Instead, they have thrived. The Chiefs are 4-0 and they’re second in points allowed and third in passing yards allowed. They are tied for third in interceptions after getting three in last week’s win over the New England Patriots.
For this, the Chiefs can credit many things, including a resourceful coaching staff and a productive pass rush. Most of all, it’s due to a group of defensive backs who other than Tyrann Mathieu are young and unheralded.
“I’ve got the best secondary in football behind me,” defensive end Frank Clark. “I’ve got Tyrann back there making those guys great.”
While other teams might argue with Clark’s assessment, there’s no doubting how well the Chiefs’ secondary has played. It was an unexpected development given the suspension of Breeland and injuries that cost cornerbacks Charvarius Ward and L’Jarius Sneed one full game apiece.
The absence of Breeland left Ward, who became a starter last season, as the Chiefs’ most experienced full-time corner. But Sneed, a rookie and fourth-round draft pick, had an interception in each of the Chiefs’ first two games before breaking his collarbone. Second-year corner Rashad Fenton had a big game last week with an interception and four passes broken up.
Mathieu has been heavily involved as well. He has 140 snaps as a nickelback this year, compared to 61 at safety. He returned an interception for a touchdown against the Patriots.
“It’s always cool when you can get your hands on the ball and obviously create some sacks [with coverage],” Mathieu said. “I still feel like we can play so much better, and I think that’s the goal, for us to kind of forget about this game. Obviously, our younger guys stepped up, played well. But we’re getting into the thick of it. We’ve got two real tough opponents coming up and we’ve got to find a way to get better.
“Competing against our offense all training camp, a lot of these guys have been getting work against some of the best offensive players in the league. I’m obviously happy for them, for them to have an opportunity to play obviously for a great team but to go out on the big stage and play well against a big-time opponent, some good football teams. I’m just hoping those guys can continue to get better and continue to stay motivated and hungry.”
Breeland is eligible to play for the Chiefs for the first time this season on Sunday against the Las Vegas Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium (1 p.m. ET, CBS). His best game last season came in Super Bowl LIV, in which he had an interception.
Sneed is on the injured reserve list, so he won’t play against the Raiders. But Ward and Fenton will be available.
“You can’t have enough of those guys,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “You need corners and Bashaud comes back this week, so it’ll be good to get him back in the mix, too.”
Another point of pride for the Chiefs, particularly with the injuries and suspension, is that the longest pass play allowed is 35 yards, which is second best in the league. Limiting big plays has been an emphasis.
“Explosive plays are the one thing that really, really hurt you in this league,” defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. “It’s hard enough to defend somebody when you make them drive and make them earn it, but you give up the big plays — our guys have done a nice job.
“You put the secondary in as a whole when you start talking about denying explosive plays. And to take it one step further, our up-front guys have done a really great job even on some play-actions, first or second down when teams wanted to take a shot, have made the quarterback either tuck it or make him throw it really quick and check it down. So, it’s kind of all packaged together. We’re fortunate we’re in a couple of games here and we haven’t given them up, but that’s going to be a focus every week.”