Snap Counts: Defense Lightens Workload in Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s Debut

Sep 8, 2019; Jacksonville, FL, USA; Kansas City Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark (55) reacts during the third quarter against the Jacksonville Jaguars at TIAA Bank Field.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Chiefs' defense wants to spend less time on the field in 2019 than it did a season ago, and by that standard the season opener against Jacksonville proved a qualified success.

Yes, the Chiefs allowed 428 yards including 350 through the air, mostly to backup quarterback Gardner Minshew. Yet the defense took the field for just 58 snaps on Sunday. That's a far cry from the average 74 snaps the defense played per game last year. Only once last season did the Chiefs defense see fewer snaps than they did on Sunday – they played 57 snaps in Week 7 in a 45-10 drubbing of the Cincinnati Bengals.

Meanwhile the Chiefs offense played 68 snaps, just slightly above their 65 snaps per game last year. While tempo for both teams certainly played a factor, the defense certainly needed a respite with temperatures soaring near 120 degrees at field level during the game. Last year the Chiefs defense played 82 snaps in the first two games on the road at the Los Angeles Chargers and Pittsburgh, which wore down the defense heavily early in the year.

Offense 68 snaps

Patrick Mahomes 59 (87 percent)
Matt Moore 9 (13 percent)

Mahomes nearly exited the game midway through the second quarter when his left ankle got rolled during a sack by Yannick Ngakoue. But the meltdown by Jaguars linebacker Myles Jack provided Mahomes with enough time to get his ankle taped on the sidelines and return the next play. Moore took over with 5:14 left in the game and the Chiefs ahead 37-19. The Chiefs netted 25 yards on Moore's two drives and tacked on a field goal to the winning margin.

The Chiefs right now expect Mahomes to be healthy enough to start at Oakland next Sunday.

Running Back
Damien Williams 45 (66 percent)
LeSean McCoy 20 (29 percent)
Anthony Sherman 10 (15 percent)
Darwin Thompson 2 (3 percent)

McCoy saw the high end of his expected playing time with 20 snaps against the Jaguars, getting the ball 11 times for 93 total yards. Williams had 19 touches for 65 yards, including a 1-yard touchdown. McCoy expects to pickup more snaps in the weeks ahead, but Williams showed why he still has a significant role in this offense. Both backs also show an ability to accept the running back by committee approach. A bit surprising to see Thompson with just two snaps, but the arrival of McCoy certainly impacts how the Chiefs will use the rookie early in the season.

Tight End
Travis Kelce 50 (74 percent)
Blake Bell 33 (49 percent)

The Chiefs provided Kelce more downtime than usual on Sunday. He played 95 percent of the offensive snaps last season, and only played fewer than 50 snaps once all year (40 in the season finale 35-3 win over Oakland). Bell had one target and catch for 7 yards. Kelce caught three passes on eight targets for 88 yards, with most of his damage coming early. Keep an eye on the Chiefs adding Deon Yelder as a third tight end to the game day roster as he returns from an ankle sprain – he offers a bit more offensive upside than Bell. Sherman saw some looks at tight end with only two active on game day.

Wide Receiver
Sammy Watkins 65 (96 percent)
Mecole Hardman 53 (78 percent)
Demarcus Robinson 43 (63 percent)
Tyreek Hill 12 (18 percent)
Byron Pringle 3 (4 percent)

The heat didn't affect Watkins, who played the second-most snaps in a game in his short career as a Chief. Hill's injury created more opportunities for Hardman, yet he saw only one target in 53 snaps. With Hill expected to miss a few games, Hardman and Robinson should continue to see more playing time. The Chiefs may find a way to work Pringle into the game plan more as well. The Chiefs also get De'Anthony Thomas back this week from his one-game suspension.

Offensive Line
Mitchell Schwartz 68 (100 percent)
Andrew Wylie 68 (100 percent)
Austin Reiter 68 (100 percent)
Laurent Duvernay-Tardif 68 (100 percent)
Eric Fisher 68 (100 percent)
Jeff Allen 4 (6 percent)

The iron men up front played every snap, with Allen coming in as a sixth lineman late in the game. The offensive line surrendered zero sacks and just four quarterback hits in the game, although Mahomes did need to deliver the ball quickly in a few instances. All in all a solid effort up front in difficult conditions for the offensive line.

Defense 58 snaps

Defensive Line
Chris Jones 45 (78 percent)
Frank Clark 45 (78 percent)
Alex Okafor 37 (64 percent)
Tanoh Kpassagnon 35 (60 percent)
Emmanuel Ogbah 21 (36 percent)
Derrick Nnadi 19 (33 percent)
Xavier Williams 17 (29 percent)
Joey Ivie 13 (22 percent)

The Chiefs used a heavy rotation in the heat in Jacksonville on Sunday, using eight defensive linemen in total as they deployed a four-man front virtually the entire game. Clark's share of the snap count is inline with his work last season in Seattle, where he averaged 45.5 snaps per game and 73.5 percent of the total. Jones averaged 48.3 snaps per game while playing 65.6 percent of the defenses' total snaps. Kpassagnon frequently kicked inside to tackle in passing situations. This marked the second-most snaps played for Kpassagnon in his career, trailing only the 65 plays he saw in the 2017 season finale at Denver.

Anthony Hitchens 58 (100 percent)
Damien Wilson 47 (81 percent)
Darron Lee 10 (17 percent)

Hitchens played every snap in a game just once last season, but he's clearly the quarterback of this defense and the linebacker that coordinator Steve Spagnuolo trusts the most. The Chiefs spent very little time in a base 4-3 look, playing primarily in a 4-2-5 configuration. This explains why Reggie Ragland was inactive on Sunday, since the Chiefs didn't even use Ben Niemann and Dorian O'Daniel on defense, but both are key special teams players. Lee is the Chiefs' preferred linebacker in passing situations.

Charvarius Ward 58 (100 percent)
Bashaud Breeland 58 (100 percent)
Kendall Fuller 48 (83 percent)

The Chiefs stuck with their plan of using Breeland and Ward on the outside with Fuller in the slot. The Chiefs didn't use Rashad Fenton or Tremon Smith in defensive situations. Ward had a few rough moments in the first half, but Breeland and Fuller both played well in Week 1.

Juan Thornhill 58 (100 percent)
Tyrann Mathieu 57 (98 percent)
Dan Sorensen 12 (21 percent)

It comes as no surprise that the Chiefs finally awarded the starting free safety spot in Week 1. The Chiefs' best look during training camp came with Thornhill on the backend and Mathieu playing closer to the line of scrimmage. Sorensen is well-cast as a dime safety, especially playing in the box with Mathieu dropping back. Thornhill still needs to rely more on instincts, but he should get there soon. He was a little late breaking on the ball on the Nick Foles' 35-yard touchdown pass to D.J. Chark, but the Chiefs can live with those growing pains for now.

Special Teams 30 snaps

Offense: Sherman 24 (80 percent), Pringle 17 (57 percent), Robinson 16 (53 percent), Bell 14 (47 percent), Thompson 9 (30 percent), Schwartz 8 (27 percent), Wylie 8 (27 percent), Reiter 8 (27 percent), Duvernay-Tardif 8 (27 percent), Fisher 8 (27 percent), Allen 8 (27 percent), Hardman 7 (23 percent), Dam. Williams 1 (3 percent) and Hill 1 (3 percent).

Defense: Sorensen 22 (73 percent), Lee 7 (23 percent), Ward 6 (20 percent), Okafor 6 (20 percent), Kpassagnon 6 (20 percent), Hitchens 4 (13 percent), Jones 4 (13 percent), Nnadi 4 (13 percent), Thornhill 2 (7 percent), Wilson 1 (3 percent).

Teams Only: Dorian O'Daniel 22 (73 percent), Ben Niemann 22 (73 percent), Harrison Butker 17 (57 percent), Armani Watts 17 (57 percent), Tremon Smith 16 (53 percent), Rashad Fenton 13 (43 percent), Dustin Colquitt 9 (30 percent), James Winchester 9 (30 percent) and Darrel Williams 6 (20 percent).

Sorensen saw a reduced special teams role last season while spending more time as a starter, but he returned to four-phase status in Week 1, joining Sherman, O'Daniel and Niemann. Pringle, Robinson and Watts also saw significant roles on special teams. Hardman filled the kick return and backup punt return roles over Smith, who still saw significant time on special teams. The Chiefs have to make a decision Monday on who to let go to clear space for Thomas, and special teams snaps should play a critical role in that decision.

Did Not Play: OL Cam Erving
Inactive: TE Deon Yelder, OL Ryan Hunter, OL Nick Allegretti, OL Martinas Rankin, DT Khalen Saunders, LB Reggie Ragland and S Jordan Lucas

Ragland was the one eye-brow raiser here, although the snap counts explain the reason why. If Lee has bypassed Ragland as the team's No. 3 linebacker, this could be a regular situation for Ragland since Niemann and O'Daniel are core special teams players. Yelder was a full go in practice this week, but it made sense for him to be inactive coming back from the ankle injury. Lucas was out Friday with back spasms, so his absence was no big surprise.