Von Miller was certainly the biggest name traded before the 2021 NFL trade deadline and he well may end up being the most impactful as well. After that, however, the best move may have been an under-the-radar acquisition made by the Chiefs.
The Chiefs acquired defensive end Melvin Ingram from the Steelers before the deadline to bolster their defensive front. Kansas City had struggled to start the season on defense and was looking for any sort of upgrade to spark them on that side of the ball.
Ingram himself hasn’t performed at an other-worldly level for the Chiefs. He has made seven tackles and has one sack in five games with the team, so he’s not the same player that twice racked up 10.5 sacks for the Chargers. Nonetheless, the veteran’s presence has made a big impact on how the team has been able to play on defense in the second half of the season.
Here’s a look at how the Chiefs’ low-cost gamble for Ingram has paid off and how he has helped their defense round into form.
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Melvin Ingram trade details
- Chiefs get: DE Melvin Ingram
- Steelers get: 2022 sixth-round pick
The Chiefs acquired Ingram for the cost of a sixth-round draft pick. Ingram, 32, is playing on a one-year deal and had one sack and 10 tackles in six games with the Steelers before being traded. As such, it makes sense that they were able to get him for that price, but it’s also one that he should be able to easily outperform as the season goes on.
Why did the Steelers trade Ingram? It boiled down to the fact that they had 2020 third-round pick Alex Highsmith on the roster and he was ready to make an impact as an edge-rushing starter across from T.J. Watt.
As the Steelers gave more time to Highsmith, Ingram’s role diminished. So, Pittsburgh figured it would salvage something for him before he hit free agency, as he wasn’t likely to return to the Steel City.
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How Melvin Ingram has helped the Chiefs’ defense
Ingram’s presence on the outside has made a huge difference for the Chiefs’ defensive line. Why? Because it has freed up star defensive lineman Chris Jones to play more on the inside at the defensive tackle position.
Jones had been a key cog on the Kansas City defense while playing defensive tackle during the Chiefs’ back-to-back Super Bowl appearances. However, the team needed some more outside pressure and felt that Jones could make the transition to the edge and still be a critical part of the Chiefs’ defense.
Jones was solid in that new role. That said, the new Chiefs’ defensive tackle rotation was not. That’s part of the reason their defense started the season so slowly. They were weak up the middle against the run and weren’t getting enough pass-rush pressure from the interior, where Jones had previously been a stalwart.
The Chiefs realized it would be better for Jones to play inside more frequently, but they still didn’t have quite enough depth to generate pressure on the outside until they added Ingram. Once they added him, Jones snaps at defensive tackle more than tripled, as he went from averaging 7.8 snaps per game at the position to averaging 25.8 snaps.
Since that switch, the Chiefs’ defense has been nothing short of spectacular. They haven’t lost a game with Ingram and are holding opponents to fewer than 10 points per game on average.
|Situation||Record||Points per game allowed||Yards per game allowed||Sacks per game|
|Without Melvin Ingram||4-4||27.5||412.9||2|
|With Melvin Ingram||5-0||9.6||352.4||1.6|
That’s not to say that Ingram is solely responsible for the Chiefs’ defensive turnaround, but his presence has certainly allowed the Chiefs to maximize Jones’ interior pass-rush skill set. And that could prove a valuable asset for Steve Spagnuolo as Kansas City looks to make another Super Bowl run.
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Other key improvements for the Chiefs’ defense
Ingram’s addition isn’t the only reason that the Chiefs have gone from the NFL’s worst stop unit to one that has allowed exactly nine points in three consecutive games. Here are a few of the other reasons the Chiefs have improved so much during the latter half of the 2021 NFL season.
- The Chiefs got healthy. Early in the season, the Chiefs simply didn’t have their best defensive personnel on the field all together. Starters Tyrann Mathieu, Chris Jones, Frank Clark, Willie Gay and Charvarius Ward all missed games due to injuries or illnesses, so that caused problems for the team. Once they all got healthy, the defense started to shape up.
- Daniel Sorensen moved to a backup role. Sorensen looked terrible to start the season and has graded among Pro Football Focus’ bottom-five safeties consistently throughout the season. The Chiefs began to start Juan Thornhill ahead of him in Week 6 with Sorensen playing in sub packages. Since that time, the Chiefs have allowed more than 17 points just once while Sorensen has two interceptions in a smaller role.
- The Chiefs’ cornerbacks have stepped up. Rashad Fenton and Mike Hughes have graded as PFF’s No. 3 and No. 5 corners this season respectively. Meanwhile, Ward checks in at 20. They have made an extremely effective three-man rotation at the two corner spots across from L’Jarius Sneed, who has played nearly 90 percent of the snaps at corner this year.
Those latter two developments significantly improved the pass defense while Jones’ move back inside has shored up the team’s run defense a bit. Spagnuolo deserves credit for the adjustments he has made, and that includes the decision to change Jones’ alignment after the Ingram’s arrival.