The Kansas City Chiefs deployed third-year cornerback L’Jarius Sneed in a different way in Week 16.
Seattle Seahawks WR D.K. Metcalf lines up almost exclusively at the left wide receiver position. Sneed lined up across from him on every one of those snaps last Saturday, acting as a shadow against their top receiver.
Speaking to reporters on Thursday, Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo explained what went into that decision and his evaluation of Sneed’s performance in that role after the game.
“Yeah. (He) did a good job, I really thought and (Defensive Backs Coach) Dave (Merritt) and (Safeties Coach) Donald (D’Alesio) really felt that,” Spagnuolo said. “LJ (L’Jarius Sneed) is competitive and so is 14 (Seahawks WR DK Metcalf) and we felt like we needed to do that to kind of get us going. I thought he did a really good job all game. He got the one on the sideline and I mean really safeties probably should’ve been over there a little soon. He probably really shouldn’t have had that one and then LJ had the contested on a little, shorter curl. I thought the guys did a really good job as a group making 14 for them a focus and making sure he didn’t wreck the game and I think they did pretty well.”
This felt like a departure from the norm from Spagnuolo’s past in Kansas City, but he says he hasn’t been resistant to the philosophy of having a top cornerback follow a top receiver. In the past, he says he’s been fortunate to have multiple cornerbacks, like Bashaud Breeland and Charvarius Ward, that he could entrust against an elite receiver.
This specific matchup was really what went into the decision-making process to have Sneed act as a shadow. Metcalf being the lone receiving threat with an injury to WR Tyler Lockett allowed the team to have the flexibility to do this. It also didn’t hurt that Metcalf tends to be at a static position within the Seahawks’ offense and does not move around the field much.
In the future, the decision might not be so simple. Spagnuolo wouldn’t commit to deploying Sneed in the same way even this upcoming week in Denver.
“Yeah, well we’ll see,” Spagnuolo said. “Again, like even Denver. This week’s got two really good (receivers), so you got to make a decision there. It’s just all about the team you’re facing and what they have and what are the other matchups when you do that? What problems the offense presents? Do they move that guy around? Like last week, 14 didn’t move around that much. If you have a player that’s the same caliber and they’re always moving them, you kind of lose that a little bit. So, there’s always a lot of things that go into it.”
Time will tell if we see this strategy again heading into the playoffs, but it sounds like Spagnuolo is only willing to use it in very specific situations.