Amidst Change, Tyrann Mathieu Remains Consistent — and Consistently Great
There's a select group of NFL players who are so good, it almost seems boring when they do their jobs well without making a ton of highlight plays. Kansas City Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu is in that exclusive club.
Mathieu signed with the Chiefs in March of last year, a little more than a month before general manager Brett Veach traded for defensive end Frank Clark, the team's other prized acquisition from the 2019 offseason. Mathieu wasted no time making his presence felt, playing all over the secondary and picking off four passes on the season. He also recorded 75 tackles, three tackles for loss, and a pair of sacks. His passer rating when targeted, 57.8, was remarkable. "The Landlord" could not have performed much better in his first year with the Chiefs.
Over the course of the 2020 offseason, the Chiefs' defensive personnel didn't change a ton. Sure, some rookies like L'Jarius Sneed, Mike Danna and Tershawn Wharton were brought in, but most assumed they'd be merely depth pieces in year one. The main first-year contributor on defense was supposed to be linebacker Willie Gay Jr., whom the team spent a second-round pick on. Of course, the football gods threw the Chiefs a few curveballs along the way.
Starting cornerback Bashaud Breeland missed the Chiefs' season opener against the Houston Texans. He will miss the team's first four contests in total due to a suspension. Charvarius Ward, Breeland's normal running mate across the secondary, fractured his hand in the third quarter of last week's contest. Alex Okafor's in-game hamstring injury threw a wrench in Steve Spagnuolo's plans as far as his rotation of pass-rushers was concerned. Danna and Wharton received significant playing time as a result. What remained unchanged, though? Mathieu.
The two-time All-Pro was the only Chief to play 100 percent of the team's defensive snaps. He made the most of his time on the field, recording a team-high eight tackles and although he was targeted six times, he surrendered just three catches for 25 yards and a 61.1 passer rating. He attempted to blitz Texans quarterback Deshaun Watson four times, helping Sneed record his first career interception on one of those attempts:
Mathieu's leadership is second to none. All things considered, the Chiefs did a great job slowing down the Texans — until the fourth quarter, that is. Of Houston's 20 points, 13 of them were scored in the final 15 minutes of the game. Holding a team quarterbacked by one of the league's brightest young stars to just seven points would have been a huge statement made by the Chiefs on defense.
Mathieu knows it, too. He even said he was "pissed off" when addressing how he felt about Houston being able to close the gap a bit down the stretch. He always points out where the defense can improve and what they can do in order to get there. While results are important, he puts more stock in the process used in order to get there:
This blend of football IQ, athleticism, character, selflessness and leadership is rare in a player. Despite having several moving parts around him, Mathieu has remained exactly what he was when he entered the Chiefs organization over a year ago: great. I'm sure he'll have several more highlight-reel plays this season, but don't take his consistency for granted. It'll be tested time and time again. Thus far, he's been able to pass those tests with flying colors.