KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The bend-but-don’t-break defense of the Kansas City Chiefs has so far done an exceptional job of making coach Andy Reid rip out whatever red-tinted fuzz is left of his hair.
You see, the Chiefs are masters of giving up yards when it doesn’t matter.
They’ll give up passes under their coverage, long runs between the tackles, quick crossing routes as opponents drive downfield.
When they get close to the end zone? It’s a whole different story.
The Chiefs have become one of the best teams in the NFL when it comes to red zone defense, a big reason why they’re off to a 2-1 start .
Not only do they usually hold opponents to field goals rather than touchdowns, they also have forced a slew of turnovers.
“We do a good job with that. I don’t know why,” Reid said. “You always talk about the 12th man there, the end zone. Our guys know how to space it out. We worked hard on it at training camp.”
There was reason for the emphasis. The Chiefs gave up a touchdown on three of every five trips opponents made inside their 20-yard line last season, putting them in the bottom third of the league.
Through three games this season? Just three touchdowns on 13 trips.
The Chiefs’ red-zone touchdown rate of 23.1 percent is best in the NFL, just ahead of the New York Giants — a crucial mark considering only New Orleans and Oakland have allowed more red-zone scoring opportunities.
That’s not just bend-but-don’t-break. That’s Gumby doing yoga.
Reid may not know exactly why Kansas City has become so adept at defending the end zone, but he is willing to hazard a guess. And for a guy who made his bones in the NFL on inventive schemes, studying trends and dissecting film, it only makes sense that he offered an X’s and O’s solution.
“So much of that is just eliminating the seams in there,” he said, “because they’ll just try to pull you apart. You only need a small area to deliver on. Teams will try to pull you apart and test your discipline. Everything is going a little faster down there. Your weaknesses are going to be exploited; your strengths are going to show up.”
So far, the Chiefs’ biggest weakness is getting pressure on the quarterback, a problem that could be alleviated later this season if star pass rusher Justin Houston returns from knee surgery.
Otherwise, there are a whole bunch of strengths.
The defensive front of Dontari Poe, Jaye Howard, Allen Bailey and Chris Jones has been able to plug up the run near the goal line, forcing teams to the air.
And when they put it up, one of the most opportunistic secondary groups in the NFL has had a penchant for picking off passes.
Three of the six interceptions thrown by the Jets’ Ryan Fitzpatrick last week were in the end zone.
“It was all about executing the game plan to a ‘T,'” said cornerback Marcus Peters, who had two picks and one of those in the end zone . “We dotted our I’s and crossed our T’s. We let our pass rush get there, we played underneath, we let our safeties play over the top and we made plays.”
As a result, the Chiefs have not allowed a touchdown in more than seven quarters.
Building on that impressive streak should be a challenge Sunday night, when the Chiefs visit Pittsburgh and a prolific offense led by Ben Roethlisberger, Antonio Brown and recently returned Le’Veon Bell.
The Steelers are fifth in the NFL in percentage of touchdowns scored in the red zone.
“Our guys, I’ll tell you right now, are staying disciplined,” Reid said. “This will be a good challenge for them because they are good in the red zone. You have to know how to space the field, particularly in the pass game, and then you have to trust it.”
Notes: CB Marcus Peters, the AFC defensive player of the week, missed practice for the second straight day. He has the flu. … CB Phillip Gaines was held out of practice because of a knee injury. He was limited in Wednesday’s workout. … OL Jah Reid (knee) and RB Charcandrick West (ankle) also did not practice.