Unknowns stiffen Chiefs defence
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The two transactions the Kansas City Chiefs made before the start of the season came with little fanfare.
Jordan Lucas was drafted in the sixth round out of Penn State by the Dolphins and had spent most of his career on their practice squad.
But when it became evident in late August that Kansas City might need help at safety, general manager Brett Veach sent a seventhround pick to Miami for him.
Charvarius Ward went undrafted. He signed with the Cowboys as a free agent, then was shipped the Chiefs for offensive lineman Parker Ehinger when Dallas decided it needed some help up front.
Two players, acquired one day apart, may have turned a shoddy Chiefs defence into one that could carry the franchise to its first Super Bowl appearance since 1970.
Lucas and Ward became dependable pieces in the Chiefs defensive backfield the final two weeks of the regular season. And Saturday they helped shut down Andrew Luck and the Indianapolis Colts in a 31-13 victory that sent the franchise to its first AFC title game in 25 years.
“I think some of the young guys are maturing right in front of our eyes,” said Chiefs coach Andy Reid, whose team will face the New England Patriots at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.
His defence had been seen as the biggest vulnerability all season, particularly as the Chiefs offence shattered all kinds of franchise records. The only games they lost came in shootouts against the Rams, Patriots and Seahawks and when Kansas City couldn’t stop Philip Rivers and the Los Angeles Chargers in the fourth quarter.
It was after that game against the Chargers that Reid made a bold personnel move: He benched cornerback Orlando Scandrick and safety Ron Parker, a pair of veterans that had started all season, in favour of Lucas and Ware, a pair of relatively untested youngsters.
They had some growing pains the following week in Seattle, but Reid stuck with them and they showed significant growth the following week. Their growth continued in leaps and bounds against the Colts.
Ward was picked on early and came up with several big breakups, while Lucas patrolled the middle of the field like a savvy centre fielder. Together they helped hold Luck to 203 yards passing and kept Indianapolis from scoring an offensive touchdown until late in the fourth quarter.
“At the end of the day, this is something we love to do, something we get paid to do,” Lucas said, “so we have to go out there and give Chiefs Kingdome something we haven’t had in 25 years, and it’s special. We’re just looking to keep building.”
The improved play by the Chiefs defensive backfield the last few weeks has paid dividends up front too, allowing defensive tackle Chris Jones and linebackers Justin Houston and Dee Ford to terrorize opposing quarterbacks. Houston had a pair of sacks and Ford had a strip-sack Saturday, while Jones applied enough pressure up the middle to flush Luck from the pocket on several occasions.
When asked what has changed, Ford replied: “Time. Persistence.”
Now the Chiefs have to step up one more time to earn a trip to the Super Bowl. “Very exciting. This is what we need as a team. This is what we work for,” Ford said. “We just want to keep this thing rolling. Enjoy it now but keep it rolling.