The Kansas City Chiefs offense has been near the top of the league in most categories the last few seasons. Led by the dynamic duo of quarterback Patrick Mahomes and head coach Andy Reid, this unit flies up and down the field quickly and scores points in bunches. However, this offensive attack was pitiful the last time we saw them on the field. The offensive line was stripped down to its bare bones, being held together by band-aids. Meanwhile, the skill players struggled to win battles down the field and in tight spaces.
Fast forward to the late stages of this current offseason, and the Chiefs have quickly reassembled a much more dominant and physical blocking unit upfront. New protectors like Orlando Brown Jr., Joe Thuney, Kyle Long, Creed Humphrey, Austin Blythe, Trey Smith and others are taking great pride in being counted on and trusted in front of Mahomes. Elsewhere, the opportunity is ripe for the taking at the wide receiver position behind Tyreek Hill.
Today, we will be ranking the top five opposing defenses on Kansas City’s 2021 schedule. The rosters and depth obviously had a lot to do with the rankings. In the meantime, teams with a more well rounded secondary or more creative options or scheme within their pass rush made a major difference as well. Those have been the main components in slowing down a Mahomes-led unit. These rankings are strictly done based on opinion, as well. Without further ado, let’s get it started with our fifth ranked defense.
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5) Los Angeles Chargers
It was a difficult decision on who to rank at number five. The result differed between the Los Angeles Chargers and the Baltimore Ravens. Most of all, LA’s group is going through less changes entering 2021. Kansas City has dominated the Ravens in recent seasons. There is more confidence that I would have in this secondary overall, compared to Baltimore’s. Finally, the Chargers have also been the most stingy opponent within the AFC West for Mahomes to battle against.
This team has only beaten him once in five tries. However, Mahomes’ numbers are lesser across the board in his career so far going up against the Chargers, compared to other division rivals. This includes completion percentage (61.21%), passing yards (1,157), QB rating (97.5), Y/A (7.01) and AY/A (7.68).
So where could the Chargers defense give the Chiefs the most problems? The back seven’s spatial awareness and discipline in coverage makes for a challenging combo when facing the style of Mahomes. For one, he can become indecisive, which leads to double clutches or even hurried throws. This can result in Kansas City becoming out of rhythm and sometimes being forced to come back late. In fact, that is exactly what we saw the last time the Chiefs starting offense faced this Chargers defense.
The secondary took a slight hit by releasing veteran cornerback Casey Hayward. Nonetheless, a healthy Derwin James is still near a top ten caliber of safety over the middle. The health is a big if certainly. Yet, James can be interchangeable and serve multiple roles, attempting to play with the quarterback’s mind. Lastly, Michael Davis is one of the more underrated cornerbacks in the NFL. Most people believed he would be heading elsewhere in free agency this offseason. Retaining him was one of the most vital roster moves the Chargers executed all spring.
4) Cleveland Browns
The Cleveland Browns defensive unit was already fairly strong from top to bottom. But this offseason? General manager Andrew Berry and his crew have done a nearly perfect job in accumulating more talent at premium spots.
The Browns added two former Rams defensive backs in John Johnson and Troy Hill. Both flew under the radar a bit in LA. With quick trigger instincts and calmness in tight spaces, they will each take immense pressure off of Denzel Ward. Add in their stout ball skills and lockdown coverage potential of first round pick Greg Newsome II, and Cleveland’s secondary could be one of the deepest and stingiest in the entire NFL.
Elsewhere on the roster, the linebacker room was a laughing stock going into last season. They took honorable strides by the end of that playoff run, however. A much needed facelift was made with an underrated signing in former Colts linebacker Anthony Walker. And, seeing Jeremiah Owusu-Koramoah fall into their laps at the end of Round Two was an absolute steal.
If there is a roster move that I would highly disagree with for my money, it would be on the defensive line. Cutting defensive tackle Sheldon Richardson was a mistake, considering who they essentially replaced him with. Defensive end Jadeveon Clowney is a better run defender than pass rusher at this point. It has been that way for the last few seasons at least, as well. Moreover, the offseason is the same song and dance with Clowney. It seems like every year we hear, “Clowney’s in the best shape of his life.” Yet, injuries remain for the former South Carolina Gamecock. Teams somehow continue to get suckered into paying him too much, though.
Where can this team hurt Kansas City? The secondary is strong enough to mix coverages and play air tight man coverage throughout the duration of the contest. To boot, defensive coordinator Joe Woods blitzed at the third lowest rate in the NFL last year (21.3%). Letting Myles Garrett win battles more naturally on the outside have seemed to workout pretty well. The former number one overall pick has already recorded 42.5 sacks in 51 career games.
3) Denver Broncos
The Denver Broncos have quietly built one of the more well rounded rosters in the NFL throughout the last couple of seasons. The only real major thing holding them back from a playoff appearance, is the quarterback position lacking any sort of consistency.
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Defensively, their group already looked dangerous on paper. The safety tandem of Justin Simmons and Kareem Jackson is better than almost any other pairing in the league. Bradley Chubb and Shelby Harris have been important upfront as Von Miller’s production has started to wane. Then this offseason, they were able to acquire more premium talent.
Their entire starting cornerback group was fine. Then they signed Ronald Darby, who dominantly shut opposing receivers down in Washington last year. Patrick Surtain II was a no-brainer draft pick in the first round if you wanted to attack the defensive needs. Finally, Kyle Fuller became a last minute problem for the Bears, and Denver lucked into a corner with a history of solid production.
In more recent meetings against Mahomes, the Broncos have been more diverse in their blitz calls. The Chiefs larger and more physical offensive line for 2021 may be able to handle that better. But at the same time, this Broncos defensive unit has the same power and toughness that can match up well with that offensive style. The more those style of games arise, the more grinding it could become for Kansas City to best Denver’s defense.
2) Pittsburgh Steelers
It was easier to rank the top two opposing defenses on the Chiefs 2021 schedule. The major difference was narrowed down to the talent that the Pittsburgh Steelers lost this offseason. Pass rusher Bud Dupree was a loss that stole all of the headlines. But, the homegrown talent or perfect stylistic fits that were lost at cornerback will be felt hard.
Mike Tomlin can coach up any player with the best of them. Plus, the front seven will hide some of those weaknesses. Losing both Mike Hilton and Steven Nelson in one offseason could be costly in keeping this defense from where it wants to go, however.
Joe Haden and Cameron Sutton have each been highly reliable with the Steelers. That cornerback room is highly suspect in a matchup against the Chiefs offense, overall. Plus, how will younger players fill larger roles in the upcoming campaign? Alex Highsmith will likely hold down the outside linebacker spot that belonged to the aforementioned Dupree. Can the Charlotte product take a step forward in his first full year as a starter?
We all know that creating pressure is the name of Pittsburgh’s game defensively. This team has recorded the most team sacks in four consecutive seasons. They obviously have the depth to rush from multiple looks and angles. Then, the Steelers add in this extra wrinkle that offenses do not see coming. This leaves the quarterback exposed and the hits can come quickly. Lastly, I believe the greatness of TJ Watt keeps casual fans from seeing the true talent of Cameron Heyward or especially Stephon Tuitt.
1) Washington Football Team
This was pretty simple when looking at the major departures of Pittsburgh. Everywhere you look, the Washington Football Team does not have a true weak spot on their starting defense. For my money, this defensive line of Chase Young, Da’Ron Payne, Jonathan Allen and Montez Sweat is the best group at their position in the NFL. Additionally, Washington will be getting a healthy Matt Ioannidis back for reserve reps in 2021.
At the second level, Cole Holcomb has become a do it all player. He can fill run gaps swiftly, cover the middle of the field with confidence and even blitz on occasion. 2021 first round pick Jamin Davis adds even more coverage instincts in the linebacker room.
This secondary was already extremely challenging to go up against. Then in free agency, Washington went out and added arguably the best free agent cornerback in William Jackson III. Please do not sleep on players like Kamren Curl, Jimmy Moreland or Bobby McCain, among others. Will Landon Collins move into more of a coverage linebacker role? Or, is this defense deep enough to where he may be a late offseason roster cut?
The combination of Washington’s diverse pass rush and air tight secondary can create havoc and second guessing for opposing offenses. In Kansas City’s case, we know they sometimes have to beat themselves before you can get by them. Washington does not need that help in order to cash in on a potential upset. Most of all, their blitzkrieg-like blitzing nature could hurt the Chiefs the most. Washington has recorded the fourth most sacks in the league since the start of 2017 (181 sacks).
Disagree with my top five defensive rankings on the Chiefs 2021 schedule? Let us know on Twitter @FPC_Chiefs or @BradenHolecek9. Be on the lookout for more FPC Chiefs articles throughout this week. For more great sports and NFL content, stay tuned to Full Press Coverage.
– 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.
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