The Kansas City Chiefs' defense allowed a whopping 27 points in the first half of Sunday's loss to the Tennessee Titans, and there weren't many bright spots on the entire team. With that said, a second-half shutout was one, and rookie linebacker Nick Bolton was another.
Bolton, who was the team's first draft pick earlier in the year, has had a mixed bag of a season thus far. The second-round pick came into the NFL with limited experience in coverage, as well as a limited athletic profile. In many moments thus far in the 2021 campaign, both of those red flags have been obvious. Against a potent Titans offense, though, Bolton was very good.
In total, the former Missouri Tigers standout had 15 tackles — including nine solo stops and four tackles for loss. This led the Chiefs by a sizable margin, as no other player ended the contest in double digits. Because regular starter Anthony Hitchens was out due to injury, Bolton stepped in as the Chiefs' Mike linebacker and thrived. In that role, he was partially responsible for setting the alignment for the defense and putting his quick processor to good use. After the game, Bolton said he was just doing his job as a positive contributor.
"I'm just trying to be the best person for our defense that I can be," Bolton said. "This week, I was playing Mike with Hitch (Hitchens) out, we're glad to get him back soon. So like I said, it was me doing my part on defense, the defensive line played a hell of a game and the linebackers beside me played great as well, too."
Bolton and company were faced with no small task: stopping Titans running back Derrick Henry. Henry, who is undoubtedly the most terrifying force at the position right now, had rattled off over 100 rushing yards in each of his last five games leading up to the Chiefs matchup. On a whopping 29 carries on Sunday, he totaled just 86 yards. Holding a world-class running back to a 3.0 yards per carry average is an extremely impressive feat and according to Bolton, the Chiefs were well-prepared to to do so.
"We emphasized stopping the run," Bolton said. "We know what type of running back they have over there. Our defensive line did great up front and our linebackers were downhill all day. We were able to minimize the run game and explosive runs, and kind of make them pass the ball more. We've just got to get off the field on third down."
Third down was a painfully obvious sore spot for the Chiefs' defense, as the unit allowed the Titans' offense to convert on eight of its 12 opportunities. A 67% conversion rate on third downs is downright ridiculous, and it's very difficult to win games when that's the case. As the Chiefs prepare for a Monday Night Football showdown against the New York Giants, Bolton is already looking ahead to the next task(s) at hand.
"I knew coming in that every game is different. You've got to earn wins in this league. So we've, as a team, got to do that, got to get better coming into next week focused and ready to play."