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The Chiefs are off to a successful start to the season, but not in the traditional fashion of a Patrick Mahomes-led Chiefs team. The offense has been average, which to most Chiefs fans translates to bad as we are used to a league-leading offense over the past 5 years. But the defense, on the other hand, has been one of the best in the league. Let’s talk about some of the contributors that maybe aren’t getting as much public recognition.
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After receiving criticism throughout the preseason and last season due to opinions that his play was falling off, Nnadi has stepped it up early in the season so far, looking more like the player he was the first few years of his career – A stout run-stuffing nose that you can rely on to be assignment sound, hold his ground, and be a force once he gets his hands on a ballcarrier. Some thought both Danny Shelton and Keondre Coburn would have a chance to play ahead of him, but he has proved his worth as a starter so far. Nnadi has 13 tackles, many of which are run stuff holding runners to only a yard or two, and a pass deflection.
KANSAS CITY, MO – NOVEMBER 13: Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Malik Herring (94) during an NFL game between the Jacksonville Jaguars and Kansas City Chiefs on November 13, 2022 at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, MO. (Photo by Scott Winters/Icon Sportswire via Getty Images)
One of the more underrated risers on this defense, Herring had a tough path to playing time for the Chiefs. Herring slipped out of the draft in 2021 due to injury, but the Chiefs were able to nab him as an undrafted free agent. Herring missed the whole 2021 season recovering from a torn ACL. After being the talk of minicamp in 2022, Herring was primed for a role in 2022, which wasn’t as big as some may have thought after the training camp signing of Carlos Dunlap. This year, with no Frank Clark or Dunlap, and Charles Omenihu being suspended, Herring has been forced into consistent snaps and has played well, specifically against the run. He has inside and outside versatility, and sets a good edge when on the end. He came up with a splash play last night on a short-yardage TFL and showed some pass-rush improvement pushing the pocket. Hopefully, his role will stay consistent going forward.
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The Chiefs have had a good problem for their cornerback 3 spot. Joshua Williams and Jaylen Watson have largely split snaps, and Williams has not allowed much separation at all this year. He has noticeably improved in man-to-man coverage from year one and is physical in the run game as well which is a coveted trait for all Steve Spanguolo cornerbacks.
Watson is the other part of that good problem, his ball skills are possibly the best in the Chiefs secondary. He has a nose for turnovers and always turns and locates the ball when in coverage. He had an incredible pass deflection last night on Broncos wide receiver Brandon Johnson on a perfect throw. The Chiefs don’t have a justification to take either Williams or Watson off the field right now, and I’d expect the rotation to continue.
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Similar to last year, the Chiefs once again have four linebackers capable of starting and being effective. Last year it was Bolton, Gay, Darius Harris, and Chenal, and this year Drue Tranquil joined the mix. Chenal came on the scene in the most important game of the season last year, playing his best game in the Super Bowl. He has continued that play so far this season, as a great blitzing weapon and great run defense. Chenal loves physicality and seeks contact, filling the “thumper” role for the Chiefs defense. Chris Jones shouted out Chenal specifically for his play after the Thursday night victory over Denver.
The Chiefs defense has been one of the best in the league this season, and that hasn’t been the case since 2016. If this offense can step up (specifically the passing game), this Chiefs team will not be beaten. I will be in Arrowhead next week to watch the Chiefs face the Chargers which will be a big test. Sure the Chargers record doesn’t speak to them being good, but they have talent all over the field and always pose a tough game for the Chiefs. Hopefully, the mini-bye will allow players to get healthy and be prepared for an important divisional matchup. Go Chiefs!!