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Will The Chiefs Keep Their Defensive Line Dominance without Chris Jones?

 

 

How will the team look without the mayor?

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(Photo by: Jay Biggerstaff/USA TODAY Sports)

 

Over this past seasons, the Kansas City Chiefs developed some impressive talent along the defensive front. With All-Pro Chris Jones, as well as players such as Mike Danna and George Karlaftis. The Chiefs are known for their defenders up front. Their success at this position has led to the nickname “Sack Nation.” But this trend will be tested this season. The Chiefs are expected to have two new out of four starters to start off Week 1 for this season, with talented defensive end Charles Omenihu is suspended for 6 games, and Chris Jones has yet to report. The Explosive Karlaftis returns, as does nose tackle Derrick Nnadi.

The big question facing the Chiefs is whether they can replicate the success of last season without their All-Pro largely responsible for the development of “Sack Nation,” as well as the other loss up front in Omenihu for the first 6 games. However with some of the other players on the roster, and the implementation and execution of some of their favorite schemes, the Chiefs has the potential to maintain this level of excellence up front.

Interior Lineman Twists:

One of the schemes that the Chiefs implement up front by Defensive line coach Joe Cullen are two different stunts or twists. The first is an interior defensive tackle twist, between the two insider defenders along the Chiefs’ four-man front. Without Chris Jones, the Chiefs will use Tershawn Wharton, Keondre Coburn on the first two downs and then use Mike Danna and George Karlaftis for the passing down interior snaps in Jones and Omenihu’s absences.

This play in college shows why the Chiefs choose Coburn in 6th round of the 2023 Draft. Coburn (#99) aligns as a 3-technique on the right shoulder of the left guard. After the snap Coburn crosses Ojomo’s (#98) face, before attacking the opposite A Gap: 

Coburn’s penetration forces an early throw that falls incomplete. Some teams call this a “Nat” stunt, because the nose tackle attacks first, with the tackle looping in behind. The next play against the 49ers last season, the Chiefs put Karlaftis in the A gap using a 1 technique, over the right shoulder of the center. Frank Clark (#55) aligns as a 3 technique, just on the outside shoulder of the LG. Carlos Dunlap is in a wide 9 alignment on the outside of the left tackle, while Chris Jones is in a 5 technique, just on the outside shoulder of the right tackle. Similar to the previous play from Coburn, Karlaftis crashes to the inside, aiming for the opposite A Gap. Clark lets the NT cross his face before looping behind him, into the A Gap on the other side of the football delaying the play. 

This interior twist is a great way to confuse the interior blocking, as well as give the defensive tackles a bit of a burst upfield as they bend their run. As these two plays indicate, they can both pressure the pocket in the quarterback’s face, or stop running plays before they even get a chance to develop.

Stopping the Run:

The Chiefs’ defense has been downright nasty against the run last season, allowing just 107.2 yards per game on the ground, 8th best in the NFL.

How does Spagnuolo’s fast, attacking defense stop the run? By winning at the point of attack with penetration, regardless of the running scheme. The Chiefs picked up edge rusher George Karlaftis in the draft prior to the 2022 season, viewing him as a situational pass rusher. But while Karlaftis, who finished the regular season with the most QB hurries among rookie edge rushers last season according to PFF, will continue to be one of the best at disrupting the passer, he will also be one of the Chiefs’ biggest playmakers against the run. 

While Karlaftis is more than strong enough to take on a block (or even two, as we’ll see in a bit), the defender’s greatest attributes may be his agility and explosive first step. In addition, look for opposing teams to run more towards rookie defensive end Felix Anudike-Uzomah (#97), a quality pass rusher that is less accomplished against the ground game. As Anudike-Uzomah’s hand usage continues to improve, we could be talking about one of the best young defensive ends in the NFL in a few years. 

Of course, having a safety support the run like Justin Reid (#20) should help cover up potential deficiencies. While Karlaftis excels as a penetrating defensive lineman, he also possesses the strength to take on blocks and keep his linebackers clear of traffic. Mike Danna (#51) is at his best on the edge at the moment where his leverage and hand placement allow him to get off blocks against the run, but Cullen can even put him on the interior some in pass-down situations. 

The Depth without Jones:

Besides Karlaftis and Anudike-Uzomah, Danna immediately plugs into his 3- Tech role that will provide him with tremendous opportunities to rush the gap and impact the passer. When you have a player with a versatile skill set like BJ Thompson, I love situations where the roster provides flexibility to leverage them in different ways, rather than forcing Thompson to just be a rusher off the edge. Cullen can deploy FAU as a primary rusher, with Karlaftis, Coburn and even Wharton and Neil Farrel Jr. in packages and put Thompson into mismatches where he can really shine.

This is a defensive line that gives Spagnuolo and defensive line coach Joe Cullen many options. With the depth and versatility the line provides, the Chiefs should be able to generate more of a pass rush than it has in recent seasons even without Chris Jones. And with a radically-altered secondary, an upgraded pass rush on the edge will be key if the Chiefs’ defense is to replicate last season’s success.

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