Chiefs Bears Defensive Review: Spagnuolo’s Toolbox

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Nate looks at how Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is putting the hammer down on opposing offenses.

The Chiefs win again. They improve to 11-4, same record as last year, but with much more momentum this year. At this point last year, we lost two in a row to drop to 11-4. This year, we’ve now won 5 in a row going into week 17.

A lot of that credit goes to the defense. They haven’t allowed a touchdown in 9 quarters, only giving up 6 points over two games. This week, they mixed it up a lot more than they did last Sunday. How did they do that, and how were they successful? We break that all down here.

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Good Plays

To begin the game, Chicago tried to run a lot of read option at Kansas City, using Mitch Trubisky’s legs three times in read options in the first quarter. The Chiefs did a nice job against these, holding Trubisky to 3.3 yards per carry on them.

Chicago is reading Frank Clark here, who crashes inside to take the running back away from the play. This forces Trubisky to hold it, but he runs into a wall of Chiefs players. Damien Wilson scrapes to the edge to take on the wham block from the tight end on the backside. Daniel Sorensen is the contain player, who funnels everything to the WILL linebacker. Trubisky runs into two players, and can’t get around either of them.

These type of scrape exchanges will be critical against Baltimore, Houston and/or Buffalo in the playoffs. The Chiefs have done a nice job defending these read options this year, using their big linebackers to scrape and hold the edge. If we want to win the Super Bowl, we’re going to have to be able to execute the scrape exchange.

Terrell Suggs played his first game as a Chief Sunday, and he provided some burst as a pass rusher. Here, he performs a push/pull on the left tackle, using his sharp technique to get around the edge. The thing that sticks out about Suggs is that he never quits on the rush, keeping Trubisky moving to the sideline, restricting the space he had to throw.

Suggs may not have shown out much in the box score, but as a run defender and a pass rusher, he made an impact in his 17 snaps. Suggs is going to make an impact in the playoffs, and don’t be surprised to hear him collect a few playoff sacks en route to a Super Bowl.

To deal with the read option and Trubisky’s scrambling, the Chiefs played a lot of dime defense this week. Chicago noticed this trend, and decided they were going to try and run the football against it. They weren’t having much success with it though, only averaging 4.4 yards per carry against our dime defense.

On this play, Chicago is running at Clark again, who holds the edge. Kendall Fuller is the outside contain player on edge, and he holds the block well. Terrell Suggs makes the play here though, coming across the play to bring the running back down.

The Chiefs will likely be forced into a lot dime defense against teams like Houston or New England, so being able to defend the run in a light box is critical to winning in the postseason. Lately, they’ve been able to do it.

Kendall Fuller played his best game of the season on Sunday, mainly at free safety in the dime defense. He looked explosive downhill, he was communicating coverages well, and he was around the ball a lot to make some tackles.

Here, Allen Robinson runs a short Mesh, or crossing, route over the middle, with a lot of space to run through. Fuller sees this, and comes screaming downhill, quick enough to make a play on the ball instantly.

Fuller may not be a good cornerback, but as a safety, he’s found a nice role. It gives Spagnuolo more range and versatility than what Daniel Sorensen provides, plus it allows you to have Sorensen closer to the box, in man coverage vs running backs. This trend has been around 4 weeks in a row now, and should be something we use in the postseason.

Steve Spagnuolo sent a lot in coverage at Trubisky this week, forcing him to be able to find the holes in the zones we were running. Spagnuolo called a lot of Cover 3, 2, man-under, bracket coverage on Allen Robinson, and some match. One main coverage I saw though was this type of Tampa 2.

Spagnuolo would put a lot of guys near the line of scrimmage, getting Trubisky to change the protection call upfront, adding more players to protect. Then, he would send Fuller down the middle of the field in the hole, protecting anything down the middle. Juan Thornhill, the free safety, takes 1/3 of the field, and Mathieu got the other half.

I haven’t been able to chart all the coverages yet, but Spagnuolo sent a lot on Sunday. He’s been doing that against Drew Lock and now Trubisky, daring the young quarterbacks to be able to beat the coverages he brings at the offense. So far, in this stretch, they haven’t been able to do that.

Speaking of Spagnuolo and his calls on defense, he sent a lot at Trubisky up front. He didn’t always call blitzes, but tried really hard to get him to switch the protection calls quickly, trying to guess where guys were coming from.

Here, Spagnuolo is going to drop the right-side of the defensive line, but this confuses the Bears. The center changed the protection call to slide to the left, since the MIKE linebacker was there and they called strength to him. Then, Spagnuolo sends a cornerback blitz on the other side, with Sorensen crashing on the B gap and Clark getting wide, opening space in the B gap. Chris Jones gets the sack here, but the blitz from Breeland really gets the job done.

Spagnuolo has been calling excellent blitzes over the last 3 weeks. He’ll show one front/blitz on tape, then run the complete opposite upfront the next week. Young quarterbacks, even Patrick Mahomes, sometimes struggle getting protection calls right. Spags knows this, and changes up his plans to confuse quarterbacks. Bob Sutton could never…

Bad Plays

One bad play for the day, and it was mainly that our physicality did waver in the 3rd quarter. We sometimes got a little complacent on defense, but it was only for one drive. I wouldn’t blame them, considering they were playing Mitch Trubisky, but we can’t let that happen in the playoffs ever.

Game Ball

Game Ball of the Week goes to Charvarius Ward, who played an excellent game on Sunday. He had a few pass breakups, including this critical one on a fade route in the red zone.

I have to admit; I was so wrong on Charvarius Ward. I figured he would be benched by week 8, he didn’t seem to fit this scheme. That being said, he’s gotten better every week, and looks like a legit CB2 for the future. I’m hesitant to say CB1 in the future, I think he still has very legitimate weaknesses in his game, but as a future piece at cornerback, his future looks bright.


The defense has played very well lately. They’ve been playing like the best defense in football. The communication is flawless, we’re winning up front, and we’re stopping the run. Wide receivers can’t beat us. Offenses have trouble adjusting to our calls on defense.

We’re going to face tougher quarterbacks here. We have momentum though. The defense is clicking all around. Bring in that the offense is back to full strength on all levels, and we shouldn’t lose a game. I’m not scared of Baltimore. We nearly blew them out last time. Don’t let the media fool you, guys. The Chiefs are the best team in football. They were always supposed to be, and they are right now…

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Nice article, although it felt like there was a bit of a glitch in the matrix.

Thing I noticed about this last game was I had the FEELING that they were playing very aggressively, but they were pretty much sending 4.

The thing that pops out to me is how much ground some of those guys on the back end are covering, like Thornhill coming all the way up from single high to make the stop about 5 yards from the LOS. It’s a lot of fun watching Mathieu play for us. The thing about their defense is that the guys who roll over to pick up the blitzer’s man have CB skills and/or measurables. Thornhill and Mathieu LOVE coming over from safety and making plays on hurried passes, coming forward.

I like what they’re doing with Fuller. I wish they’d done something similar with Javier Arenas, some years back. He had a knack, coming forward, of getting to unwise passes downhill from him. He could’ve been a quicker and faster safety for us, I thought.


Lovin’ the Spags Defense … Fuller as Safety, Sorenson as Linebacker … who’da thunk it


Yeah, I got to admit I was totally wrong about him. I was really afraid he was only a minor upgrade over Bob, but he’s turned this around far better then I thought possible this year. Never been more ecstatic to eat crow.

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I think the injuries during the midseason slump helped push them to take more chances and send more blitzes. He’s still sending 4 the majority of the time, but he’s aggressive enough that when they have 6 guys up at the line, offenses have to take the threat seriously. That helps the 4-man rush quite a bit.


Tough road (literally) in the playoffs, even if you believe we’re the best team. If we had this team last year, it’s hard to imagine they wouldn’t have won it all, but alas, we’ve made it tough on ourselves this go-round.


I don’t think so. They learned how to win without Mahomes. They muddled through without Jones for a bit. Watkins missed time. Fisher and LDT missed significant playing time. Xavier Williams was gone for most of it. There was a stretch there where bench players had to step up, and I think it makes this team a lot more resilient for the stretch run.

Usually by this time of the year, guys are pretty beat down. I look around and see fresh legs amongst the Bigs, and a couple of games where the defensive snap counts are trending down. These are all good signs I’m not used to seeing in KC. Yeah, Kelce’s operating at a record-setting pace, but I still don’t feel like they’re forcing him the ball, or that he’s taken a lot of beatings this season.


The Bears were running the Chiefs 2016 offense, which is exactly why the Chiefs defended it so well. I knew that the game would be a blowout as long as the Bears defense didn’t take over for that very reason. While the plays might be a little different, the concepts are the same. Easy to defend something you see in practice every week.


I never noticed that. Good observation, Ranger. We haven’t talked in a while, but I hope all’s been well for you and yours, and Happy Holidays to one and all.


I suspect Nagy knew what was going on too. He wasn’t going to get one over on his mentor. Obviously the defense needs to execute, which they did.


Nate, if we had yearly “team awards”, you would get my vote for Most Improved. While your grammar still needs work, it has steadily improved, and I’ve noticed you’ve expanded your vocabulary a bit, too. Best of all is your reliability. That’s a valuable asset in any era, but IMO today most especially. Well done, young man, and keep it up.

zulu trader
zulu trader

This trend has been around 4 weeks in a row now, and should be something we use in the postseason.

so are we still making changes to improve this late in the season? Our D can get better?

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Merry X-Mass


I hope we “X” Mass. right out of the playoffs. 😉