The Chiefs Remain Unbeaten Behind Stifling Defense
By Eric Paolini
The Kansas City Chiefs are 5-0. Along with the New Orleans Saints and Denver Broncos, they are the NFL’s remaining unbeaten teams. They've gotten to this point pretty simply: fairly easy schedule, pretty good offense and a really good defense. They will never drop 51 like Denver did against Dallas, but they will put up enough points to give their stifling defense a lot more room to work with than necessary.
Entering this week, the Tennessee Titans were in a similar position to the Chiefs. They got to 3-1 mostly behind a top-10 defense. The biggest weakness Tennessee had when facing Kansas City was having to roll with Ryan Fitzpatrick.
Fitzpatrick threw 64 interceptions during his time in Buffalo. Only two teams have more interceptions this season than Kansas City (although that does include the two interceptions of Fitzpatrick). The Chiefs pass rush got to Fitzpatrick only three times on Sunday, which doesn't sound too impressive. But more importantly, they flustered the Titans quarterback and made him make difficult throws.
The most startling change in Sunday’s game was the Titans’ dominance in the third quarter. Where in the first half the Chiefs almost sacking Fitzpatrick again and again led to incomplete passes, it opened up routes underneath in the third quarter. The change was immediate. The second play of the third quarter was a 26-yard scramble by Fitzpatrick after the pocket collapsed. Three plays later, Fitzpatrick was barely able to flip the ball to Chris Johnson who then took it 49 yards to the end zone.
The third quarter was the Chiefs’ worst period this season. The offense had only two possessions and wasn’t even on the field for three minutes. Kansas City picked up only 24 yards and threw an interception. The Titans scored on all three of their possessions, with the final possession barely making it to the fourth quarter.
Eventually Kansas City went on a 10-play drive that went 64 yards and resulted in a touchdown that gave the Chiefs the lead. Fitzpatrick then threw two interceptions that killed any comeback possibilities.
It all sounds fairly straightforward, which it pretty much is. The offense didn’t do anything different than it has done in the previous four games besides give Jamaal Charles the ball a couple of more times. Charles had a season high in carries (22), rushing yards (108), and yards per rush (4.9) against Tennessee, although none by large margins. Once again, the defense was mostly stifling, save for a couple of third-quarter possessions when it was left on the field too long.
This defense is great to watch. It doesn't feature many crazy blitzes from odd places. Instead, it features very good players executing exactly the way they should. Fitzpatrick completed only 5 of his 14 first-half passing attempts and picked up only 31 yards. His first six passes were incomplete. It wasn’t as if they were terribly thrown balls. But Kansas City's defensive backs blanketed Tennessee’s receivers, and the pass rush harassed Fitzpatrick into uncomfortable throwing situations. The defense did all of this while shutting down the running game -- 54 first-half yards on only nine attempts seems pretty good. But that featured a 37-yard run by Jackie Battle that bumped up that average.
Even more impressive was Kansas City’s goal-line stand where the Titans took four chances from the 1 and failed to score. K.C. stuffed the run twice, stopped a Fitzpatrick scramble, and a Fitzpatrick completed pass to himself for a grand total of maybe a half a yard.
The final note to this matchup is the last thing that occurred in this game. It is of no consequence, which makes it interesting. Down nine points with only a few seconds left, the Titans attempted a 32 yard field goal, which Rob Bironas promptly missed. I have no idea what the point of this was. Who cares if you lose by six instead of nine?
The Chiefs ran their formula for success once again. Pretty good offensive showing, great defense and spectacular special-teams play. Wash, rinse, repeat.