Given the nature of the position he plays, Chiefs cornerback Brandon Flowers understands that in the NFL, one must have a short memory, lest one bad play multiply into several more.
Yet, Indianapolis running back Donald Brown’s 51-yard touchdown rumble two weeks ago in the Chiefs’ 23-7 loss to the Colts continues to stick in Flowers’ craw, and with good reason. Flowers was one of three players who missed tackles on the play, perhaps the lowlight in a game filled with them for the Chiefs’ defense.
“With the defensive guys we have in this room, in this building, in this huddle, that (run) is not acceptable at all,” Flowers said. “We watched that 100 times to see what happened on that run.”
Missed tackles turned out to be a major theme of the game, as the Chiefs missed a season-high 17 against the Colts, according to Pro Football Focus, five more than in any other game and 11 more than their season average up to that point.
To be sure, it was a disappointing performance in what amounted to the final tuneup for the Chiefs’ first-string defense before the playoffs. The backups played in the Chiefs’ 27-24 loss to San Diego on Sunday.
“I’d think for the majority of the season, we would have been probably considered a pretty good tackling team here,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “Why we didn’t (there), I can’t honestly tell you what drove that train.”
That’s not to say Sutton can’t identify what went wrong. Tackling is a combination of technique and anticipation, and Sutton is simply saying he’s not sure why those things broke down in that specific game for a team that currently sits with 100 missed tackles, the 11th fewest in the league.
But inside linebacker Derrick Johnson, who had a team-high seven missed tackles against the Colts, has a theory about why tackling tends to get worse as the season goes on.
“Late in the year, tackling becomes a problem because everybody’s banged up,” Johnson said. “It’s less physical, it’s more mental and you don’t practice tackling.”
Before the Chiefs’ loss to San Diego on Sunday, Sutton said his team had had only three contact days in the previous six weeks.
“I have always felt that in the NFL, one of the things that you have to work on every day as the season goes on is tackling,” Sutton said. “It’s a skill. I think you can ask our players; we’ve been talking (about) tackling for the last five or six weeks.
“You have to demand of yourself to get in the proper body position — knees bent and ready — to make that play.”
But at this point of the year, Sutton doesn’t want his players thinking about technique too much on the field. Tackling also comes down to desire and getting bodies to the football, which might explain why the Chiefs’ backups — many of whom are auditioning for future jobs — recorded only three missed tackles in their loss to the Chargers.
“You need multiple people (around the ball),” Sutton said. “If you’re making a lot of single tackles out there, it’s going to be hard. That’s one of the objectives of offensive football, to try to get guys in space, and we need to get as many guys (around the ball) as possible.”
The effort shown by the backups, who very nearly upset a desperate San Diego team playing for a playoff berth, was a sharp contrast to the way the first-string defense played the week before against the Colts, the team they again find themselves matched up against in their first-round playoff game at 3:35 p.m. Saturday at Lucas Oil Stadium.
“We all know we didn’t tackle very well in that game.” Sutton said of the Colts loss. “That was evident, and if we’re going to have a chance to beat them, we’re going to have to tackle a lot better. “There’s a pride factor with everybody involved.”
Perhaps that’s why the Chiefs watched Brown’s touchdown run from the first game so many times. Flowers and Johnson admitted it was tough to watch the play, in which Johnson got caught up on some blocks, Flowers dove at Brown’s legs, safety Kendrick Lewis whiffed on a high tackle and cornerback Dunta Robinson got stiff-armed and hurdled the last 10 yards or so.
“Brown’s a heck of a running back, and he gets a head of steam going downhill,” Johnson said. “He ran that 50-yarder on us, that was a killer for us. We don’t plan for that to happen again. Team defense, we have to play a lot better.”
But the truth is, Flowers said, the Chiefs missed far more tackles against the Colts than they did against anyone else for a very simple reason.
“They weren’t tougher to tackle,” Flowers said. “It’s just they came to play that week and we didn’t.”
But this time, the Chiefs know what’s on the line, Flowers said, which means that if they allow any more nightmare runs this week — well, there may not be another film session to pore over next week.
“The guys that missed tackles … everybody faults themselves, nobody blames each other,” Flowers said. “We know we’ve got to get right to be successful.”