The Kansas City Chiefs defeated AFC West Division rivals the Los Angeles Chargers 27-24 Thursday night at GEHA Field at Arrowhead Stadium. On a night when the offensive struggled, especially in the first half, the defense held its ground and kept the team in the game before eventually winning.
As the 2022 season began, the general consensus was that the Chiefs’ redesigned defense would need some time to gather and get a foothold early in the season. In two games, however, Kansas City has more than held its own. Does this mean the Chiefs are ahead of schedule?
In recent years under defense coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, the Chiefs’ defense got off to a slow start and improved as the team progressed deeper into the season. With many new faces at all levels of defense in 2022, it was expected that this would be the case again.
Enter George Karlaftis, first-round pick and defensive end, who didn’t stuff the stats two games but made an impact early and often. The engine never stops at Karlaftis and he was nicknamed “Furious George” by fans in Chiefs Kingdom. Not only has he worked his cock off play-in-play-out, but he’s also been able to show off his skills more times than many anticipated. In Week 2, he was on the field more than any other defender on the team. He was second in overall defense in Week 1 and seventh in Week 2.
The entire linebacker group learns new roles. Nick Bolton takes on the role of defensive quarterback, with Willie Gay Jr. playing most of the Chiefs’ last game against the Chargers and rookie Leo Chenal filling in on certain packages. All three played their roles well early in the season and Bolton has been the standout of the group so far. He led the team in week 1 tackles and finished second on the team in week 2. In general, he looks like the best tackler on the team.
Gay sometimes struggled against Los Angeles as he attempted to graduate, but ended up leading the team in tackles. He flew all over the field, showing flashes of potential that many Chiefs fans have seen in him since day one. Chenal made an early impact against the Chargers, coming on with a blitz package and nearly reaching quarterback Justin Herbert. His role will be limited, but will still be important as the season progresses.
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Then there’s secondary, which is where the Chiefs have seen the most turnover since last season. L’Jarius Sneed, Rashad Fenton and Juan Thornhill are the regulars from previous seasons, with the Chiefs adding veteran safety Justin Reid and rookie cornerbacks Trent McDuffie (round one), Joshua Williams (round four) and Jaylen Watson (round seven) Add.
Reid shows his skills as a leader both on and off the field, playing at second level when needed and sometimes giving the team a boost in the kicking game as well. McDuffie was great in Week 1 before going down and eventually being placed on injured reserve with a hamstring injury. The Chiefs hope he can return when he’s first eligible and get back to work immediately in the second half of the season.
Williams made his mark in training camp before falling somewhat out of favor in the preseason. Williams was picked against the Green Bay Packers in the final game of the preseason and it seems that may have opened the door for the seventh-rounder. Watson got a boost in the season from McDuffie’s absence. He played 51% of defensive snaps in week 1 and 68% of snaps in week 2. Not only did his playing time increase, but so did his popularity under Chiefs Kingdom.
With the game going 17-17 early in the fourth quarter and the Chargers fielding first-and-goal at the four-yard line, Watson leapt and intercepted a pass from Herbert and ran it back 99 yards for a game-changing touchdown to achieve . It was the game of the day, turning the game around with a 14-point swing and propelling the Chiefs to their three-point win.
There is still a lot of room for improvement – and there will be problems with this young core of defensive players – but early results are promising. If the defensive unit continues to improve as the season progresses, the Chiefs will be spot on for another AFC championship win and hopefully another Super Bowl bid.
The Chiefs start 2-0 and the defense appears to be ahead of schedule. That’s all you can expect from this young group of players who continue to cheer on and off the field.