The Kansas City Chiefs are making their fourth Super Bowl appearance in the last five years, but unlike their offense-driven playoff runs of the past, their defense has been their elite unit leading the way this season. Let’s do an in-depth analysis of the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense in advance of their Super Bowl LVIII matchup with the San Francisco 49ers.
Kansas City Chiefs Defense Overview
Under defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, the Chiefs have had one of the truly elite defenses in the league this season. In the regular season, they ranked 2nd in both points and yards allowed and they were 7th in DVOA, 6th in EPA, and 4th in success rate. In the 2023 postseason, they have the best EPA per play allowed by a considerable margin. They have been remarkably consistent, allowing no more than 27 points in a game all season and allowing more than 21 points only three times in 20 games (including playoffs).
Let’s take a deeper look at what makes the Kansas City Chiefs’ defense so excellent, and how they’ll matchup with the 49ers in the Super Bowl.
Kansas City Chiefs Pass Defense
The strength of the defense is the combination of an aggressive pass rush and an elite secondary that combines to form one of the best pass defenses in the league. The Chiefs’ pass defense was 5th in DVOA, 3rd in EPA and 2nd in success rate during the regular season, and it has been 1st in both EPA and SR in the postseason.
The Chiefs are an aggressive, blitz-heavy team that had the 7th-highest blitz rate this season. They led the league in pressure rate and were second in sacks with 57, led by First-Team All-Pro DT Chris Jones and 2022 first-round EDGE George Karlaftis III, who had 10.5 apiece. Unfortunately, they just lost another key pass rusher in former 49ers EDGE Charles Omenihu (7 sacks in 11 games), who tore his ACL in the AFC Championship Game.
Kansas City gets plenty of sacks by blitzing and getting home quickly, but they also get plenty of coverage sacks thanks to an elite secondary. Trent McDuffie was a First-Team All-Pro in his second season as a slot CB, while CB L’Jarius Sneed was also excellent out wide. Safeties Justin Reid, Mike Edwards and Chamarri Conner and CBs Jaylen Watson and Joshua Williams round out a talented and deep defensive backfield.
Kansas City Chiefs Run Defense
The Achilles heel of the Chiefs’ defense is their run defense, which was bottom seven in DVOA, EPA and success rate in the regular season. After the Bills gashed them for 182 rushing yards in the Divisional Round, the Ravens inexplicably abandoned the run after falling behind early in the AFC Championship. That game might have gone much differently if the Ravens had stayed committed to the ground game.
That is not likely to be the case against San Francisco, whose elite rushing attack led by Christian McCaffrey will certainly test that Chiefs defensive front. The 49ers’ offense was 2nd in rushing DVOA and 1st in both EPA and success rate. They were also top five in both rushing yards and yards per carry. The combination of Kyle Shanahan’s creative run schemes and the pure brilliance of McCaffrey makes them an extremely tough matchup on the ground.
The Chiefs’ ability – or lack thereof – to contain the 49ers’ rushing attack will be one of the most important factors in this game.
Kansas City Chiefs Defense Key Injuries
The Chiefs’ defense suffered its most significant injury of the season when Charles Omenihu tore his ACL in the AFC Championship. That was a big loss for their defensive line and the defense overall. Prior to that injury, the only regular defensive starter who had suffered a significant injury was safety Bryan Cook, who is a good player but more easily replaceable than Omenihu.
Some good injury news for the Chiefs is that LB Willie Gay Jr. is trending towards being available for the Super Bowl after missing the AFC Championship with a neck injury. The same is true for Chris Jones (quad) and L’Jarius Sneed (calf), who have both been either out or limited in practice but are expected to be full-go by Super Sunday.
Kansas City Chiefs Defense Starting Lineup
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