There’s a good chance the Kansas City Chiefs will take the field for their Week 1 showdown against the Cleveland Browns this Sunday without their best defender. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo told local members of the media that Tyrann Mathieu’s status for Sunday’s game was “up in the air” after the star defender recently tested positive for COVID-19 and that the Chiefs would have a Plan A and Plan B when it comes to Mathieu’s availability. Mathieu is one of the most important defensive players in the league. If he’s unable to play on Sunday, the Chiefs would likely replace him by committee. Mathieu’s absence would likely mean more snaps for a pair of former fourth-round picks in Armani Watts and L’Jarius Sneed.
Watts and Sneed are capable NFL players that have a good understanding of what the Chiefs set out to accomplish on defense. Watts has been playing in Spagnuolo’s 4-3 scheme since he became the defensive coordinator in 2019, and Sneed is entering his second season in Kansas City. Familiarity and fit shouldn’t be an issue, but with all due respect to Watts and Sneed, they aren’t Mathieu. Heck, nobody is.
While all of that will be duly noted by me, I still love the Chiefs in this game and I’ll tell you why. They have a guy named Patrick Mahomes at quarterback. They have the horses on offense to compete with any and all teams, no matter the adversity they may face on a weekly basis. As long as No. 15 is back there taking snaps, Kansas City can overcome the short-term loss of any player, even one as important to their overall success as Mathieu.
Look, I’m not trying to sell Mathieu’s potential absence short. He seems to be getting better with age. He led the Chiefs in interceptions a year ago with six, recorded 61 tackles, and had nine passes defended. Mathieu is the most versatile defender in the league. He sets the standard, bar none. He’s a true chess piece that heavily influences every game he plays in. In many ways, Mathieu is the player that makes Spagnuolo’s defense tick. He wears many hats on Sundays. On any given snap, you may catch Mathieu playing in center field, near the line of scrimmage and impacting the run game, or covering the slot on obvious passing downs. If he can’t play on Sunday, Kansas City will miss him dearly—but Mahomes is Mahomes, and his greatness gives them the upper hand in every game they play.
With or without the Honey Badger, I love Kansas City’s chances against the Browns this weekend. The Chiefs will understandably want to get Mathieu back on the field as soon as possible. Their defense may, scratch that, would look out of sorts without him.
But as long as Mahomes is under center, they can, and will continue to overcome anything.