he Kansas City Chiefs defense finally found some footing in Week 7 during the team’s 31-13 win over the Washington Football Team. The unit gave up their lowest point total and yardage total (276) in a single game this season, and also forced multiple turnovers via an interception and fumble that gave the offense ample opportunities to put points on the board.
While it was a promising showing for one of the NFL’s worst defenses — ranking 31st with a 49.9 overall grade through six weeks, per PFF — there are still plenty of things that need to be cleaned up in order for momentum to stay in the defense’s favor. One of those things, which was pointed out by one NFL analyst, is the distribution of playing time at linebacker.
That same analyst believes that Kansas City needs to bench veteran linebacker, Anthony Hitchens.
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Hitchens ‘Weakest Link’ on Chiefs Defense
Veteran safety Daniel Sorensen likely would have been the culprit of Maurice Moton’s article for Bleacher Report on each NFL’s team’s weakest link had it been written prior to the Chiefs’ Week 6 game. However, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo benched Sorensen in favor of Juan Thornhill against Washington. So, Moton turned his attention to Hitchens — a four-year starter for the Chiefs — who Moton believes needs to have his snaps dialed back in favor of rookie Nick Bolton and second-year linebacker Willie Gay.
Here’s what Moton wrote:
Hitchens has allowed 15 receptions for 166 yards and a touchdown on 19 targets while giving up a 120.6 passer rating in coverage.
The Chiefs have two young athletic linebackers to develop in rookie second-rounder Nick Bolton and second-year pro Willie Gay, who returned from a toe injury in Week 5.
With a pair of early-round picks from the last two drafts at linebacker, the Chiefs should steadily dial back on Hitchens’ snaps.
Is Moton Correct About Hitchens?
Hitchens, who is in the fourth year of a five-year, $45 million contract with the Chiefs, per Spotrac, is sporting a 36.1 overall grade by PFF, which is worst on the team and 76th among all linebackers in the NFL. As you can see, the Chiefs aren’t exactly getting their money’s worth out of Hitchens.
Gay, who played his first two games of the season over the past two weeks, has a 67.1 overall grade. Bolton has a 53.1 overall grade. It’s worth noting that neither player is listed as a starter alongside Hitchens on the Chiefs’ unofficial depth chart. That other starting spot is filled by Ben Niemann (again, on the unofficial depth chart). Niemann has played 59% of the team’s defensive snaps, and Bolton has played 71%, according to Pro Football Reference. Meanwhile, Gay has played just 37% of the defensive snaps in the two games he’s played. So, an uptick in snaps for Gay would essentially dial back Hitchens’ snap share (69%).
While Bolton and Gay’s PFF grades aren’t anything to write home about, their play has been much better than Hitchens, which is why it would make sense for them to be earning more snaps than Hitchens moving forward.
This will likely happen sooner rather than later due to injuries. Head coach Andy Reid acknowledged early in Week 7 that Hitchens had suffered a tricep contusion during the team’s Week 6 game. However, a follow-up report NFL Media’s Jeffrey Chadiha on NFL Now said Hitchens is battling a nerve injury, which would result in a much more extensive recovery timeline.
At the very least, it would be surprising to see Hitchens play in Kansas City’s game against the Tennessee Titans in Week 7. Because of that, Gay and Bolton will likely see an uptick in snaps against the Titans.
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