The Kansas City Chiefs were without starting S Tyrann Mathieu for all but seven snaps of their thrilling divisional-round win over the Buffalo Bills.
Mathieu has long been heralded as the defensive leader in Kansas City. Since joining the Chiefs in 2019, Mathieu has started in 55-of-56 possible games including the playoffs. Without him on the field for the divisional round, Josh Allen and the Bills feasted on the Kansas City secondary to the tune of 329 yards and four touchdowns.
Just how impactful would Mathieu’s presence have been in preventing such a performance? The defense allows nearly a full yard more per passing attempt when he’s not on the field. Additionally, Chiefs DC Steve Spagnuolo explained that they’d put together an entire package centered around Mathieu that was to be a huge part of their gameplan against Buffalo.
“It took us a little by surprise, obviously, when Tyrann (Mathieu) got hurt early,” Spagnuolo said. “We did have a package we were going to do something a little different. (We) had to throw the thing completely out that we had especially for Buffalo. So, that set us back a little bit, but then it’s like we’ve always said, somebody’s got to step up and the guys did that.”
Spagnuolo added that the team didn’t play nearly up to their potential on the defensive side of the ball, but that they managed to get by without Mathieu on the field.
After the win over the Bills, Chiefs DE Frank Clark spoke about Mathieu’s absence. He explained that through his sheer presence alone, Mathieu makes the defense better. Sometimes it’s not even through the spoken word. For nickel cornerback L’Jarius Sneed, that’s not the case.
Sneed explained that Mathieu sounds the alarm and lets him know exactly what’s coming ahead of every defensive snap. He suggested that he’s right every time too.
“Every snap, every snap,” Sneed said on Thursday. “Every snap he warns me of what’s coming and what to expect and all of that. Every snap he does it.”
Without their defensive leader against Buffalo, there certainly wasn’t any defensive clairvoyance. In fact, it even felt there were miscommunications at times, ones that wouldn’t have happened if Mathieu were on the field.
Sneed wouldn’t go so far as to say there was confusion in the secondary without Mathieu. He expressed confidence in the next-man-up mentality that the team has come to preach.
“There wasn’t no confusion going on,” Sneed said. “We just have to get lined up, that’s about it.”
That said, Sneed and everyone in that locker room know that the defense is at its best when Mathieu is on the field. Whether he’s the one making plays or enabling his teammates to be best prepared for what’s to come.
After returning to practice as a full participant on Thursday, signs point toward Mathieu clearing the NFL’s concussion protocol and playing on Sunday. Perhaps his presence will be the difference for the Chiefs’ defense against a Cincinnati Bengals squad that has no shortage of offensive playmakers.
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