The Kansas City Chiefs are back in the Super Bowl for a fourth time in five seasons, having smothered Lamar Jackson and the Baltimore Ravens 17-10 to win the AFC Championship in Baltimore’s building.
We’re used to discussing Kansas City’s dominance through Patrick Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Andy Reid, and the offensive juggernaut. This year’s Chiefs team, while still statistically very good, has been far from the well-oiled machine we’ve come accustomed to watching. What’s different about the Chiefs is they finally have a high-level defense, which should terrify the rest of the NFL.
By DVOA, the 2023 Ravens and the 2007 Patriots are both among the five greatest NFL teams of all time.
They both held their opponent to 17 points.
They both lost to this guy. pic.twitter.com/w95JzLr5vB
— Rany Jazayerli (@jazayerli) January 28, 2024
Kansas City finished 2nd in points allowed (behind the Ravens), 1st in second-half points allowed, and remain the only team yet to allow 30 points this season. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo remains at the top of his game. While the Chiefs have had generally average-to-good defenses under Spags, including his championship-winning debut season in 2019, this is the first top-10 defense by DVOA the Chiefs have had in the Mahomes era.
Lamar Jackson was flummoxed all afternoon. Unlike last week against the Houston Texans, had few answers for the Spags’ blitz-heavy gameplan.
#Chiefs DC Steve Spagnuolo with a successful game plan vs likely MVP Lamar Jackson.@ESPNStatsInfo: Lamar Jackson completed a season-low 41% of his passes against the blitz Sunday. He was blitzed on 41% of his dropbacks, his 3rd highest faced on the season.
— Ed Werder (@WerderEdESPN) January 28, 2024
The Chiefs also neutralized Jackson as a runner, limiting him to only 33 scramble yards on 7 attempts and one 21-yard designed carry on a 4th-and-1 in the opening quarter. Baltimore as a team rushed for a season-low 81 yards, partially because of the curiously pass-heavy script by offensive coordinator Todd Monken, but also because Kansas City contained Jackson exceptionally well.
Spagnuolo’s reputation as a big game coordinator has been well established ever since his two Super Bowl wins with the New York Giants over the New England Patriots. Whether it’s disguising coverages or daring quarterbacks to beat his blitzes, Spags’ track record in the playoffs is sparkling.
Young talent at all three levels
Chris Jones is the anchor and star player on the Chiefs defense, but general manager Brett Veach has done an excellent job of restocking that side of the ball with promising defensive talent.
Last year’s draft class, which featured plenty of defensive snaps for Kansas City’s rookies, has seen a pair of players breakthrough in year two. Trent McDuffie was taken 21st overall in the 2022 draft and earned first-team All-Pro honors as a slot cornerback. Edge rusher George Karlaftis, taken only nine picks later, is tied with Jones with a team-leading 10.5 sacks.
2020 fourth-round pick L’Jarius Sneed, who made the arguable game-clinching forced fumble on Zay Flowers to deny the Ravens a 4th quarter touchdown, just missed out on his first All-Pro selection, but he’s established himself as a premier corner who will be due a big payday this offseason.
Linebacker Nick Bolton, Kansas City’s top draft pick in 2021, had the critical fumble return touchdown in the Super Bowl win over the Philadelphia Eagles, and was the one who snuffed out Buffalo’s fake punt last week.
At least on defense, the Chiefs have found several high-impact players on rookie contracts who should be a part of their plans for seasons to come.
This is by no means the Chiefs’ best team, but it is dangerous in a way we’ve not seen before during this dynastic run. Patrick Mahomes may not have as great an offensive supporting cast as we’ve seen in years past, but the biggest addition this season is a great defense capable of shutting down the league’s best quarterbacks.