With Juan Thornhill now slated to miss the playoffs with a torn ACL, the Chiefs must fill a hole in the secondary. Steve Spagnuolo‘s defense is all about putting players in position where they know they can succeed. That makes trusting in Kendall Fuller and Armani Watts a little easier. Most of all, the instincts and attention to detail will not be hurt any more by losing Thornhill. Let’s look towards that topic and some others, and discuss what Fuller and Watts each bring to the table.
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The words preached by Tyrann Mathieu have been part of what has turned the Chiefs defense around. That leadership has brought new found confidence. For Kendall Fuller, that seemed to be the case. He was placed to a certain standard, because he was ultimately the player Kansas City acquired in a trade to jumpstart the career of Patrick Mahomes. He was relied on too heavily in a weak Chiefs defense in 2018. That made this year very crucial for the Virginia Tech product. Things started slow in 2019, as Fuller was playing a similar role to that of last year.
Instead, Fuller came back from injury in the second half of the season to a better situation. Spagnuolo had moved him into more of a safety role. This allowed Fuller to show his strengths of moving pre-snap and confusing offenses. The most important aspect for him was being able to show off abilities we had yet to see in Kansas City.
Like Fuller, Armani Watts has been given new life in the Chiefs defense. He has mostly been a special teams player for Kansas City. However, when given a chance defensively, he has caught offenses off guard. His instincts flash the most when Watts can read the play in coverage. He is effective in closing down on receivers in coverage.
Here are a couple of examples: https://twitter.com/RealMNchiefsfan/status/1212493847332302853
The different roles that both Fuller and Watts can fill, allow for many different options on defense. For example, the secondary can allow to cheat and be aggressive. Looking at last game, the Chiefs feel comfortable that Fuller and Watts can be consistent in space. Others may look at it like Kansas City is playing with fire, but they are now comfortable in trusting the player’s instincts.
The range in the defensive backfield is what will be sorely missed without Thornhill. But, it is not all lost in the combination of Fuller and Watts. The reason Thornhill’s range is so noticed, is because his speed and ability to gain ground on receivers flashes in his tape. With the other two, it is much more subtle.
They are rarely, if ever, fooled by opposing offenses and quarterbacks. For Fuller and Watts, their coverage abilities are their best attribute. They will likely man the deepest part of the field. Without Thornhill, Fuller and Watts can still be effective in disguising coverages. We saw that last Sunday. At the snap, Watts was the single high safety. As a result, the Chiefs looked to be in cover 3. Not the case. Fuller would drop back, and Watts covered the other half of the field in cover 2. Due to the comfort the team has with Fuller and Watts in coverage, the players are interchangeable and it’s hard to know what to expect.
A Complete Handful
Despite not having the one seed, the Chiefs are more dangerous this postseason. They are a complete team. Additionally, the defense is a handful for most offenses to have to account for. The pass rush and defensive line are multi-dimensional. We know Chris Jones has enjoyed another impressive season. He has the ability to ware down on quarterbacks, while also swallowing up runners. Elsewhere, Frank Clark has played with a vengeance during this winning streak. After a slow start, Clark is taking no prisoners into the playoffs.
With the dime package being so excellently executed, the Chiefs are able to use their best strengths in this defense. The limitations at linebacker do not have to be a problem. Also, Fuller and Watts can slide right in and the production will be just as fine. As long as the defensive gameplan does not have to be totally altered, the Chiefs will stay afloat with Fuller and Watts. They just have to be themselves and the players we have seen before.
– 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.