Chiefs battle against backs continue this week
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) This should be the week the Chiefs get right on defense. Arizona running back Andre Ellington is banged up and may not play and the Cardinals have quite a cast of unknowns backing him up.
Of course, even the unknowns have been gouging Kansas City the past few weeks.
It all started with Marshawn Lynch and the Seattle Seahawks, and perhaps the Chiefs defense could be forgiven for allowing them to run wild. But it was Latavius Murray who ransacked them for Oakland the following week and C.J. Anderson who turned the trick for Denver last Sunday.
Not exactly a pair of household names.
So even though Ellington could miss Sunday's game with what coach Bruce Arians called a ''severe'' hip pointer, all that really means is that Marion Grice, Stepfan Taylor and Robert Hughes will be spending this week licking their chops at the prospect of facing Kansas City.
''It's really a mindset,'' Chiefs defensive tackle Dontari Poe said, when asked about stuffing the run. ''We have to wrap up. That's something we have to practice on and do it in the game.''
That's not such an easy thing to do these days.
Even though tackling is the one of the most basic fundamentals of football - and perhaps the biggest reason why Kansas City hasn't been able to slow the run - it is virtually impossible to address this time of year. Teams are limited in the amount of time they can spend in pads, and few coaches are willing to risk an injury to key players by tackling this late in the season.
Besides, tackling should be second-nature by the time players reach the NFL, much less reach Week 14 of the season. It's hard to spend more time on it in the midst of a playoff push.
''We haven't done too well on it,'' Chiefs coach Andy Reid acknowledged. ''That's something we're going to put an emphasis on the best you can right now. There are a lot of things we need to be better at. I've said that even when we were winning games. You have to keep improving and then you're going to go through ups and downs and you work through those.
''One of those things is tackling,'' Reid added. ''We'll do everything we can (in practice) without going live to take care of it.''
The Chiefs have given up 597 yards rushing the last three weeks, the third-most over a span that long this season, according to STATS. The only two stretches worse belong to the Giants, whose two streaks are skewed by 350 yards rushing that Seattle posted on them last month.
It's also the most yards the Chiefs have allowed on the ground over a three-week span since the end of the 2009 season, when they allowed 695 yards in Weeks 14-16.
''So much of it is gap control and how you handle that, and staying disciplined in your gaps,'' Reid said. ''Teams are going to try to distort that linebacker level ... to create seams, and it's our responsibility to stay as square as we can and take away those lanes for runners.
''Runners in this league don't need a lot of room,'' Reid explained, ''so you try to constrict that. And then tackling becomes another part of that. If teams do get to the perimeter, or do get to the secondary level or linebacker level, you have to be sure you negate the longer run. That also comes into the picture.''
Injuries also have played a part of the ineffectiveness of the Chiefs' rush defense.
Leading tackler Derrick Johnson and defensive tackle Mike DeVito were lost for the season when they tore their respective Achilles tendons in their opener against Tennessee. Another inside linebacker, Joe Mays, broke a bone in his hand and has missed much of the season.''
''We do miss those players. People don't realize how good of a player Derrick Johnson is until he's not in the lineup,'' fellow linebacker Tamba Hali said. ''He made a lot of plays. But we have to rally around the guys we have right now.''
In a hurry, too. The Chiefs have lost two straight and are slipping out of playoff contention with just four games left in the regular season.
''It's all a mindset,'' Hali said. ''We have to harp on it a little bit and just execute. It's fundamental. And these last couple of weeks that have gone by, we haven't been technically right in our gaps. And we're going to straighten it out.''