Vahe Gregorian

Grab your popcorn: Here’s how Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu plans to inspire teammates

Preparing for the Chiefs’ defensive backs meeting Friday, safety Tyrann Mathieu has cobbled together a 15-play clip for his teammates’ consideration — a visual aid to try to coax this raw new defense closer to what it must become for its breathtaking offensive counterpart not to be squandered.

A visual aid to infuse faith he sees as lacking.

“Hopefully that will get guys to buy into how good we can be,” he told The Star on Thursday in the Chiefs’ locker room as they prepared to play host to the Indianapolis Colts Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. “Because I don’t think everybody believes it. Because we’re a new group, and it’s like, ‘How could you be great when it’s all these new pieces?’ ”

But his motivational presentation won’t so much be about a highlight reel as about keeping it real with some truly candid camera.

So he laughed when I asked him if it would include, say, Bashaud Breeland’s game-changing 100-yard fumble recovery in the 34-30 victory over Detroit last week.

Instead, first and foremost …

“It will be my dropped interception (in the end zone against Baltimore),” he said.

And it will include such moments as cornerback Charvarius Ward being Velcroed to Lions’ receiver Kenny Golladay … only to be beaten for a 6-yard touchdown pass that gave the Lions a late lead.

That came only a play after Ward was stride-for-stride with Detroit’s Marvin Hall only for Hall to haul in a 34-yard pass as Ward failed to turn for the ball.

Ward is “always in great coverage, he’s always next to his man,” Mathieu said. “But it’s all about finishing.”

To be clear, Mathieu wasn’t picking on Ward. He likely had something for everybody in his array of near-misses, perhaps a few more of his own included. And his very premise is that these glimpses are “so almost,” as a friend of mine used to say.

But “finishing” is the universal message here, in more ways than one, from a charismatic, much-respected man in the locker room who was brought in for his impact on and off the field.

Finishing, in the sense that what will matter most is how they’re playing at the end of the season a year after that unit proved to be the Kryptonite of a team that otherwise would have been Super Bowl-bound but fell to New England 37-31 in overtime in the AFC Championship Game.

And finishing in the immediate sense: being mindful of every single second of every play even as this group still is learning about each other amid the vast changes that came with a new coordinator in Steve Spagnuolo, a new scheme in the 4-3 base, a largely new staff and a radically changed lineup.

Seizing those pivotal moments could go a long way towards stabilizing a group that currently ranks 30th among 32 NFL teams in yards allowed per game (408.5) and 18th in points allowed per game (23.5).

At least in the embryonic stages of this season, statistically there is no obvious improvement from last season. A year ago, the Chiefs finished 31st in average yards allowed (405.5) and 23rd in points allowed (26.3).

But this never was going to be a finished product a month in, and there have been promising, gritty flashes — including creating two turnovers deep in their own territory moments apart against Detroit, punctuated by a 14-point swing on Breeland’s return.

The state of the union is accurately represented in the essential point of Mathieu’s presentation.

“We definitely have our moments when we do some good things,” he said. “And then there’s like those, ‘Oh-what-did-we-just-do?’ moments.”

As he sees it, it’s less about the mistakes themselves than everything surrounding them: Nine or 10 men getting the job done on those plays, one or two being in position to get their job done, too, only to not quite come through.

“That’s really the point you’re trying to make: If you get an opportunity to make a play, make the play. Make the sack. Make the interception,” he said, adding that “one or two guys (every play) make it a great play or a bad play.”

That’s a worthy contention but simpler to diagnose than alleviate, of course. And Mathieu will tell you to look no farther than him for one who needs to provide the spark on the field.

In fact, it’s been a quiet start here for the 27-year-old Mathieu, whom the Chiefs signed to a three-year, $42 million deal as a linchpin to the rebuild. Through four games, he has a total of six tackles, one sack and no interceptions.

But his history tells us that more dynamic moments are ahead.

And he was brought here for something more than just that.

“There were a bunch of good safeties out there, but this guy is a true bell cow: When he speaks, people listen,” Chiefs’ general manager Brett Veach said in August. “Moving on from a guy (Eric Berry) who had that room for so long, how do you duplicate that? You put high priority on not just talent, but character and leadership.”

Along those lines, Mathieu said something revealing as he spoke about why he sees it as his role to put together the clips to show the defense.

“Being a great teammate, it might be better than being the best player on the team,” he said.

With the meeting room serving as another outlet for Mathieu — who attributed his production savvy to the tutelage of former teammate Patrick Peterson and sees himself as an extension of Spagnuolo.

“I know how to coach a meeting or two,” he said, smiling and adding, “We just have to understand that once everybody gets a nice grip on what we’re doing, we’ll start making more plays.”



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Vahe Gregorian has been a sports columnist for The Kansas City Star since 2013 after 25 years at the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. He has covered a wide spectrum of sports, including 10 Olympics. Vahe was an English major at the University of Pennsylvania and earned his master’s degree at Mizzou.
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