Chiefs’ Mathieu making most of opportunity in Kansas City

KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — 2 years earlier, the Kansas City Chiefs were coming off an AFC champion heartbreak versus the New England Patriots that rested mostly on the shoulders of their defense, which could not stop Tom Brady and Co. in overtime.

Insufficient skill? Perhaps. Insufficient playmakers? Definitely.

Chiefs basic supervisor Brett Veach and coach Andy Reid understood they required to correct the issue or threat wasting the very best years of quarterback Patrick Mahomes. So they worked with Steve Spagnuolo to collaborate the defense, traded for elite pass rush Frank Clark, prepared sensibly and – maybe most notably – outbid the Texans for security Tyrann Mathieu.

The Honey Badger has made that $42 million, three-year deal look like a bargain.

After helping the Chiefs win their first Super Bowl in five decades last season, Mathieu has followed up with what can only be described as the best season of his career. He has seven interceptions, including one in last week’s divisional-round win over Cleveland, and has become the biggest playmaker on a defense that suddenly seems underappreciated.

”He’s a great player,” said Bills coach Sean McDermott, whose team offense gets the next crack at the Honey Badger in the AFC championship game Sunday. ”Watched his career unfold at LSU and the different places he’s been – he brings a lot of energy and juice to their team, and their defense in this case.”

The numbers alone are impressive. Mathieu has picked off five passes in the past seven games, and he returned one for a touchdown against New England earlier this season. Quarterback ratings plummet when they throw in his direction, and his versatility is evident in the fact that he has tackles-for-loss in three of his past five games.

No wonder he was voted an All-Pro for the second straight year and the third time in his career.

”Just the energy he brings, what he’s saying to guys on the sideline or in the huddle – they trust him,” Spagnuolo said. ”They believe in him. The guy is a winner. He’s made plays for us, and when you get enough guys like that you have a unit.”

It’s hard to find another guy like Mathieu, though, with his unique ability to wreak havoc from his ”robber” position. He bounces around the field like a pinball, both before the snap and after, putting constant pressure on opposing quarterbacks to make sure they know where he is on any given play.

On a quarter of snaps this season, he’s lined up in the deep security spot. In about a third, he’s lined up in the box to provide run support. On almost 40% of snaps, he has actually lined up in the slot, essentially becoming an extra cornerback.

In other words, Spagnuolo is using Mathieu in ways he’s never used another gamer in 40 years in coaching.

”I hadn’t thought about it until you just stated that,” Spagnuolo said, ”but I’d probably say yes, that we have gone a little more beyond, because there are some things that we do with him now that I don’t recall us doing in prior locations.

”First and foremost, him from the chin to the hairline, you’re talking about an intelligent football player that loves it. You know that if you feed something to Tyrann, he’s going to get it and he’s going to know why,” Spagnuolo stated. ”We lay out all of these plans and you go from Monday to Saturday and into Sunday, but things change so quick on game day. The one thing about Tyrann is you can go over to him and say, ‘Let’s tweak this or do that.’ He knows exactly why and he does it.”

He gets everybody else to do it, too. The middle linebacker may call the defensive plays – for the Chiefs, that’s Anthony Hitchens – but Mathieu is often the one making sure everybody everybody knows what is going on.

Then he takes care of his own business.

”I think any position on the field allows you the chance to make plays,” Mathieu said. ”It’s all about staying committed.

”Early in the season I wasn’t making those plays,” he continued, ”and as a high competitor you can get out of it thinking none of those plays is ever going to come to you. For me, it’s simply about remaining involved, staying dedicated to what my coaches desire me doing.”

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Jobber Wiki author Frank Long contributed to this report.