Chiefs Defensive Review: Physicality Breeds Success

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Nate reviews how the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense out-physical’d the vaunted Tennessee Titans’ running attack

We’re heading to the Super Bowl! This season has had a lot of turmoil and adversity, just like our previous 50 seasons, but we got the job done when it mattered. Congratulations to you guys, who’ve experienced much more playoff torture than I’ve luckily had. This was for you.

I could continue being gushy for an article, but this isn’t a love post. We’re talking about the defense, and how they helped drive success. This week, after a rough first 20 minutes, they stiffened up and help lead us back to the promised land. How did they do that? We break that all down here.

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The Good

Tennessee tried running a lot of HB toss, trying to get to the edge and expose the slow linebackers of the Chiefs. This was unsuccessful due to really good gap discipline by the Chiefs, but mainly just being physical at the line of scrimmage.

Reggie Ragland is the edge contain player, and he does a nice job flashing to take away the edge. Tanoh Kpassagnon takes on the double team well, showing off his strength to take away the inside run. This play is also made by Anthony Hitchens though, who played with really good leverage on Sunday, fully taking away the B gap (his role against toss), then coming through for the tackle. Derrick Nnadi takes away the back-side, and this toss goes for nothing.

San Francisco will also run a lot of HB toss next week against the Chiefs, but as long as we hold the edge and keep our leverage, we’ll be fine. Raheem Mostert and Matt Brieda aren’t as talented or big as Derrick Henry, so if we read our keys, we could have another successful day against the run.

Tyrann Mathieu is obviously fantastic. We all know that. We all also know that he’s smarter than all of us, including the players on the field. Here, Tennessee is running a little rub route into a slant, trying to take advantage of the man coverage that Kansas City is running. Mathieu knows this, so when he sees that rub developing, he backpedals, giving Charvarius Ward enough room underneath to take away the slant. By taking away the hot read, Tannehill is forced to throw it away, and the Chiefs move to it 3rd down.

Last year, teams took advantage of this so much. The Chiefs couldn’t communicate a simple Banjo call, which led to teams absolutely mauling the Chiefs with rub routes and tight splits. Thanks to Tyrann Mathieu though, he knows when they’re coming, so we’re so much better at that this year.

Frank Clark talked a lot this week about how Tennessee isn’t a hard rushing attack to defend. He dared Tennessee to run to his side and see if Henry could beat him. Tennessee listened, and tried running at him to see if he would hold the edge. Tennessee was proven wrong though, and when they ran at Clark they were shown a brick wall at the edge spot.

While Clark does hold a fantastic edge, credit to Damien Wilson as well for this play. He’s right up against the center, and plays with good leverage against zone here, taking away the immediate A gap. Henry wasn’t able to change directions, and this play turns into a one yard gain.

Chris Jones was limited this game, as Kansas City wanted to keep him fresh and not risk re-injury. Still, when Jones was in the game he absolutely manhandled Rodger Safford and Nate Davis, Tennessee’s guards. Whether in the run or pass game, they couldn’t handle Jones’s quick first step, and his ability to quickly read a gap.

Something Kansas City has had issues with this year is the back-side cutback, due to defensive ends and 3 techniques not being able to squeeze the back-side gap, leaving a massive hole in the backside of the run. Detroit really did a nice job with this, taking advantage of Xavier Williams and Alex Okafor in the running game. As new players have came in though, we’ve slowly gotten better there.

Frank Clark is the flashy play here, sprinting across to wrap up Henry. Mike Pennel also makes a play by taking away the B gap and condensing space, something that’s critical against zone running. With effort and just really good play recognition from the front, we’re able to stop the run at a high level.

I’ve written about Dan Sorensen a lot this season, about how I’ve been extremely happy with how he’s played this year. He clearly has seemed to learn a lot from Tyrann Mathieu, as his play recognition has been awesome this year. Dirty Dan has known this as well, showing off his version of the “I’m Too Smart” symbol from Mathieu.

Here, it’s a simple fake WR screen, then a slip screen to the other side. Sorensen sees Henry’s slip and is right there when the ball is thrown. Sorensen looked very quick rallying to the ball and Kansas City gets a 6-yard sack here.

The Bad

One bad play again this week, and it was an issue with our linebackers in zone coverage. We seemed to have the tendency to not be able to read plays very well, and Tennessee attacked the middle of the field behind it. I wanted to highlight this, as this is something Kyle Shanahan is going to attack us with. If our linebackers are vacating their zones too far, then we’re going to have issues against a much faster team in San Francisco.

Game Ball: Entire Front 7

Generally speaking, I try stick to giving the game ball to only one player. This week though, I couldn’t seem to just pick one player. When I was pondering who it would be, I was running my mind through Clark, Pennel, Kpassagnon, Mathieu, and many others. So, I ultimately decided to give the entire front 7 credit. The reason?

Spagnuolo really challenged the front 7 to be able to stop Henry. He wasn’t going to over-commit the box and leave the deep ball open for the Titans to expose. This required the Chiefs to be physical at the line of scrimmage and play with really good leverage. They listened, and stood up to the challenge.

Against another really good running team, an even better one in San Francisco, we’re going to have to be committed to really good gap discipline again, but more importantly just controlling the line of scrimmage. We have to be physical again. If we can do that, we’re going to win the game.


Against a really good challenge in the Titans with their rushing attack, we stepped up. Henry averaged 3.7 yards per carry Sunday. If you told me that would’ve happened pre-game, I wouldn’t have believed you. I fully expected a 25 carry, 150 yard performance out of Henry. I didn’t think it would matter, but I was prepared. The way we played was exceptional.

With another major challenge in San Francisco, we’re going to have to stop the run again. Raheem Mostert had 220 yards and 4 touchdowns last Sunday, and if we aren’t prepared, they’re going to continuously run the ball down our throat. We need this to turn into a Jimmy G vs Mahomes battle. If we do that, we’re in good shape. Let’s see if the run defense is up to the challenge again.

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I really do think Tyrann has rubbed off on Sorenson. He seems like a different guy this year & is playing great football right now. It’s a fantastic win/win for the Chiefs..


Defense is about attitude, communication, trust & having a DOG mentality (rough riders)


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Nate, awesome as always and thank you … so glad you’re on OUR side

QUESTION: wondering if it’s wise for Spags to assign someone as a man-on-man guy for Kittle? and if so would it be Sorenson? or perhaps Mathieu? am I crazy to even think anything like this? your thoughts?


Excellent article. It’s crazy to think how far this defense has come in their first year with lots of players and Spags.


Great read and I hope we continue on with great d-line play against the run.