Chiefs defense seems poised for a shutout this season

Stephen A.: Chiefs only offense that can compete with the Dolphins (1:21)

Stephen A. Smith looks to the Chiefs as the offense that could compete with the Dolphins'. (1:21)

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s advice for the Kansas City Chiefs at halftime of last week’s game was in the words of linebacker Drue Tranquill to “be greedy.”

The Chiefs were in position to do that. The outcome of the game was no longer in doubt, with the Chiefs leading the Chicago Bears 34-0, so why not finish the game the way it started: The Bears without a point and less than 100 yards of offense?

The Chiefs didn’t get the shutout, giving up 10 points in the fourth quarter after two interceptions thrown by backup quarterback Blaine Gabbert. But given the way they’re playing, the Chiefs might again be in position to get a shutout, perhaps as soon as Sunday night’s game against another offensively challenged opponent, the New York Jets (8:20 p.m. ET, NBC).

“We have to just keep stacking those kinds of games,” Spagnuolo said. “We’ve done some good things, [but] that doesn’t mean it’s going to continue because it’s a different challenge this week than it was last week.”

The Chiefs are near the top of the league in several key defensive statistics. They are fourth in scoring defense (13.3 points per game), third in opponent QBR (32.3) and fifth in yards per play (4.6).

The Chiefs have been very good where it counts, in goal-to-go situations (first, having allowed no touchdowns), elsewhere in the red zone (fifth in touchdown percentage at 37.5) and on third downs (fifth at 30.8%).

If history is any guide, the Chiefs have a lot to look forward to. Their defenses have generally started slowly but improved as the season progressed since Spagnuolo became the coordinator.

The Chiefs are led defensively by Chris Jones, who ended his holdout after the first game of the season. Jones returned in shape, his first game back being on a sweltering afternoon against the Jaguars in Jacksonville.

Jones had five pressures and 1.5 sacks in helping the Chiefs to a 17-9 win in which they held their opponents without a touchdown.

“The thing that stuck out the most was the second to last play of the game on defense,” defensive line coach Joe Cullen said. “Chris had the sack with Felix [Anudike-Uzomah]. But that rush looked stronger than the first sack he had earlier in the game. That means he was in pretty good shape.”

Jones is third in the league with a pressure percentage of 21. He had a sack against the Bears, despite playing little late in the game after the Chiefs decided with their big lead to save him for other, more competitive games.

Jones isn’t the only defender playing well. Defensive end George Karlaftis has won on 25% of his pass rushes against double-teams. Safety Justin Reid has broken up four passes. Trent McDuffie has forced a couple of fumbles and is doing so well in coverage that Pro Football Focus has him rated as its top cornerback.

Reid and McDuffie are part of a secondary that has gone through a major rebuild over the past two seasons. The only remaining defensive back who was with the Chiefs before last season is cornerback L’Jarius Sneed.

The Chiefs went through some growing pains in the secondary last season, but have not encountered many so far this year.

“You had a bunch of guys who just came in last year who were new to the team last year and [Spagnuolo] was able to kind of just start off with a clean slate, almost kind of reteach the defense and put in his philosophy with all of us,” McDuffie said. “A lot of the guys bought into it and we're like, ‘OK, we’ve got you. We trust you.’

“Last year, I can say that we were together every single day trying to teach each other the plays, just checking in on each other. So when you’ve got guys like that where football's the main thing, but also outside of football, you can rely on them. They're checking up on you, you're hanging out, we're going to eat dinners on Thursdays. It's huge and it just adds the bond even more.”

The Chiefs allowed 14 points on defense in the opener against the Detroit Lions, then only three field goals the next week against Jacksonville. They played against the Bears without their defensive signal-caller and leader, injured linebacker Nick Bolton.

He was replaced by Tranquill, who in his first season with the Chiefs after four with the Los Angeles Chargers has fit in seamlessly. He led the Chiefs with eight tackles and had a half-sack.

“We just wanted to keep it rolling,” Tranquill said. “We had two great games, we’ve got a lot of great players, a lot of speed, a lot of guys that can play some good football. We knew we had to come in focused against a team that had a lot going on, a lot of QB run elements, a lot of different things with eye candy.

“Our guys played really disciplined football there. We had a couple plays there we could clean up in the fourth quarter but other than that it was a special day for the defense.”

The Chiefs didn’t get what Spagnuolo wanted them to be greedy for: A shutout. It would have been a first for the Chiefs since they beat the Houston Texans 30-0 in the playoffs after the 2015 season.

But getting a shutout at some point this season still feels like a reasonable goal.

“Every defensive-player coach in this league can tell you [a shutout] is something special,” Spagnuolo said. “It's hard to do. It doesn't happen very often. I've had very few in my career. It would've been nice to have, but the ultimate goal was to win it.”