Snap Counts: Chiefs Defense Schemes Building Around Tyrann Mathieu’s Versatility

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs defense turned in another strong out in a 23-3 victory over Denver Sunday, and safety Tyrann Mathieu delivered a big performance as the leader of the team's secondary.

Mathieu picked up five tackles and a sack while breaking up two passes. He had an interception wiped away by a penalty and came close on two other turnovers. He also yielded just two catches on six targets for 33 yards while generating two quarterback pressures.

He says the team's recent string of strong defensive performances stems from solid play on first and second down and and relentless pressure from the defensive line.

“I think on the back end, we're truly confident in what we can do, in our abilities and we study a lot,” Mathieu said. “A combination of all of those things have really given us some confidence going forward.”

Mathieu's performance is dictating a lot of how the Chiefs deploy their defense and how snaps get distributed at the linebacker and secondary positions.

Offense 68 snaps


Patrick Mahomes 68 (100 percent)

Mahomes showed no ill effects from the bruised hand suffered against New England last week, completing 27-of-34 passing for 340 yards and two scores. He also show plenty of mobility in the pocket despite the snow, further demonstrating issues related to left ankle sprain and right kneecap dislocation are moving further in the rearview mirror.

Running Back

Spencer Ware 27 (40 percent)

Darwin Thompson 24 (35 percent)

LeSean McCoy 17 (25 percent)

Anthony Sherman 13 (19 percent)

Ware has become the workhorse of the backfield in just two weeks back in the fold. All three running backs offer a different flavor, Reid says. Most of McCoy's touches came in two drives during the first and third quarters, while Thompson took the second and third quarters. Ware is the third-down pass protection back and the closer in the fourth quarter. If Damien Williams returns this week from a rib injury, he'll likely take back snaps from Thompson and some from Ware as well. Sherman received looks in a few different packages, including as an H-back and some two-back sets.

Tight End

Travis Kelce 62 (91 percent)

Blake Bell 30 (44 percent)

Kelce had a busy day against Denver with 13 targets, and Bell gave him a breather on a handful of snaps. Otherwise the Chiefs played a little bit more of their two-tight end sets than normal, coming in about 35 percent. That makes sense on a snowy day at Arrowhead. Deon Yelder was a healthy scratch for the third week in a row.

Wide Receiver

Tyreek Hill 57 (84 percent)

Sammy Watkins 52 (76 percent)

Demarcus Robinson 38 (56 percent)

Mecole Hardman 14 (21 percent)

Byron Pringle 6 (9 percent)

The Chiefs us a handful of single-receiver sets against the Broncos, but the offense continues leaning mostly on its three-receiver grouping with Hill, Watkins and Robinson. Hardman's yo-yo playing time schedule trended down this week, with his 14 snaps the third-fewest he's played this season and down from 25 a week ago. Hill didn't see much action after leaving for a concussion evaluation following the interception by Broncos safety Justin Simmons early in the fourth quarter. He did receive clearance to return to the game, however, and should return to duty next week at Chicago.

Offensive Line

Mitchell Schwartz 68 (100 percent)

Eric Fisher 68 (100 percent)

Laurent Duvernay-Tardif 68 (100 percent)

Austin Reiter 68 (100 percent)

Andrew Wylie 64 (94 percent)

Stefen Wisniewski 4 (6 percent)

Wylie left with an ankle injury late in the fourth quarter, but tests came back positive and he doesn't expect to miss any playing time. The Chiefs surrendered three sacks and five hits against Mahomes in pass blocking and the run game generated just 3.7 yards per carry. This is a group continuing to find its equilibrium after dealing with countless injuries this season.

Defense 59 snaps

Defensive line

Chris Jones 48 (81 percent)

Frank Clark 46 (78 percent)

Tanoh Kpassagnon 45 (76 percent)

Demone Harris 41 (69 percent)

Derrick Nnadi 22 (37 percent)

Mike Pennel 17 (29 percent)

Khalen Saunders 12 (20 percent)

Alex Okafor 5 (8 percent)

Okafor suffered a season-ending torn pectoral on his fifth snap of the game, and his departure dictated a few changes in the rotation. Clark played more snaps than the club envisioned for him heading into the contest. But Clark appears trending in the right direction from the stomach virus that limited him the past few weeks. Second-year defensive end Harris continues getting pressed into duty and appears to be holding his own, especially as a run defender. Jones saw 18 snaps at defensive end with Okafor out.


Anthony Hitchens 33 (56 percent)

Ben Niemann 26 (44 percent)

Damian Wilson 26 (44 percent)

Reggie Ragland 15 (25 percent)

The 33 snaps from Hitchens marks his fewest snaps aside from Week 4 against Indianapolis when he left with an injury. He Chiefs spent more than the majority of the game in substitution packages with just one or two linebackers on the field. Niemann continues carving out a role beyond the team's third-down package, increasingly playing a platoon with Hitchens and taking a drive or two per game.


Charvarius Ward 59 (100 percent)

Bashaud Breeland 59 (100 percent)

Kendall Fuller 33 (56 percent)

Fuller's role continues evolving from his five-game absence following thumb surgery. He played a season-high 16 snaps in the box and another season high seven snaps at safety. He lined up as slot corner on just seven snaps. With Morris Claiborne (shoulder) and Rashad Fenton (hamstring) remaining out with injuries, the Chiefs continue relying on a short bench at cornerback.


Juan Thornhill 59 (100 percent)

Tyrann Mathieu 59 (100 percent)

Dan Sorensen 44 (75 percent)

Mathieu has played more than 80 snaps as a slot corner over the past two games, as defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo continues using him as a chess piece. Thornhill mains the backend while Sorensen fills the strong safety role in the box. That allows Spagnuolo to deploy Mathieu to best matchup against opposing offenses, whether it's in coverage, blitzing or run defense.

Special Teams 18 snaps


Bell 15 (83 percent)
Sherman 13 (72 percent)
Pringle 13 (72 percent)
Hardman 7 (39 percent)
Robinson 5 (28 percent)
Schwartz 4 (22 percent)
Fisher 4 (22 percent)
Duvernay-Tardif 4 (22 percent)
Reiter 4 (22 percent)
Wisniewski 4 (22 percent)
Ware 2 (11 percent)
Thompson 2 (11 percent)


Niemann 14 (78 percent)
Sorensen 9 (50 percent)
Ward 3 (17 percent)
Thornhill 4 (17 percent)
Jones 1 (6 percent)
Kpassagnon 1 (6 percent)
Harris 1 (6 percent)
Hitchens 1 (6 percent)
Nnadi 1 (6 percent)

Teams Only

Jordan Lucas 14 (78 percent)
Dorian O'Daniel 14 (78 percent)
Armani Watts 13 (72 percent)
Darron Lee 13 (72 percent)
Harrison Butker 9 (50 percent)
Alex Brown 8 (44 percent)
Dustin Colquitt 6 (33 percent)
James Winchester 6 (33 percent)
Cam Erving 4 (22 percent)

Wisniewski filled in for Wylie on the field goal team, likely due to Wylie entering the game with a shoulder injury. Pringle was voted special teams captain for Sunday's game, illustrating his reliability and value on teams. Kpassagnon's streak of games with a blocked kick comes to a halt at two, in part because the Broncos only attempted a single field goal in the game.