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KC Chiefs’ defense gears up for sudden-change situations

Bob Sutton only knows one to build the wall, and no matter how the NFL tilts rules in the favor of offense or how much fans may grumble about the gaudy yardage totals put up by opponents, Sutton will stay the course — brick by brick.

Sutton, the Chiefs’ defensive coordinator and a veteran of more than four decades of coaching football, including nearly two decades in the NFL, believes in preparing for as many situations as possible and rising to the specific challenge in that moment.

When outside linebacker Dee Ford exploded upfield, turned the corner past Denver Broncos left tackle Garett Bolles for a sack and forced fumble in the fourth quarter of Sunday’s 30-23 win at Arrowhead Stadium, it marked yet another victory in what Sutton likes to refer to as “sudden change” situations.

“To me, football has always been about these situations that come up,” Sutton said earlier this past week.

Few scenarios loom larger than sudden change in Sutton’s mind, and his unit has now met that challenge three times in the past four games.

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The Ford-Speaks combination combined to force and recover a fumble after Chiefs young star quarterback Patrick Mahomes tossed an interception against the Jacksonville Jaguars.

Last week following a Mahomes third-quarter misfire picked off by the Bengals, the defense immediately forced a three-and-out on a drive that netted -11 yards after Dorian O’Daniel made a tackle for a loss on a screen pass and Chris Jones came up with a sack on third down.

“We’ve got to be really onto this. We’ve got to meet this challenge head on,” Sutton said of the mental approach. “To me, if you can kind of stack those bricks or those critical situations, that’s how you get good. That’s how you limit points. That’s how you give your team a chance to win.”

This time around, Mahomes tossed an interception with more than 12 minutes remaining in the fourth quarter of a 10-point game at the Denver 39-yard line.

Ford, while falling to his knees, had either the presence of mind or instinct to knock the ball out of the hands of Broncos quarterback Case Keenum. As the ball rolled on the turf, Speaks dove from 5 yards away to secure the fumble recovery.

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The Chiefs, who improved to 7-1, entered the game having allowed the most yards per game (435.4) in the NFL.

Yet they’ve somehow seem to have a knack for getting the crucial stop — with the exception of their lone loss to the New England Patriots — in crunch time. They did so in their come-from-behind win against the Broncos in Denver and in fourth-quarter wins against the Chargers and Steelers to start the season.

“We just know we’ve got to pick it up for the offense,” Speaks said. “We’ve got to have their back just like they’ve had our back. That’s basically it. Guys just step up to the plate and make plays.”

While changes of intensity within a game are hard to quantify in a precise analytical way, Speaks certainly acknowledged a difference in the Chiefs’ during sudden change situations.

“We feel like our backs are against the wall, and we’re coming out fighting,” Speaks said.

The Chiefs have allowed 21 points off of seven turnovers this season. Ford, who earned three sacks in Sunday’s game, credited the coaching staff for fostering the mentality which allows the team to come through in sudden change situations.

“It’s a mindset. It’s a point of emphasis. It’s what we practice in training camp,” Ford said. “It’s what we practice in OTAs. This is why Andy (Reid) and Bob and (Eric Bieniemy) are so great with what they do with us as far as how we develop our habits. We all said it at the same time. It’s like, ‘Sudden change. Let’s go!’ So it’s just — it’s a mindset.”

Lynn Worthy

Lynn Worthy covers the Kansas City Chiefs and NFL for The Star.

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