The Chief Problem: What the Heck is Going on with Kansas City?
In 2019, Patrick Mahomes guided the Kansas City Chiefs to its first Super Bowl win in over 50 years. The following year, Mahomes took the Chiefs back to the big stage but this time Kansas City was thoroughly outclassed by Tom Brady and the Buccaneers. Tampa Bay exposed the shortcomings of the Chiefs and embarrassed the team on national television. The primary problem was a leaky offensive line. Over the offseason, Kansas City General Manager, Brett Veach, made significant moves to address this issue. By focusing on the offensive line, Veach essentially ignored the defense. At the time, the only pressing issue was the improvement of the O-line, given the defense had been respectable for the previous two seasons under Steve Spagnuolo. Under Spagnuolo (who took over for Bob Sutton as defensive coordinator in 2019), the defense went from the bottom of the league to the middle of the pack. Mahomes and the offense were so good that the defense only had to be presentable in order for Kansas City to rack up wins. So coming into this season Kansas City had every reason to feel confident in another Super Bowl run: the offensive line was rebuilt, Mahomes and the offense were healthy and ready to put up gaudy numbers, and the defense returned the majority of the same players from the previous season including the key trio of safety Tyrann Mathieu plus defensive ends Frank Clark and Chris Jones. What could possibly go wrong?
Seven weeks into the NFL season and everything has gone wrong for the Kansas City Chiefs. The team owns a 3-4 record, tied for last in the AFC West. The most recent blow was a 27-3 beatdown at the hands of the Titans. All four losses have come against division leaders and Kansas City only has one win over a team with a current winning record (Cleveland 4-3). The team is also tied for the 5th worst point differential in the AFC. So what is the reason for this fall from grace? Well, there are two primary culprits.
I mentioned earlier that the Chief's defense had been respectable since Steve Spagnuolo took over as the coordinator in 2019. However, this year the unit has regressed horribly and ranks as one of the worst in the league. The defense ranks 28th in yards allowed per game (404.6) and is allowing 29 points per game (also 28th in the league). Watch any Chiefs game this season and you will immediately see how bad it is. The defense can not stop anyone (as evidenced by the 48.7% third-down conversion rate, good for 30th in the league) and is constantly blowing coverages as seen in this clip:
Seriously, there were two players that were WIDE open. How do you leave a guy like Rick Seals-Jones that open? It's a bad look for the defense and a terrible look for Spagnuolo. Further compounding the issues is the utter lack of pressure that the defensive line has generated this year. The unit ranks dead-last in the NFL with only 1.1 sacks being recorded a game. When you can't get to the quarterback and the coverage is not great, that's a recipe for disaster. The three cornerstones of the defense that I mentioned earlier have been virtually nonexistent this year. Tyrann Mathieu does have two picks, but both came in one game. Frank Clark and Chris Jones have combined for only two sacks. The frustration seems to be mounting and things don't look like they are changing for the better. I bet Brett Veach wishes he had done more to improve the unit over the offseason.
The second major culprit behind the woes of Kansas City has been turnovers. Mahomes and his offense cannot stop turning the ball over for some reason. The Chiefs lead the league in turnovers with 17 (9 interceptions and 8 fumbles), a whole five more than the next closest team. The turnovers are killing the offense and have been a death sentence in many games. Take the game against the Chargers, the Chiefs turned the ball over on their first three offensive possessions. The team was down 14-0 before the offense was finally able to drive the field without mishap. Kansas City would crawl back in the game only for Mahomes to throw a backbreaking pick late in the fourth. Or who could forget the Ravens game when Clyde Edwards-Helaire fumbled the ball away deep in Baltimore's territory late in the fourth with his team only down by one. The majority of the blame must rest on Mahomes though, he has gotten careless with the ball and has tried to make things happen when he shouldn't. It seems that his gunslinging nature is finally catching up with him and the luck has run out. Take this clip for example:
What the heck is Mahomes doing? He literally just heaves the ball straight up in the air and hopes that Kelce is there. It is so boneheaded, that it's not even funny. I feel like this play is very symbolic of the Chiefs' season so far, terrible decision-making and awful execution.
Where to go from here:
The season is by no means over for Kansas City, but unless the defense improves and the offense can hang on the ball it will be a quiet January for Chiefs fans. The Chiefs still control their own destiny, but their margin for error is razor-thin. The Chargers don't look likely to slow down anytime soon and the Raiders are still a force to be reckoned with. Here is the remaining schedule for Kansas City:
There are plenty of wins to be had here, but the road will be tough. For the first time in his career, Patrick Mahomes will be playing from behind in order to reach the playoffs. It should be an entertaining and drama-filled second half of the season for the Chiefs. Can Andy Reid and Mahomes turn the ship around? Only time will tell.