SAM linebacker in our scheme, where he will be asked to play some edge and provide run support. The Chiefs won’t expect much from him, as he only plays 20% of snaps.
Lee was acquired from the Jets, and should have a big impact next year. Lee wasn’t great for the Jets, but was rated as the third best coverage linebacker last year. This team desperately needed coverage help at linebacker, and Lee will drastically help our linebacker unit next year.
The linebackers for the Chiefs didn’t change a lot, but they still got better. Lee’s addition to the coverage unit will be massive, plus Matt House’s coaching will be huge. Overall, Kansas City got better at linebacker this offseason, which is huge. For years, we have struggled at linebacker, but we shouldn’t struggle as much anymore.
Like linebackers, the Chiefs didn’t make any significant moves at cornerback. The only one they made was replacing Steven Nelson with Bashaud Breeland. Breeland comes from the Packers, and will be huge for Spagnuolo’s zone coverage scheme. Breeland wasn’t great last year, but got better as the year went on. Kansas City is counting on a big year from Breeland, or we may need some more help.
I wouldn’t say the Chiefs really got better this offseason at cornerback. Nelson and Breeland are comparable players overall. The hope is that Madison and Merritt can coach these guys up to play with better technique. The big question is if Charvarius Ward can improve. If Ward shows progression, this cornerback unit could be good enough next year to win.
The Chiefs safety unit underwent massive changes this year. First, they cut all-time Chief great Eric Berry. Berry had been great for years, but couldn’t stay healthy anymore, and we saved a lot of money by cutting him. They replaced Berry with Tyrann Mathieu, safety from the Texans. Mathieu will be huge for Kansas City. He can line up at any position on the defense, and play at a high-level at every spot. He also will be our leader on the defense, who will bring a tone to our defense. The Chiefs have lacked that for years, and Mathieu will change that this season.
The Chiefs also signed Juan Thornhill, safety from Virginia. Thornhill has great ball skills, and the range to play deep safety. Thornhill should make an immediate impact for the Chiefs. His versatility will be huge for Spagnuolo.
Safety went from a major weakness to a major strength in one offseason. The Chiefs acquired two guys who can play anywhere on the field, with high energy. Expect them to be key cogs in coverage, who can help our cornerbacks be a lot better.
It isn’t even a debate for me; the Chiefs got a lot better on defense. Besides the fact that our defense was young last year, the scheme change to a 4-3 Under fits our players better. We will be more diverse in our scheme, compared to our stagnant scheme under Bob Sutton. Spagnuolo’s blitz heavy scheme will be beneficial as well, as it will help us get even more pressure.
The new position coaches will be huge as well. All three main assistants have all coached a long time in the NFL, and with a lot of success. They should all bring energy, and be good teachers that will help their players get better.
Finally, the additions to this team will be huge. Tyrann Mathieu and Frank Clark are great leaders, and will make this defense tough, compared to last year’s soft defense. Alex Okafor, Khalen Saunders, and Emmanuel Obgah all will bring depth and diversity to our defensive line, which will allow Daly and Spags to get creative on defense. Plus, the addition of Darron Lee will be huge in helping our coverage in the linebacker room.
Could Kansas City use one more guy? Someone like Patrick Peterson? Sure, he would fill out our cornerback room. We could use one more cornerback by the time the season starts for sure. Even if we don’t get it, the improvements at every level of the defense will make us significantly better. As Tyrann Mathieu said, “We won’t be the little brother to the offense anymore”.
Nate Christensen covers the NFL and the Kansas City Chiefs for Fan Source. Follow him on Twitter @natech479.