FOXBORO, Mass. — The Kansas City Chiefs’ offense has been positively electric this season. Their defense? Not so much.
While the undefeated Chiefs lead the NFL in points scored per game, they also rank near the bottom of the league in nearly every defensive metric, including last in yards allowed, last in yards allowed per carry, 20th in yards allowed per pass attempt, 19th in scoring defense and 28th in DVOA.
Still, K.C. was dominant on defense in last week’s 30-14 win over Blake Bortles and the Jacksonville Jaguars (four interceptions, one fumble recovery, one defensive touchdown, five sacks), and New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick has spent the week pumping the unit’s tires ahead of this Sunday night’s Pats-Chiefs showdown at Gillette Stadium.
“They’re the best team in the league on third down,” Belichick said. “They don’t give up a lot of points. I mean, they’ve been ahead. They’ve given up some yards in garbage time, but they’re 5-0.”
Technically, the Chiefs have the league’s second-best third-down defense — Baltimore Ravens opponents are converting at a slightly lower rate (28.8 percent to 29.3 percent). Belichick’s point stands, though. Yes, Kansas City has been very good at getting off the field. It also boasts some serious talent in its front seven, starting with stud edge defender Dee Ford.
Ford, a first-round draft pick out of Auburn in 2014, has been one of the NFL’s most productive pass rushers this season, racking up four sacks and 12 quarterback hits in five games. He’s tallied the third-most total pressures in the league behind Philadelphia’s Fletcher Cox (who has played six games) and Cincinnati’s Geno Atkins, according to Pro Football Focus.
Against the Jaguars, Ford had five tackles, three QB hits, one pass breakup and a strip sack before being ejected for taunting in the fourth quarter.
“He’s very quick off the ball,” Belichick said. “He anticipates the snap count well. He gets a good jump. He’s fast anyway, and he’s a very explosive player. He just needs not even a step — you know, half a step, quarter of a step — then he gets the edge there, and he can be a very disruptive player.”
Belichick also had high praise for Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones, who, coincidentally, also was tossed from Sunday’s game for cheap-shotting a Jags player during a PAT. Before that, Jones had sack, a tackle for a loss and an interception, which he returned 20 yards for a touchdown.
“He’s a major force,” Belichick said. “He’s a hard guy to block. He’s long, he’s got a lot of power, he’s quick. He’s a handful. He can ruin a game and he does ruin them. He’s a really hard guy to handle. … He can ruin the game for you. It can be on any play.”
What Belichick didn’t acknowledge, however, was that K.C.’s defense is dealing with a litany of injuries to key players. Linebackers Justin Houston and Tanoh Kpassagnon haven’t practiced this week, nor have safeties Eric Berry and Eric Murray.
Berry, a three-time All-Pro and one of the few safeties capable of shutting down Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski, hasn’t played since rupturing his Achilles in the Chiefs’ season-opening win over the Patriots last September. Murray is his primary backup. Daniel Sorensen, who filled that role last season, currently is on injured reserve after injuring his knee in training camp.
Things have gotten so dire at the safety position that the Chiefs had reserve wide receiver Marcus Kemp practicing there this week as an emergency option. That’s not a great sign for a secondary that’ll be tasked with defending the likes of Tom Brady, Julian Edelman, Josh Gordon and Gronkowski this weekend.