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2018 Season in Review – Cornerbacks

It’s time to take a deep breath and prepare yourself for this one. I know it’s not going to be the most uplifting article, however I’m going to try to shed some light on what appears to be quite a bleak situation. At the end of the day, as a wise man once said: “In order to appreciate the good you have to experience the bad.” So on that note, let’s get started.

The cornerbacks had a tough year this season and seemed to struggle week in week out. The team finished 31st in passing yards allowed per game with 272.3 yards, and were also in the bottom 3rd of teams in passing touchdowns allowed per game with 1.8. We seemed to be giving up big plays through the air on a regular basis and teams knew this as our opponents had 39.7 passing attempts per game against us which was the most in the league (the NFL average is around 33). The rest of the league clearly saw our secondary as extremely vulnerable and took advantage of it all season long.

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But why was it so weak? Well the obvious factor that played a role in the decline of production was the Marcus Peters trade. The 4 year veteran was sent to the Rams in return for a 4th round 2018 pick and a 2nd round 2019 pick which, at the time, seemed like a unfair trade. However the front office felt like Peters had to go, for whatever reason, so let’s just hope they put the picks to good use and turn a negative into a positive.

Peters was exceptional during his 3 year stint in KC. He racked up 19 interceptions, 5 forced fumbles, 5 fumble recoveries and 151 total tackles as well as a rookie of the year award, 2 pro bowl appearances and an all-pro selection. So it’s no surprise that losing him would be a difficult hole to fill. Having said that, bringing in Kendall Fuller, through the Alex Smith trade with Washington, did at least show an attempt to make amends.

Fuller came into a far from perfect situation and, although the entire position didn’t perform well, he proved himself to be a good player and a valuable asset to the team . He had the 2nd most interceptions on the team with 2. He also defended 12 passes, which is a career high for him, and made 82 tackles, another career high.

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His interceptions were highlight reel worthy and, if that’s not sweet enough, both were against divisional rivals as well. The 1st came in the week 8 matchup against Denver when a pass to Demaryius Thomas was undercut by Fuller who pulled off a miraculous dive across the receiver to make the play. The 2nd was in the week 15 game at home against the Chargers. Time was running out in the 2nd quarter and Los Angeles were putting together a scary looking drive down the field. However, it was cut short with an incredible end zone pick by number 23; which needed a little bit of a toe drag to make sure the play was kept in bounds.

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Although he didn’t have a season like Peters’ time in KC, it was still good to see him out on the field week in week out performing well. He was also relied upon a lot amongst the cornerbacks, simply due to his versatility as a player. He regularly switched between both the right and left side of the field as well as at the nickelback position (who’s tasked with defending the slot). A part of his game, that was on the weaker side was his tackling as Fuller occasionally struggled to bring down receivers and down them before the first down marker. However, overall, I feel like the secondary would have been a lot worse off without him. Let’s hope he can still be as impactful next season.

Another guy in the secondary who had a good year was 4 year veteran Steven Nelson. Number 20 set a career high in tackles with 68 and in interceptions with 4 (which led the team). This is especially impressive considering that Nelson hadn’t made an interception in his first 3 years in the league, so it was really nice to see him improve on his game at such a drastic rate. Just as he had a similar season to Fuller in terms of stats, he also struggled with the consistency of his tackling. Although he set a career high, Nelson still had problems with being able to secure every tackle and did occasionally allow receivers to slip by him. Now I’m not saying that cornerbacks have to be the best tacklers on the field, however with the amount of inconsistency we had in this area, it was easy to see that teams started to game plan to expose this weakness even more and the big plays became more of a regular occurance.

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Despite this, Nelson still proved to be 1 of the better cornerbacks on the roster this year and it’s a shame that we lost him to the Steelers in free agency. Like I said earlier, it was great to see him develop as a player over the past season and his departure has me even more worried about depth.

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Orlando Scandrick was brought in during free agency after the 2017 season and has now played his first season in red and yellow after 9 seasons with the Cowboys. His lengthy career makes him the oldest cornerback on the team, however it doesn’t seem like his age has changed his performance. His average tackles per year was 44 and he managed to get exactly that this season and, although it’s not as high as his fellow teammates, at least he hasn’t regressed. Scandrick also picked up 1 forced fumble and 1 pick this season.

I believe that he was simply brought in to help solve the depth issue at the position and therefore no one was expecting him to blow people away with his performance. Therefore, with that said, I think that he’s had a decent season stat wise. I don’t think he performed as well as Nelson or Fuller, but that’s no surprise to me, and he only signed a 1 year deal with the Chiefs so it’s anyone’s guess whether he’ll still be rocking the Chiefs uniform in 2019.

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From eldest to youngest, Charvarius Ward and Tremon Smith were both rookies for the Chiefs last season. The latter was drafted by Kansas City in the 6th round and played more of a role on special teams than he did on the defence. Smith had a total of 6 kick returns amounting 138 yards from them however he did also fumble the ball twice across the year. When he actually played corner he only totalled 5 tackles, 1 defended pass and 1 fumble recovery. From looking at his playing time and stat line, it’s clear that the Chiefs brought him in mostly for special teams and he won’t be used very often on the actual defence.

Chavarius Ward was drafted by the Cowboys and was then traded to the Chiefs in return for offensive lineman Parker Ehinger late in August. Ward didn’t have the strongest start to the year as he was often burnt and gave up big plays down the stretch of the field. However as the season progressed, he showed flashes of being a reliable corner. It seemed like he improved towards the end of the year so hopefully he continues to develop going into 2019. After playing in 13 of the regular season games and starting in 2 of them, Ward racked up 30 tackles and defended 3 passes. In the playoffs he had his strongest performances with 4 defended passes across the 2 games he played in.

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Performance of the Season:

This was a tough choice as, despite the poor season defensively, there were a few games where the Chiefs secondary played well. I tried to look at a range of stats (such as opponents completion percentage, interceptions, passing yards allowed etc) as well as how much that game meant in the long run of the season.

The options I narrowed it down to were the week 5 game against the Jaguars, the week 14 game against the Ravens or the week 17 game against the Raiders. All 3 were at Arrowhead Stadium so its clear from the get go that the secondary tended to play better when at home.

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The game against Jacksonville was an absolute pick frenzy with 4 interceptions across the 4 quarters. As well as this, it was also the game with the second lowest opponent completion percentage with just 54.1% and lowest opponent quarterback rating with 52.7. As impressive as this was, we still gave up the 3rd most amount of yards of the season (with 401) and a passing touchdown which put a bit of a downer on the performance.

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Week 14 saw the secondary allow the least amount of yards with just 127 as well as the lowest completion percentage of the year with bang on 50%. However we didn’t manage to have any interceptions on the day and Baltimore still threw for 2 touchdowns. Finally, week 17 showed a nice performance across the board. Derek Carr didn’t throw any passing touchdowns and was picked off twice (although one of these interceptions was made by a linebacker and the other was by safety Daniel Sorensen). The secondary also only allowed 165 passing yards which was the second lowest amount of the season. However, we did allow Carr to put up the second highest completion percentage against the Chiefs of the season with 72.7%. Aside from stats, I feel like this game meant the most for the Kingdom as it gave the Chiefs the number 1 seed in the AFC which secured us home field advantage throughout the playoffs.

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In terms of cornerback performance alone I feel like the Baltimore game was the best. This is mainly because, although there weren’t any interceptions in the game, I feel like this the secondary were able to shut down the opposing quarterback the most in this match up. We limited the Ravens offence to just 127 yards and a 50% completion percentage (the least passing yards allowed and the lowest completion percentage by the Chiefs’ defence that season). This equated to only 4.9 yards per attempt which was the second lowest of the year for the team.

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On the other hand, as impressive as the 4 interception game was against the Jaguars, they still managed to put up over 400 passing yards on us and only 2 of the picks came from cornerbacks (Steven Nelson and Orlando Scandrick). On top of this, in the game against Oakland, 1 of the 2 interceptions was by defensive lineman Chris Jones and we still allowed Carr to throw for a huge 72.7% completion percentage which was the second highest of the season. Therefore, the game against the Ravens showcased the most impressive overall performance by the cornerbacks alone as they were able to slow down the Ravens offence enough through the air to pull a win out of the bag.

The Future:

With Steven Nelson gone and the team coming off of 1 of the most worrying defensive performances in recent history the future, at first glance, looks very bleak. However at closer inspection there is a silver lining to this dark cloud. The Chiefs recently signed Bashaud Breeland from the Packers who had a great season. He totalled 2 interceptions (1 of which was a pick six), 4 defended passes, 1 fumble recovery but only 20 tackles. However, this was only from playing in 7 out of a total 16 games. The 5 year veteran played in Washington for 4 seasons before going to Green Bay last year so he should be fairly familiar with ex-teammate Kendall Fuller who he’ll be reuniting with in KC.

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This should help with the depth at the cornerback position, and I can see him starting ahead of Scandrick, Ward and Smith. However I don’t think he alone can completely turn the secondary situation around. Of course safeties will help, and we’ll get into that next week, but I feel like the Chiefs’ aren’t done at cornerback yet. Picking up someone in the later rounds of the draft I think will be a necessary move to make simply to add a bit more depth to a very thin position.

So it’ll be tough to predict at the moment what the future has instore for the Chiefs’ cornerback position. They don’t need to play out of their socks, as long as they have an average performance I feel like we’ll be alright. Remember we took this year’s defence to the AFC Championship game so even a slight improvement could be just what we need to go all the way next time round.

That’s it for the penultimate installment of my season in review series. Next week we’ll be moving onto the safety position which is guaranteed to be jam packed so look out for that. As always… Go Chiefs!

 

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