Last year I was all over the Chiefs trying to bring in Mathieu to work next to Berry. Luckily for them he only signed a one year deal with the Texans and played a second consecutive full season to allow him to get a longer deal. The Chiefs went out on Monday and got their guy in Mathieu. He was highly coveted by the Chiefs, and now forms the best safety duo in the NFL, assuming Berry is healthy. Signing him to a three year deal worth 42 million works out around 14 million before the details of the contract are out. I don’t believe his cap hit is that high but we will find out in the coming days.
Looking at his career, he’s still young at 26 years old and entering his prime. He’s had a few injury riddled seasons but has played 16 games in back to back seasons coming into 2019. So let’s look at what Mathieu brings to this Chiefs defense.
Mathieu was the most versatile safety in free agency, and probably the entire NFL. The Chiefs desperately needed an upgrade at safety with the play of Ron Parker, Eric Murray, and Daniel Sorensen stinking up the place in 2018. Mathieu provides an upgrade in every category the Chiefs secondary failed in. At 5’9” and 190 pounds, he plays much bigger than his size and that is evident in the way he defends the run in the box.
Even though he is relatively small, Mathieu can play inside the box and he can do it well. He isn’t going to wow you with his block shedding prowess but he understands how to avoid blocks and work off of subpar receiver blocks. He works off the block attempt from Grant and gets into the gap, going low on Yeldon not allowing for any yards after contact.
Mathieu graded high and above every Chiefs safety in 2018 when it came to run defense with an 83.9 PFF rating. The next highest was Murray with a 71.2…That’s no typo. Eric Murray was the best defender against the run that the secondary had. Mathieu has no fear when it comes to lining up inside the box and his 220 snaps at linebacker of some sort show his versatility and that the coaching staff isn’t afraid to put him closer to the action.
When it comes down to it, the reason the Chiefs went out and got him is because of his ability to cover. Mathieu possesses a nose for the football and he has the speed to break on throws and make plays. Being able to play anywhere in the secondary allows him to cover receivers, tight ends, and running backs.
Mathieu is in man coverage on a tight end here and he is giving just enough cushion to make the tight end feel safe. He is adept at reading the quarterback’s eyes and as soon as Mathieu sees him lock onto the tight end he’s covering, he breaks. He’s a smart player too, not only does he get to the receiver as the ball gets there, he attacks the catch point which allows him to break up the pass.
Why is it Mathieu can make these plays on the football? Hip fluidity. His hips are extremely smooth and that allows him to change direction and make breaks quickly. After his injuries there were questions about his athleticism but the way he moves his hips and gets in and out of breaks is proof that he hasn’t lost anything.
I know this is grainy but you can still see the way he moves; it’s impressive how he can open to each side of his body in the matter of seconds. With the fluidity of his hips, he can change direction quickly too, which is an asset in the secondary as most of the play unfolds in front of you.
With Mathieu’s blend of athleticism and speed it’s no wonder Spagnuolo wanted him on his defense; Spags is an aggressive defensive coordinator and can use Mathieu’s skills in a variety of ways. With the release of Houston and the trade of Dee Ford, the Chiefs will need to find a way to create more pressure on the quarterback in 2019. It’s a good thing Mathieu is a great blitzer.
The secret to a great blitzer is in the seconds before the snap; Mathieu is lined up in the slot here watching the quarterback. As Bortles looks in toward the center as he’s about to snap the ball and Mathieu times his jump perfectly, he closes the five yards to the line of scrimmage as the ball is snapped and then it’s too late for Bortles. Mathieu is on him in a second and records the sack.
Now that the Chiefs have released Justin Houston and traded Dee Ford, the best pass rush in the NFL took a huge hit. Manufacturing pressure in other ways is going to be huge for Spags in 2019 and the addition of Mathieu, as seen above, is going to allow him to play around with blitzes and such.
Mathieu is a great player, there’s no two ways around that fact. But the reality is that even great players have a weakness, or at least something they struggle to do on a consistent basis. Mathieu is no exception to that; watching film one thing popped out to me and that is being able to tackle consistently in space.
Mathieu is lined up at free safety here, and identifies where the ball is going quickly and gets on his horse. The speed in which he gets to the ball carrier is impressive but sometimes when trying to get somewhere too fast, you can over run the tackle. In space against a wide receiver, you can’t over run tackles. All it takes is an inside cut from the ball carrier and there’s no one else behind Mathieu. The receiver escapes the tackle and can walk into the endzone.
Giving up touchdowns wasn’t something that happened all the time to Mathieu, but this snap was not one of his finest. At his size, it’s more important to take the proper angles and cut off escape routes for ball carriers, Mathieu doesn’t have the length to recover from a bad angle with his arms. Even so, this doesn’t happen every game. His tackling is something to take note of, though. It was the lowest rating he received last year in PFF rankings with a 69.8.
All in all, the Chiefs have added a difference maker in the secondary they haven’t had in the last two years; Berry’s clearly a playmaker but he hasn’t been healthy and there’s no guarantee that he returns to his earlier form. But the duo they created on the back end is dangerous and teams should be wary if they both start the season for the Chiefs. Mathieu is the most talented free safety the Chiefs have seen in this Millennium, by far.
On top of all the intangibles Mathieu brings to the table, he adds another leader in the locker room and on the field. Mathieu is often seen directing traffic in the defense, telling players where they need to be during each play and that is going to be huge for less experienced players and Anthony Hitchens who, in my opinion, needs someone to tell him where to be. His most successful seasons came in Dallas with Sean Lee. Mathieu is a true leader and a high IQ guy, that understands the game and will line up defenders where they need to be.
This was a huge add by Brett Veach and should immediately improve the defense. Fans should be excited about the Honey Badger on this defense. I can’t wait to see what he’s going to do in an aggressive Spags defense. Finally, a defensive signing we can all get excited about!