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2018 season in review – Safeties

After 8 weeks of reviewing the Chiefs’ 2018 season position by position it’s time for the final piece of the puzzle. Last week, one half of the secondary was put under the spotlight so it’s only right that we take a look at the other half to close off this series (and if you haven’t read the cornerback piece from last week… what are you waiting for?)
Kansas City’s safety position, like a lot of the Chiefs’ defence, was a bit of a rollercoaster this year. With injuries left right and centre it was hard to see a consistent performance at the position. However it seemed like we had enough depth to ensure things didn’t get too desperate.

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The biggest of these losses was obviously Eric Berry. His ankle injury kept him out of the majority of the 2017 campaign and he continued to sit for most of 2018. It seemed less and less likely that the Kingdom would even get to see him step on the field this year but, after 14 long weeks of waiting (not including last season) we finally saw Berry throw on his number 29 jersey and rejoin the lineup.
When that announcement came out that his first game back would be against the Chargers at home the whole fan base went into overdrive. Euphoria flooded my timeline as people couldn’t believe that their beloved Berry would finally be playing a game; and with the top spot in the division on the line it seemed liked something out of a fairytale.

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He was a great morale booster for the rest of the defence, mainly because he is a naturally strong leader and also has a great football IQ. It seemed like the defence as a whole was a lot more put together when he was on the field. Steven Nelson caught a great interception, thanks to QB pressure by Berry in the first quarter, and the younger players in general looked a lot more confident when he was around.
However, he only played in 30 of the 71 defensive snaps that game (41%) and his individual impact wasn’t really felt; he only totalled 6 tackles the whole game. Now I’m not saying that I was expecting him to come back and completely return to his pre-injury self, but it was still a bit disheartening realising that having him back wouldn’t solve all of our secondary worries like we had all hoped.

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Aside from week 15 Berry also played the following week against Seattle (where he totalled only 5 tackles) before sitting in week 17 and the divisional round game against the Colts. In the huge Championship game against New England Berry was back on the field and, again, only picked up 6 tackles.
It was a shame to see Berry cut after the season ended. However it was an even bigger shame to see him go out like he did. He was an absolute staple in Kansas City for so long and went through so much adversity that you can’t help but respect him as a player. However, his time was up on the team as he just couldn’t perform at the standard we fell in love with.
He’s not the only 2017 starter that missed a big portion of the 2018 season. Daniel Sorensen also sat throughout weeks 1-9 before returning to play against the Cardinals in week 10. In his return game Dirty Dan finished with the same number of tackles as Berry in his first game back (6). However, unliked number 29, he did seem to improve as the season progressed. He finished the year with a total of 26 tackles, 1 interception (which he returned 54 yards for a touchdown), and also defended 2 more passes. Sorensen nearly had a 2nd interception in week 15 but the opportunity, and the ball, slipped through his hands; sorry for the AWFUL pun.

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There was one more safety that missed a huge chunk of time due to injury and that was rookie Armani Watts. After being drafted in the 4th round Watts was an exciting prospect. He played well despite the limited snap count in the first 5 games before he suffered a core muscle injury which placed him on the injury reserve list and ended his season early. It was on an incredibly athletic play as well as he dived across the Jaguars’ tight end to break up a crucial red zone catch on 4th down.
Injury aside, Watts totalled 5 tackles, 2 QB hits, a sack and a defended pass. I’m excited to see what he has in store in his sophomore season. He’s shown flashes of being a great player and I hope he bounces back from his injury well enough to show off his talents.

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But what about the guys that actually played for the majority of the season? Well the safety who saw the most amount of snaps this season was 8 year veteran Ron Parker. Parker found his home in KC in 2013 and has been a consist player throughout (playing in every single regular season game aside from one). In 2018 in particular number 38 played in 15 games and started 14 of them and had confident stats throughout (despite his age). He racked up 77 tackles, one of which was for a loss, alongside a sack and a QB hit. This was his 3rd highest number of tackle in a season. He also had 2 interceptions (one of which was returned for a touchdown) and 5 defended passes on the year. He was a stable starter for us and was much needed simply due to how plagued the position was this year with injuries.

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Alongside him for most of the season was Eric Murray who has been in KC for his entire 3 year career. Of the 3 years, 2018 has certainly been his best. As well as picking up his first NFL interception, Murray also set a career high for tackles with 55 (beating his previous record by 25). Although they’re not the greatest of stats his presence was definitely felt in all the games he played in. He was a great role player on the team and stepped up to the plate when the team needed him the most. His performance this season was clearly good enough to land him a spot in Cleveland; where he was recently traded to in return for defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah.

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Last but not least on the depth chart this year was 3rd year player Jordan Lucas. Lucas was brought in from Miami after the 2017 season, mainly due to the prolonged injury of Berry leaving the safety position fairly thin. However, although he wasn’t KC’s first option going into the season, he did prove to be a valuable asset. Much like Murray, Lucas had the best season of his 3 year career in 2018. He played in all 16 games; his previous highest was 11. Across these 16 regular season games Lucas had 32 tackles (30 more than his previous career high) as well as his first NFL sack and interception.

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Although it was tough watching players like Berry and Sorensen sit for long periods of time, it has made it a little sweeter to see the younger guys step into the spotlight and prove themselves. Both Murray and Lucas did extremely well to face the challenge head on and came out the other side better off and it’s definitely been a silver lining in what has been quite a challenging year for the Chiefs’ secondary.

Performance of the Season
After looking at the nominees for last week’s cornerback performance of the season (again, if you haven’t read it already… what are you waiting for?) I decided to go for the week 5 game against Jacksonville as my safety performance of the season. As well as Jordan Lucas picking up an interception, it was also a very dominant game for the other safeties on the team.

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Jacksonville went scoreless in the first half and it was largely thanks to the secondary making crucial stops. Watts had that great pass breakup in the first half which stopped the Jaguar’s offence in the red zone and Parker broke up a pass on 3rd and 8 by absolutely obliterating the receiver who was crossing the middle of the field.
Now I know that Bortles still threw for over 400 yards. However, from watching the game back, a lot of the big plays were given up because of sloppy cornerback plays and were not the safeties. Steven Nelson slipped on a play which led to a huge gain and Kendall Fuller let a receiver get a huge RAC on him as well. I’m not trying to pass the blame, I just think that, from looking at the safeties alone, this was definitely they’re best performance.

The Future:
This may come to a surprise to some of you but I’m actually really confident in the future of the Chiefs’ safety position; despite losing a few players along the way. As you already know Eric Berry was cut earlier in the year which, as disappointing as it is, was very necessary to help usher in a new era for the team. Berry’s departure saved the team $9.5 million in cap space for 2019 which can now be put to better use by bringing in some fresh talent. As harsh as it sounds, the Chiefs simply couldn’t afford to take that much of a cap hit to keep a player who was a shadow of his former self (Berry only played in 4 of the team’s last 34 games).

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There’s a popular saying which goes: “as one door closes, another one opens”, and it seems like the team took this saying at face value. They went shopping for Berry’s replacement straight away and signed signed free agent Tyrann Mathieu on a 3 year deal only a day after cutting number 29. I’ve always been a fan of Mathieu style of play when he was in Arizona. He seems full of passion and energy and I feel like this is something that the secondary lacked heavily last season. They didn’t seem aggressive enough to attack the ball and secure tackles and Tyrann didn’t get the nickname ‘The Honey Badger’ for nothing. Despite being 5’9” (which is short for a defensive back) he can be a very dangerous player for opposing offences and certainly knows how to make a tackle.
Over his 6 year career Mathieu has racked up 13 total interceptions, 394 tackles (65.5 per season) and 4 forced fumbles. Last season he tied his career high for number of tackles and also set a new career high in sacks with 3 (his previous best was 1). I’m pretty confident he’ll be able to bring this energy to Kansas City with him as he’s seemed to already be heavily involved with the team and city itself.

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Now, I’m sure you’ve all heard the recent news about Earl Thomas. But, just in case you haven’t, I’ll break it down. After the former Seahawks safety hit the free agency market Thomas was rumoured to be linked quite strongly with Kansas City. However, he ended landing a huge 4 year deal in Baltimore instead. Before this though, Thomas recently stated in an interview over the phone, that he did actually intend on signing with the Chiefs but the Ravens called him that morning with a larger offer that he just couldn’t turn down.
This was also after the Mathieu signing. So that means that, if things ended differently, we could’ve had both him AND the Honey Badger lining up in the secondary in 2019.

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Another popular saying for you: “If ifs and buts were candy and nuts, we’d all have a Merry Christmas.” The reality is he’s decided to head to Baltimore and, as disgustingly good it would’ve been to have them both in KC, I’m perfectly fine with the Honey Badger alongside some of this young talent we already have on the team.
1 young player who we won’t be seeing on the team in 2019 is Eric Murray. Like I mentioned earlier, unfortunately we lost Murray to the Browns earlier in the offseason in a trade. He improved his game tenfold in 2018 and it’s a shame to see him go (however I do wish him all the best in Cleveland). I feel like it was a good move to shop one of our safeties considering our depth isn’t too bad and we have plenty of young upcoming talent.

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Veteran Ron Parker was waived in the middle of January which, again, I think was a good call. Despite how well he played this season, his presence on the team was never going to be particularly long simply due to his age (there’s not enough cap space to pay everyone).
It seems likely that Jordan Lucas will be the starting safety alongside Mathieu next season, simply due to his improvement this season. He’ll have to beat out Dirty Dan for the starting role, but I feel like he’s more than capable of doing just that.
As well as them, Watts seems to be recovering well from his injury and, like I said earlier, it’ll be exciting to see him develop as a player over the next couple of seasons.
There are loads of reasons as to why I’ve got a confidence in the safety position next season. Firstly, we were aggressive in free agencies and instantly filled a large hole on the roster. We also removed a couple of players who weren’t right for the team anymore (Berry and Parker) and kept some players who are young and have a lot of potential (Lucas and Watts). Hopefully these guys will flourish on the team next year and prove me right.

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So there we have it, after 9 weeks the series is finally over. It’s always nice to end things on a positive note so I’m going to do just that. This past season has been 1 of the most exciting and promising Chiefs’ seasons in a LONG time. The offence sent a shiver down all of our opponent’s spines and was deemed the best in the league by multiple analysts. Although our defence didn’t perform particularly well its even more promising for next season considering how far we reached in 2018.
Going into 2019 the team has a lot to live up to. The reigning MVP will be expected to perform to the same amazing standard he boasted last year and the defence has to prove that they can be half decent to really push this team to the next level. Hopefully we’ll be seeing this team in Miami in 2020. Did somebody say Super Bowl 54?

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