Amid all the chaos of the Kansas City Chiefs’ loss to the Baltimore Ravens on Sunday night, Kansas City’s run defense was incredibly disconcerting. All night they watched Baltimore ball carriers breeze by them.
Sunday night’s game shouldn’t instill panic in Chiefs fans — the team will be just fine. However, the run defense needs to figure things out fast. Some will say this is just what Lamar Jackson and the Ravens do. Fine. Take Lamar out of the equation, and Baltimore still ran all over KC.
Two games is a small sample size in most cases, but when you only get 17 cracks in the regular season, it doesn’t sound so minuscule. The Chiefs rank dead last in the NFL in run defense through two games, having yielded an average of 202 yards per game against the Cleveland Browns and Ravens. There are several contributing factors.
Kansas City kicked their All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones to the outside in the offseason, moving him from defensive tackle to edge rusher. While a switch like that certainly necessitates live game reps to adjust to, the results in Week 2 were far different than Week 1.
Jones looked uncomfortable trying to handle the read-option looks against the Ravens. Having him on the edge in those spots took away the aggressiveness he usually displays. Baltimore presents an outlier scenario in that most teams don’t run their style of offense, but they went at Jones on numerous occasions and kept him guessing.
The move to edge rusher for Jones looked fine in Week 1 when he racked up two sacks against Cleveland. After Week 2, more teams will try to find loopholes to exploit that switch as the Ravens did. Jones is one of the best in the business, but it’s worth wondering if his position switch could turn out to be fine for him individually yet negatively affect the rest of the run defense. They no longer have their stopper in the middle, and Jones himself noted the differences in the positions in the offseason.
“You can always get better at technique,” Jones said of his switch to defensive end. “I’m in a new position so it’s more of a learning phase to me now, defensive end, I haven’t played it since college, so just the whole position swap has been a learning phase to me. The play calling is a little different for me, having to drop, having to understand the offensive formations to react off of different plays, so I’m still learning.”
“Defensive end is a little different because you’re more on an island,” Jones stated, “It’s just you and the tackle, and you have so much space between you and the next guy on the field, so its a little different but I like it, it’s not that bad.”
The alarming part of Sunday night’s affair is that if you erase Jackson’s 16 carries for 107 yards, the Ravens still pounded out 144 yards rushing on 25 carries. That’s good for 5.7 per pop, something that flat-out isn’t sustainable.
Some might say it’s a product of Baltimore’s system. Still, nobody can deny that Kansas City making Ty’Son Williams and Latavius Murray look like one of the more lethal one-two punches in the league is not a good sign. Williams was buried on the depth chart just a month ago, and Murray was a free agent. Hell, even Devonta Freeman had a 31-yard run on Sunday night. These aren’t cream-of-the-crop runners in the NFL. Murray and Freeman were scooped up after J.K. Dobbins, Gus Edwards, and Justice Hill all suffered season-ending injuries right before the start of the year. They had no issues carving out paths against Kansas City’s flimsy front.
The road ahead doesn’t get easier for Kansas City’s run defense.
In Week 3 they will face Justin Herbert and the Los Angeles Chargers. Week 4 brings Jalen Hurts and the Philadelphia Eagles. You can bet your bottom dollar those coaching staffs will watch what the Ravens did on the ground and incorporate some of those same looks against the Chiefs until they show they can stop it.
Kansas City will be favored in both games. That’s not the point, though. Yes, the Chiefs’ offense will often be good enough to put up 30-plus points and force teams to go away from the running game as they play from behind. The concern Kansas City’s run defense causes is all about the long term, the big picture.
Cleveland and Baltimore present two of the better running offenses and schemes in the entire league. Starting the season against them was no easy task for Kansas City, and because of that, maybe the numbers are slightly inflated for this run defense. The road won’t get much easier, though, and the Chiefs need to find solutions quickly.