If you needed convincing that Chris Jones’ best position was on the interior of the defensive line, then the Chiefs 19-9 victory over the Cowboys on Sunday would have been my closing argument.
The Dallas Cowboys rolled into Arrowhead sporting the leagues’ top offense and best offensive line, only to be manhandled by the front-4 of the Chiefs for 60 minutes.
The Cowboys were without LT Tyron Smith, WR Amari Cooper, and would lose WR CeeDee Lamb for the second half, but at no point in the game did it feel like the Chiefs defense and coordinator Steve Spagnnoulo wasn’t in control. Spagnoulo had Kellen Moore and the Cowboys offense figured out from the opening kick to the point that every positive play the Cowboys generated, was a fight to gain yards.
The most obvious reason the Chiefs dominated the game defensively? Chris Jones was back to being Chris Jones.
The experiment the Chiefs deployed to start the season with Jones playing majority of his snaps at DE wasn’t wholly without merit. After the acquisition of Jarran Reed in the off-season, lining up with your four best players playing at the same time on the defensive line makes sense.
However when you move one of the games premier defensive players to a position that exposes more of his weaknesses and hides most of his strengths, the net positive gain becomes more dependent on the players around him. That’s asking a lot of any player, especially given the ceiling and potential of Jones as the second-best interior pass rusher in the NFL.
Moving Jones back to the interior allows Jones to be Jones. Couple that with a secondary now deploying Juan Thornhill (16th rated safety in the NFL according to PFF) and Rashad Fenton (2nd rated cornerback) more now than the first five weeks of the season, and the Chiefs defense is what’s carrying them to “winning ugly” as some have put it.
But I’m not sure yesterday’s game should be considered an ugly win. Winning is hard in the NFL and the Chiefs just won their fourth game of the season by double-digits. As long as your opponent’s quarterback is healthy, and 10-point victory is a good win.
There’s going to be a contingent that will jump to characterize the Chiefs 19-point effort as yet another example of the team’s inconsistencies and inabilities on offense. The turnovers continue to be an issue, but the second half appeared more as a strategic plan to gear back the aggressiveness of the offense because the defense clearly had things in control. (and Micah Parsons is really good)
The Chiefs now sit as the 4th seed in the conference headed into the bye week trailing the Titans who are lost without Derrick Henry, the Patriots with a rookie quarterback, and the Ravens. Only the Ravens worry me.
No matter the points output of the Chiefs on a weekly basis, with the way the defense is playing, the No.1 seed in the AFC is very much in play.
Can we also take a minute to talk about officiating in the NFL?
I don’t have any real issue with the new taunting rules. I think there’s a reasonable position to take that taunting in the NFL has gotten out of hand, and the lines between competitive celebration and targeted personal show-boating are blurred so much, it’s just easier to say none of it is allowed. Either way, this isn’t a hill I have any real interest in climbing, let alone dying on.
To me the most egregious, unsportsmanlike, obvious personal foul penalties that aren’t called are the ones when the ball carrier is clearly down, or clearly going down, and a defender torpedoes head-first with no other intention than to cause harm. I don’t buy the “finish the play” mantra, these guys know what they’re doing.
Two obvious examples occurred on Sunday, one just so happened to be committed against Patrick Mahomes and his golden arm.
Mahomes had scrambled to gain a first down, and after reaching the ball out to the marker, left his arm exposed. Well after the play, a Cowboys defender dove at Mahomes arm exposed on the field. He knows what he did. This wasn’t the case of a player playing to the whistle for the off-chance the play would be ruled a fumble. This was intentional.
The other occurred in the Steelers versus Chargers game on Sunday Night Football.
After a Justin Herbert pass deflected off a defensive lineman’s helmet resulting in an interception, a Chargers offensive linemen dove crown first at the defender while he was rolling on the ground.
If the NFL truly cared about sportsmanship and player safety, these two plays would be given the harshest punishments possible. These are unacceptable and do more to damage the professionalism and integrity of the game than a running back pointing at a defender on a touchdown.
And if it’s the “culture” you’re trying to penalize, then start with the culture that purposely intends to harm an obviously defenseless player.