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Kansas City Chiefs Prove They Are Much More Than Just Patrick Mahomes

Kansas City Chiefs More Than Mahomes

The Kansas City Chiefs' defense is ahead of schedule.

And the team demonstrated just that in its 19-8 win over the Denver Broncos on Thursday night.

Ever since Steve Spagnuolo took over the defense in 2019, it's been a slow burn for the unit over the course of each season. The defense takes its time to experiment and see what, and who, works best. 

It's a necessary process for a mad scientist defensive coordinator such as Spagnuolo. He doesn't run a "line up and play" defense. He majors in unique coverage rotations and psychotic blitzes — the kind of stuff players need a ton of reps with in order to nail down the communication and details. 

Come playoff time, Spagnuolo always has those dudes ready to play. It doesn't matter how ugly things were to start the season. 

That's where the 2023 Chiefs are different. We're six weeks into the season, and Spagnuolo's group is already in playoff mode, as we saw against Denver.

Now I know what you're thinking: The Russell Wilson–led Broncos aren't a good offense. But that just hasn't been true. While the Broncos aren't blowing up the scoreboard, they've been a bang-average offense this year. They ranked 16th in offensive DVOA and 12th in EPA per play coming into this week and have been the perfect barometer for what is and isn't an efficient offense.

Spagnuolo's defense made them look like a peewee team, specifically in the passing game. Wilson couldn't even get to 100 passing yards on the night. He finished with a -11.7 CPOE (completion percentage over expected) and -0.37 EPA (expected yards added) per play, per The Chiefs picked Wilson off twice and hardly let him complete any passes beyond the line of scrimmage. It was a peak division "rivalry" big brothering. 

The two interceptions encapsulate the playoff-level attention to detail and execution we're already seeing from this unit. 

On the first pick, the Broncos tried to run a play-action concept targeting the intermediate area of the field. Play-action is supposed to be bait for the linebackers to clear out the middle of the field, but third-year LB Nick Bolton is no sucker. Bolton never bought the fake, drifted over toward the left hash with his eyes on Wilson and jumped right into the throwing window. 

The second interception was another play from a Chiefs linebacker, this time Willie Gay Jr.. Spagnulo sent Gay on a blitz, but the young player immediately noticed Wilson gearing up to throw a quick pass to replace the blitz. Gay got his hands up to tip the pass, giving a free interception to S Justin Reid, an ol' volleyball assist. 

That's the level the Chiefs defense is playing at right now. It's a smart, fast, instinctive unit. Getting to that point with a defense that has so many tricky coverages and bizarre pressure packages at this point in the season is a serious accomplishment. 

Thursday night is no outlier, either. The Chiefs have been doing this to teams all season. This is their standard now.

Heading into Week 6, the Chiefs ranked 11th in defensive DVOA. They were eighth in yards per drive allowed and fifth in points per drive allowed. You'd imagine that would lead to a higher DVOA rating, but they hadn't been a big turnover unit through the first five weeks. Safe to say that's going to change a little bit after two interceptions and a fumble recovery against the Broncos. 

Every layer of the defense is making plays. 

Chris Jones leads the charge up front, to no surprise. He was the best non–Aaron Donald defensive tackle coming into the season, and a contract-year buff has only made him better. He's not the one-man show he was in years past, though. Second-year DE George Karlaftis has come alive as a power-rusher and play-maker. He's no superstar yet, but he's the perfect Robin to Jones' Batman. 

The Chiefs also roll deep at the second level. Bolton, who missed time earlier this season, is always around the ball. Gay is a lightning rod for explosive plays, sometimes for the other team, but you know he's a guy who can wreak some havoc. Spagnuolo loves havoc. Then there's Leo Chenal, a prototypical run-stuffer from Wisconsin who has been a weapon in the run game. Drue Tranquill has his uses as a passing down specialist, too.

Kansas City Chiefs defense

Even the secondary is a group made in heaven for a Spagnuolo defense. L’Jarius Sneed and Joshua Williams are big, long press corners on the outside who buy time for all of the coordinator's insane blitzes. Nickel Trent McDuffie, last year's first-round pick, is 193 pounds of pissed-off chaos. Back deep, Reid is the instinctive, savvy veteran that serves as a glue to hold the whole thing together. Despite all Spagnuolo asks of the unit, everyone is playing on a string and making offenses work for every single completion. 

Kansas City's speed run to top-notch defense couldn't have come at a better time. Whereas it has usually been the Chiefs' defense cobbling things together throughout the year, this time it's the offense who needs time to warm up. Well, relative to its usual league-leading pace, at least. 

Patrick Mahomes is always going to be the Boogeyman for opposing defenses, but he's working with a young wide receiver group in which nobody has really emerged as the clear No.2 option behind Travis Kelce. The Chiefs have been playing a wide-receiver-by-committee offense with five or six different guys. Andy Reid still trying to make Kadarius Toney a thing is all you need to know about where that group is right now. The offense is going to need a full season of evaluation and experimenting before the team finds a solid answer for the postseason. 

Now, imagine what the Chiefs will look like when their offense kicks into overdrive. I mean, c'mon, this is Mahomes and Reid after all — it's going to happen at some point. And when it does, we're going to have a Kansas City team with a top-five offense and a top-10 defense. 

If the Chiefs weren't already the scariest team in football, they sure are shaping up to get there in time for another Lombardi run. 

Derrik Klassen is an NFL and NFL Draft film analyst with a particular interest in quarterbacks. Klassen’s work is also featured on Bleacher Report and Reception Perception. You can follow him on Twitter (X) at @QBKlass.