With the regular season approaching very soon, we will look at one specific matchup for each week during the upcoming Chiefs season. When the Chiefs begin their season in Jacksonville, the new look KC defense will face a powerful running back in Leonard Fournette. Both Fournette and the Chiefs run defense alike, are looking for major rebounds in 2019. If that Chiefs unit and/or Fournette do rebound, it will have to start with a tight matchup in Week One.
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Starting From The Bottom
Kansas City’s run defense last season finished 27th. Total, the Chiefs allowed 2,114 rushing yards for an average of 132.1 yards per game and 5 yards per carry. This was the worst finish in run defense for teams that made the postseason. This unit was largely helped by opponents being forced to throw the ball to try and hang with the Chiefs offense.
One particular part of the Chiefs front seven that will be key to watch in this matchup, as well as throughout the season is the linebackers. Anthony Hitchens was signed as a free agent heading into last year. While he improved some throughout the season, Hitchens’ 2018 campaign was disappointing. He missed more tackles than he had in previous years with Dallas, and struggled to consistently fill his gaps. The same can be said about Reggie Ragland, too. This new look defense is exciting and the scheme change seems ultra aggressive. But, it may take time for an entire new defensive personnel to gel early in the season. However, both linebackers may be better suited for gap assignments and running downhill in this regime.
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Fournette burst onto the scene as a rookie in 2017. He was steady throughout the season, finishing with just over 1,000 yards rushing in 13 games. What helped him most was his hard nosed attitude while carrying the rock. One memorable example of this, was when he waved at then Steelers safety Mike Mitchell to come at him head on. Fournette enticed him and bulldozed him over while rushing for a good chunk of yards. He was the motor that kept that 2017 Jacksonville offense upright in route to an AFC Championship Game appearance.
Fournette then had more unfortunate luck in 2018. He only saw the field in 8 games and carried the ball fifty percent less than the year before. Opponents figured out his tendencies more as well, as Fournette managed just 3.3 yards per carry. With diminished results on the field, injuries and an ill-temper also hampered his sophomore season.
Where Fournette shines in space with a mix of patience and physicality, the Chiefs run defense must not waste time. They can’t sit back in the open field like last season. As far as Fournette goes, he seems to fair better when trusting his lanes and eyes and not trying to cut back too much.
Earlier this offseason, Leonard Fournette talked about a fresh start following an abysmal 2018. “I’m happy, especially the way I’m here working with my team right now. It’s a new year. We have a new team. We’re focused, and we have new players. It’s a new year for us. So it’s a new everything. It’s a clean start for a lot of us guys.”
– Braden Holecek is the Kansas City Chiefs managing editor for Full Press Coverage. He covers the NFL. Like and follow on Follow @ebearcat9//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Follow @FPC_Chiefs//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js and Facebook.