Adaptability key to evolving Chiefs defense

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — One week ago the Kansas City Chiefs defense slowed the Jacksonville Jaguars deploying six defensive backs on the field more than half time, yet flipped the script on Sunday in countering the Carolina Panthers with a traditional 3-4 defense heavy on down lineman and linebackers, showing a chameleon-like ability to match its defense to the challenge at hand.

Aug. 21, 2015; Kansas City, MO; Chiefs rookie linebacker Ramik Wilson (53) warms up before the preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks at Arrowhead Stadium. (Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal)
Aug. 21, 2015; Kansas City, MO; Chiefs rookie linebacker Ramik Wilson (53) warms up before the preseason game against the Seattle Seahawks at Arrowhead Stadium. (Chris Neal/The Topeka Capital-Journal)

“The flexibility within the defense is crazy good,” coach Andy Reid said Monday after his team’s dramatic 20-17 comeback win against Carolina.

Sunday’s game offered a classic example of the defense’s ability to adapt and survive. Five players the team added or re-acquired since preseason played significant roles in the win, and the team deployed a complete different defensive scheme to contain Cam Newton than it used in recent weeks against the likes of Andrew Luck and Blake Bortles.

The Chiefs work from a base 3-4 defense with three defensive lineman, four linebackers, two cornerbacks and two safeties. But the Chiefs utilize that specific package on rare occasions. The team frequently substitutes safety Daniel Sorensen or brings cornerback Phillip Gaines in exchange for a linebacker or defensive end.

Defensive coordinator brought that flexible approach with him to Kansas City upon his arrival with Reid in 2013.

“Sometimes it’s based on what the game is,” Sutton said, “most of the time it’s determined by what personnel group is on the field for the offense. The more receivers they have, the more likely we are to have another defensive back in there.”

The Chiefs frequently favored nickel and dime coverages in recent weeks against teams that deploy more four and even five wide receiver sets. Linebacker Dee Ford, tied for the NFL lead with 10 sacks, creating a pass rush along with Tamba Hali and the defensive line affords the team that luxury.

Against Carolina the team played a more traditional 3-4 defense. Reid says that flexibility is huge to the defense’s success.

“Bob knows all of it so well,” Reid said, “and is able to mix and match the different personnel groups that he uses according to the looks that the offense is throwing at him. He is a master of that defense.”

Injuries have tested the team’s adaptability, and the squad passed once again Sunday. Cornerback D.J. White remains out with a broken, and at one point the Chiefs had cornerbacks Phillip Gaines and Marcus Peters on the sidelines, pressing safety Ron Parker into duty at cornerback.

“They’re playing a lot of guys,” Reid said. “We were down for a while there, we put Parker out at corner. We were down numbers there.”

The team waived linebacker Ramik Wilson during final cuts before the season’s start and promoted  him from the practice squad last month. Wilson played 67 snaps Sunday, more than doubling his playing time a week ago. Wilson’s case illustrates the team’s reliance on depth and ability to respond to the personnel groups of the opposing offense.

In addition to Wilson, the Chiefs received extensive playing time from new acquisitions and players from the team’s practice squad. Defensive lineman Rakeem Nunez-Roches, waived in September and promoted from the practice squad last month, played 44 snaps. Free agent signee Kendall Reyes picked up 35 more.

Cornerback Kenneth Acker, who arrived in late August via a trade from San Francisco, played 26 defensive snaps and 15 on special teams.

Reid said the team’s reserves deliver fire and enthusiasm that fuel the defense in tough times.

“One thing those guys that come in they go full throttle,” Reid said. “You saw Nunez-Roches out there, he was that close to getting a sack. Acker, his first one was a little shaky on, then the rest of it he just  cut it loose and was coming at them.”


Matt Derrick is the lead beat writer for and the Topeka Capital-Journal. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @MattDerrick.