The Chiefs get one of their key secondary players back just in time for their Monday Night Football match-up against the Broncos.
Kansas City has really struggled on defense the last few weeks, but things are beginning to look a little bit better in the secondary. As the team announced on Twitter Monday, the Chiefs have activated Steven Nelson from the Reserve/Injured-Designated for Return list, making him eligible to play Monday night against the Denver Broncos.
The Chiefs are ranked 29 in pass defense, and it’s partly because they struggle mightily in the slot. Specifically, they’ve struggled mightily in the slot with Nelson out. The cold-hearted truth is that Phillip Gaines hasn’t gotten the job done replacing Nelson. Going into the Raiders game, Gaines was last in passer rating allowed (140.3) among corners with 88 or more coverage snaps. After the Raiders game, Gaines is now the league leader in penalties (7) from the cornerback position, and second worst in passer rating allowed (111.3).
How much of an improvement is Steven Nelson? Well, it’s not hard to be better than Gaines has been, but to put a statistic on it: Nelson allowed only a 78.8 passer rating in the slot — which was third-best in the NFL last season.
The Chiefs have a really good secondary, and it’s actually shocking that they’ve been so bad over the past few weeks. Of course, in today’s NFL, you have to be able to cover people in the slot and it makes a huge difference when the fifth-best slot corner doesn’t play for the first seven weeks of the season.
Furthermore, the Chiefs are in man coverage 63 percent of the time, and that’s not going to change anytime soon, so the corner position is no joke in the Chiefs defensive scheme. Terrance Mitchell was targeted 15 times against the Raiders. Nobody throws at Marcus Peters anymore, so teams picked on Gaines and Mitchell for the first seven weeks.
On the other hand, Nelson’s 0.89 yards per coverage snap from the slot in 2016 was 11th out of 52 corners with at least 130 coverage snaps from the slot and his 466 such coverage snaps were second in the NFL last season.
How does affect their matchup against the Broncos? Well, Broncos quarterback Trevor Siemian actually does pretty well against man coverage and torched the Chiefs (specifically Phillip Gaines) last season in Denver. But here’s the kicker: Siemian averages 188 yards, 5.08 YPA and 0.5 touchdowns per game when he doesn’t target Gaines.
That’s a lot of numbers just to say that Phillip Gaines is having an awful season, and the return of Steven Nelson is like Christmas in October for this struggling secondary.