Chiefs Vikings Defensive Review: Defensive Line=Dominant

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Nate reviews the Chiefs defense’s performance against the Minnesota Vikings

We finally won a home game! After an absolute thriller by Harrison Butker to win the game, the Chiefs sit at 6-3, still firmly in grasp of the AFC West. Combine that with the Patriots and Colts losing their games, and Sunday couldn’t have gone much better for Chiefs fans.

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That being said, the defense was arguably the most impressive thing on Sunday. All around, it was a great performance. The run defense, pass rush, and secondary all were great Sunday. So, after a couple of runs through the all-22, where did the defense continue to show improvement and where do they need to continue to improve? Plus, the weekly game-ball. Enjoy!

Defensive Line’s Impact Against the Run

Mike Pennel, a midseason addition to the defensive line, has been playing excellent football in the two weeks he’s been in Kansas City. When I went back and watched the tape, Pennel was standing out on every snap he played on. His strength is ridiculous, he was pushing blockers around for 60 minutes. His presence alone made the run defense so much better.

On this snap, Pennel works the inside shoulder of the center, getting on the chest level of the center. This way, he establishes leverage on the block, getting complete control on the center. There’s no recovery at this point for him, Pennel is in complete control. Finally, he’s able to disengage with no pushback, closing the gap to ensure Cook can’t get through the hole.

When we signed Pennel, I liked the move, but I purely saw him as depth in emergency situations. After the tape he’s put up over the past two weeks, however, I don’t know how you don’t try and get him more snaps. Regardless, his depth allows Derrick Nnadi to stay fresh during the entire game, so he can make an impact in the fourth quarter.

With the injuries to Frank Clark and Alex Okafor this week, it made a lot of sense to try playing Chris Jones at defensive end. Out of his 45 snaps this Sunday, 28 were at defensive end. For comparison, he only had played 4 snaps at end the first five weeks of the season.

For someone that doesn’t play defensive end much, he looked like a natural doing it. On this play, Jones shows off his elite strength, keeping a hand on each blocker of the double team. I had never seen anyone ever do that before, being able to split the double team while holding up against all that extra strength. That’s unheard of. Regardless, he keeps everything on the front-side contained, making sure Dalvin Cook couldn’t sprint to the edge with a huge alley to run through.

Even when Clark and Okafor come back, I would continue to use Jones at defensive end in the base defense. Imagine a defensive line of Frank Clark, Derrick Nnadi, Khalen Saunders/Mike Pennel, and Chris Jones against the run. You may not be able to run on them at all.

Before the season, I was off the Tanoh Kpassagnon bandwagon. I just didn’t believe in his ability to develop into a productive player in the NFL. In his first two seasons, he showed no ability to ever hold up against the run, and he had no pulse as a pass rusher. But in season 3, under the influence of Brendan Daly, he’s been playing awesome football.

On this snap, he works inside on the spill on the stretch, holding the edge while getting upfield. Therefore, Cook can’t get to the edge. This funnels the run back inside, where Wilson is there to make an easy tackle. Tanoh’s overall play recognition just looks much better, which allows him to make more splash plays against the run.

After the Colts game, I was really hard on Derrick Nnadi. He was awful in that game, allowing 12 carries for 84 yards when they ran directly at him. But ever since then, and I don’t know if it was injuries or Brendan Daly, he’s been exceptional against the run.

On this snap, he does what Pennel does above, which is get both hands on the inside pec, or chest, of the center, driving him out of a gap. Therefore, he essentially closes two gaps at the same time. He can close the hole on the play while also taking away the back-side cut. Therefore he’s able to stuff the run for no gain.

Poor Zone Coverage

The Chiefs defensive performance was awesome Sunday, but if there was one issue, it was zone coverage. The Chiefs really struggled in their coverage calls, and they had a few key miscommunications with them.

Here’s an example of the lack of proper zone depth, while also keeping their eyes locked on the quarterback for too long. Here, Anthony Hitchens needs to get his eyes off the quarterback and onto that route from the tight end. Even if he thought he had flat help from Reggie Ragland, he has to be able to see Ragland occupied in the flat with the running back, therefore making it his responsibility to cover the tight end.

All around, the Chiefs struggled with eye discipline in zone, which hurt them over the top of the shallow zones of the defense. If they start reading routes instead of quarterbacks, they should have a lot more success in zone coverage.

Here, this is an issue that Damien Wilson creates on the play. The formation is Trips Gun Far, where the running back aligns on the opposite side of the trips side, causing it to be a far call. The Chiefs are playing cover 3 to this, or at least they are supposed to be in cover 3. Damien Wilson has issues with the coverage call, as he bails way too far vertically, creating what appears to be Tampa 2.

Regardless of that, he needs to have his head on the weak-side of the formation, which is the running back side. He needs to see that pre-snap, in order to flip his hips to that side of the field. This way, he can see the tight end route, take it for Claiborne, so he can sit in the flat and take on the running back. But since Claiborne takes the tight end in the curl zone, the flat is wide open for an easy touchdown.

Bonus Play: Spagnuolo’s Adjustment

After leaving his linebackers out in man coverage against running backs against Green Bay, Steve Spagnuolo made the adjustment during the week, calling much more cover 0 out of empty formations. He doesn’t move the linebacker in man coverage like the week before, but instead keeps Ward on the boundary to take the back. Therefore, the defensive call isn’t given away, and they are able to keep their linebackers more protected against a tight end, which is more advantageous for the Chiefs.

I’ve said it many times, but Spagnuolo is the man of adjustments. If he sees an issue with his defense, he’s going to change. He’s not static, unlike Bob Sutton. He makes quick adjustments on the fly, which allows him to build success as a play-caller. If there’s any one way where Spagnuolo just absolutely out-schools Sutton, it’s with his adjustments.


This week, we had a lot of potential game-ball candidates, including Anthony Hitchens, Mike Pennel, and Chris Jones. But when I went back and watched the all-22, one guy stuck out to me as worthy of our weekly game-ball. That guy? Charvarius Ward.

Charvarius Ward has had many of his best plays in the redzone this season, which makes sense. He doesn’t have to worry about covering as much direction across the whole field, so he gets to play more aggressively and be near the receiver more.

On this route, Ward keeps outside leverage the entire way through this route, mirroring the feet of the receiver. Knowing he has inside help from the safety, he can stick to the outside hip of the receiver, to ensure he doesn’t get beat outside.

Ward played with really nice outside leverage the entire game, which helped him be able to defend the outside vertical releases from someone like Stefon Diggs. But Ward does a fantastic job here, not biting on the initial release. With a hard jab outside, Diggs sells a vertical stem, but when he cuts inside, Ward keeps his outside leverage, staying on that outside hip throughout the entire route. Then, he shows great ball skills, in order to break up the play.

I had been hard on Ward coming into this season. He looked rough in training camp, preseason, and the first four weeks of the season, but since week 5, he’s played like an exceptional cornerback. Part of that is Spags adjusting to let Ward press more, where he’s way better at feeling the feet of the receiver, but it’s also his overall development and comfort in the game improving. Let’s just hope we continue to see this play consistently.


As I alluded to, this was basically a perfect performance for our expectations for the defense. We wanted an average defense, but we got better than even that. We got a good defense. Perfect? No, but good enough.

Brendan Daly and Steve Spagnuolo have coached their tails off 3 weeks in a row now. The defensive line is absolutely dominating their competition, and Spagnuolo is doing a great job calling games as a defensive coordinator. Yeah, he’s aggressive, but he’s making great calls to help his guys out, while keeping the opposition confused.

What’s crazy is, the Chiefs don’t have all their starters back yet! You think the run defense is good? Wait until Frank Clark is setting one of the edges, instead of Ogbah or Tanoh. You won’t be able to run on this Chiefs team. They are only going to get better with more time working together as a unit.

With Patrick Mahomes and Eric Fisher both nearly back, the offense is nearing full strength. Combine that with the defense hitting its stride at the right time, and I don’t know how you can expect the Chiefs to lose another game this season. This is a team, and a defense, that can compete and beat New England up. Bring it on, Tom Brady. This defense is ready to wreck you, for the last time.

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Thank you Brendan Daly!


Love the work Nate. I’m pretty excited about this D line going forward.

Big Chief
Big Chief

As for Zone defenders (especially LBs) watching a QB’s eyes or looking for routes, it seems likely to me that it would change depending on the opponent. Some QBs are definitely more likely to cue you with their eyes, while the better ones will use them to fool you. Cousins is a highly paid veteran, but he seems like the type who would have some “tells” based on his history, so is it possible that the LBs were told to watch his eyes when dropping into their zones?


I wonder if it’s just a coincidence that Nnadi’s improvement happened at the same time Pennel signed on.


Are you thinking something like bringing in a potential replacement motivated him, or more like bringing in another capable big body gave him more opportunity for quality reps? He seems to be playing much more like he did last year, but even better, the last few games. I’d be inclined to chalk it up to the whole DL working more in sync with each other.


Nice breakdown. I noticed that Pennel guy for the first time this week and boy did he jump off the screen. He looks like a fridge out there. Our DL stepped up big time against the number one rusher in the league and it’s nice to know we have all this depth to work with. What’s sad is that i can say quite confidently that Breeland Speaks is by far the weakest DE we have after seeing how Ogbah and Kpass have turned on the jets.


Speaks…. If the defense doesn’t decline from where it is now, then Speaks’ role at best will be a high level backup/warm body for the rotation. He should only be starting if something goes wrong, or the roster gets depleted for some reason. Basically, he’s the Dan Sorensen of the Dline.


Hopefully not getting as many reps as Sorensen…


Ha. I think Sorensen’s reps only jumped lately because Hitchens was injured. And maybe coincided with Spags’ finally losing hope that any of our actual LBs would be good enough in coverage. Sorensen’s snaps spiked in the Denver game, and were still over 50% vs GB, but came back down to a more normal level this week vs the Vikes.

Sorensen’s played around 30-33% of defensive snaps for the season, which seems fine for a player of his ability. But he’s taking up too much of the cap for that contribution. So it’s good that we’ve got good enough safeties to keep him out of a starter’s role this year, but bad that he’s still taking up as much cap space as a middlin’ starter.

If Speaks plays about 30% of the snaps, then that’d probably be just about right in terms of both his ability and his cap space, for a Dlineman.


It does make you wonder what the plan is regarding Chris. They don’t really have anyone that can play his “natural position”, the pass-rushing 3tech. Tanoh doesn’t seem big or strong enough to hold up consistently there. No one else strikes me as any kind of fit. That said, Daly seems fine with mixing and matching whenever, so maybe they think they can get close to equal production from the entire line, without paying a premium for CJ. It’s a bold strategery Cotton.


They should just look at the big picture, overall performance of the Dline with vs w/o Chris Jones. Going all the way back to the Titans playoff loss. And then proceed in honest accordance with their findings just suck it up and admit the obvious and pay da man.


I wish we could just transfer Clarks contract to Jones and dump Clark’s ass.


Man…. If Jones goes and gets “Clark money” somewhere else and continues to ball out, and Clark continues to be just an above-average player here….. If I was Veach, I’d be real tempted to pay Jones just to avoid that possibility. Because – and though I’ve criticized him, I have not been part of the fire-Veach crowd so far – that would be real solid grounds for firing Veach.


Hell yes it would. On top of the draft compensation we gave up for him? A 1dt and a 2nd and a max contract is absolutely ludicrous. And to let Jones walk on top of that makes me want to barf. That’s a fireable offense if there ever was one.


Interesting take after an article hi-lighting the excellent play of Pennell, Nnadi, Saunders, Ward, and Ogbah.