KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Look no further than the numbers as proof of the Chiefs’ increased faith in rookie cornerback Phillip Gaines.
Gaines logged only three defensive snaps from Weeks 1-5 before the team’s Week 6 bye.
He has since logged 34 defensive snaps against the San Diego Chargers, 39 snaps against the St. Louis Rams and a season-high 66 defensive plays during Sunday’s 24-10 victory against the New York Jets.
Sunday also marked Gaines’ first career start at left cornerback over Marcus Cooper in place of a hurt Jamell Fleming (hamstring). Gaines played nickel cornerback in place of Chris Owens (knee) the previous two games.
To say the Chiefs’ third-round pick (87th overall) has come a long way since his struggles in coverage during the final preseason game against the Green Bay Packers is an understatement.
“The Green Bay game was a little rough on him,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid told reporters Monday. “I think he grew up in that game. He learned some things there in the preseason and that focused him in even more than what he might’ve been before.”
The 6-0, 193-pound Gaines has the size and speed (4.38 40-yard dash time) to do well in defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s press-man scheme, a system Gaines played at Rice.
But where he caught the coaching staff’s attention leading to extended playing time on defense surrounded his performances on special teams, where Gaines continues to contribute as a gunner.
“What it does is it teaches leverage,” Reid said of special teams. “It teaches angles. It keeps you in open space with speed players. You learn to work the angles and how to close on people and that transfers over. It really transfers over for secondary players and linebackers for whatever reason. You just see improvements.”
Reid said if a defensive player can handle playing on special teams, a player will typically transfer that to playing defense with continued growth.
“He’s been one of those guys,” Reid said of Gaines. “Did a nice job as a gunner, and he’s had the opportunity to get in work at the nickel, did well there. He was able to start for us in the corner spot and do a nice job there.”
Gaines recorded a season-high four tackles, all solo, against the Jets.
END ZONE BLUES
The Chiefs have won three straight games, including five of the last six, but the team is doing it without scoring contributions from a key position.
Kansas City’s wide receiving corps has a total of zero touchdowns on the season, a remarkable statistic through eight games.
Even FOX Sports NFL analyst Donovan McNabb, a former Philadelphia Eagles quarterback, found it fit to mention that statistic to his former head coach when McNabb was in town for Week 8’s televised game.
“Donovan was hammering me on that when he was here,” Reid said. “I didn’t even think about it until he mentioned it.”
Still, the Chiefs are finding ways to get in the end zone through the air.
Tight end Travis Kelce leads the team with four touchdowns, while tight end Anthony Fasano and running backs Jamaal Charles and Joe McKnight, who is out for the season with a ruptured Achilles tendon, have two each. Running back De’Anthony Thomas has one receiving touchdown.
The Chiefs entered Week 9 ranked a respectable 11th in scoring, averaging 25.1 points per game. And Reid is content with the team’s ability to produce on the scoreboard.
“It doesn’t really bother me as long as we’re getting in and getting touchdowns,” Reid said. “(Wide receiver) A.J. (Jenkins) came up like an inch short yesterday, so I don’t think it’s that big of a deal as long as we’re scoring.”
Still, Reid concedes he has poked fun with the wide receiver corps for the lack of receiving touchdowns.
“I try not to let that slide,” he said. “They’re good about it though. Listen, the receivers are making big plays for us. You saw what Dwayne (Bowe) did for us yesterday. You look at what A.J. did on the catch, he came close to scoring.”
MAUGA DRAWS PRAISE
Reid highlights the good and bad from the previous game during his weekly Monday media session, and this week wasn’t different.
Reid complimented the defense and one of his closing thoughts surrounded inside linebacker Josh Mauga, who totaled 10 tackles (eight solo) against his former team, the Jets.
“I thought Mauga, who doesn’t get a ton of credit for what he’s doing right now,” Reid said. “He’s leading the team in tackles. He led the team in tackles yesterday with 10.”
Mauga, who has been solid for the Chiefs since signing a one-year deal before training camp, currently leads the team in tackles with 57 (51 solo).
Reid cited Mauga’s familiarity with defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s scheme as a factor for success.
Sutton, of course, previously coached linebackers for the Jets.
“It’s been a good thing for us,” Reid said said. “Josh is one of the few people that had a little background with Bob, he came from the Jets, knew the defense, and that’s helped all the way around.”
To read more on Mauga and his path to the Chiefs, here are two profile feature articles, one from this website and the other penned by Chiefs beat writer Terez Paylor of The Kansas City Star:
• LB Josh Mauga thriving with second chance after missing two seasons, via ChiefsDigest.com.
SNAP COUNT OBSERVATIONS
Strong safety Eric Berry, who returned to the field Sunday for the first time in five games, played on 51 defensive snaps (74 percent) as a backup. The Chiefs totaled 69 defensive snaps against the Jets.
Rookie outside linebacker Dee Ford, the Chiefs’ first-round pick (23rd overall) did not record a defensive snap a week after logging a season-high 16 snaps in Week 8.