Chiefs look for the defense that finished, not started, Sunday’s game

San Diego Chargers running back Melvin Gordon rushed for 4.8 yards per carry in the first half Sunday but wasn’t a factor later in the game.
San Diego Chargers running back Melvin Gordon rushed for 4.8 yards per carry in the first half Sunday but wasn’t a factor later in the game.

The first three San Diego Chargers possessions in last weekend’s season opener against the Chiefs resulted in touchdowns.

Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton gave the opponent its due, but he said it wasn’t all because of the Chargers’ offensive wizardry. The home team’s defense contributed to the early scoring blitz, he said.

“There are always going to plays that are hard to defend,” Sutton said. “But I felt like we didn’t execute some of our core stuff as well as we needed to.”

The good news for the Chiefs was after that initial series of blows, the Chargers didn’t reach the end zone. Trailing by 21 points, the Chiefs put together the greatest comeback in team history, winning 33-27 in overtime.

Terez A. Paylor, the Chiefs beat writer for The Kansas City Star, analyzed the comments of Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton on Thursday at the Arrowhead practice facility in advance of Sunday's game at the Houston Texans.

Better to have teachable moments after a victory and the Chiefs will know Sunday if the lessons of the opener were learned when they meet the Texans in Houston.

“We have to tighten up some things, and do what we’re supposed to do,” defensive lineman Nick Williams said. “But when you come out with the win, that can be momentum for us.”

Still, the first few minutes of the season produced one gut punch after another for the Chiefs’ defense. A Chargers team that had scored six points combined in two games against the Chiefs last season covered 75 yards in six plays on its first possession for a touchdown, 80 yards for its second score and took advantage of a short field for the third touchdown and a 21-3 lead that grew to a three-score margin in the third quarter.

The Chiefs were generating little pass rush on the Philip Rivers-led offense and, when they weren’t running through wide swaths, running backs Melvin Gordon and Danny Woodhead broke tackles.

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“I didn’t think we tackled as well as we could have,” Sutton said. “And we couldn’t flip the switch on third down. All of those things added up to making it difficult for us.”

The defensive failure was difficult to process considering how good the unit was during the team’s 10-game winning streak to end the 2015 regular season.

The Chargers had scored more points against the Chiefs in their first three possessions than nine opponents did in an entire game during the streak. And only once did an opponent top San Diego’s 388 total yards.

The Chiefs had a big-play defense in 2015, averaging nearly three sacks per game and collecting an NFL-best 22 interceptions. But last week the Chiefs didn’t come up with a takeaway and the lone sack was supplied by linebacker Dee Ford in the fourth quarter. It was a big one, helping snuff out the Chargers’ final possession.

Factoring in the performance were three starters who were ramping up to game speed. Outside linebacker Tamba Hali and safety Eric Berry were seeing their first action since last season, and cornerback Phillip Gaines played only 10 snaps in the preseason.

The Chargers did themselves no favors by getting away from Gordon in the second half. He had been a workhorse with 4.9 yards per carry in eight first-half attempts. He had six attempts in the second half and was a non-factor down the stretch.

The Texans present their own set of challenges, including an almost new set of playmakers from the team that was blanked 30-0 by the Chiefs in an AFC Wild Card playoff game last season.

Quarterback Brock Osweiler was signed from Denver to replace Brian Hoyer, who threw four interceptions in the postseason game.

Osweiler appeared in last year’s second game against the Chiefs in the third quarter, replacing Peyton Manning.

“From our standpoint, coaching and our players, they at least know who he is,” Sutton said. “They’ve got kind of an idea of the strength of his arm, what he can do.”

Houston signed running back Lamar Miller from the Dolphins, and he rushed for 106 yards in last weekend’s victory over the Bears. Rookie wide receiver Will Fuller caught five passes for 107 yards and provides an additional threat with DeAndre Hopkins.

For the Chiefs, winning in Houston for the third time in two seasons will take a better defensive effort than they showed in the opening week.

“We have to play much better in our most basic things,” Sutton said. “We took strides toward that in the second half but it’s not where it needs to be.”

Blair Kerkhoff: 816-234-4730, @BlairKerkhoff

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