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Tyrann Mathieu
Kansas City Chiefs

Is Chiefs’ Defense Still Their Achilles’ Heel?

  • Jack McKessy
  • January 5, 2022
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Over the first few weeks of the season, it looked like the Kansas City Chiefs were in trouble, and the primary blame fell on the defense. After seemingly righting the ship around midway through the season, some of Kansas City’s most recent performances have once again called into question the validity of its defense. The Chiefs entered their Week 8 matchup with the New York Giants at 3-4. Kansas City having a losing record at all was a shock, let alone that far into the season. It was especially worrisome considering that they had never before fallen below .500 since Patrick Mahomes took over at quarterback. Some of the problems in their losses can be blamed on Mahomes’ turnover issues as he continued to try too hard to play “hero ball.” Another big factor was the defense, which to that point was allowing 29 points per game. Then, suddenly, the Chiefs began to turn their defense around. They started generating takeaways, something that had been concerningly absent in their first seven games. The Kansas City secondary was shutting down what had (and have) been big-time passing offenses like those of the Las Vegas Raiders and Dallas Cowboys. Their pass rush unit was finding more success, led by Chris Jones, who has been a monster up the middle this season. At the same time, Mahomes was looking more like himself and the Chiefs began rolling. They won eight straight games after a 3-4 start, and they looked to be in a solid position to lock up the AFC’s No. 1 seed with just two weeks left. Over that stretch, the defense was allowing fewer than 13 points per game, and their average margin of victory was up to more than 16 points. Then, the Chiefs ran into white-hot Joe Burrow and the Cincinnati Bengals. Unlike many of the teams the Chiefs had beaten up on in their eight previous games, the Bengals were in the AFC playoff picture. Kansas City had gotten to face the Giants, the Aaron Rodgers-less Green Bay Packers, as well as the Raiders (twice), Cowboys, Denver Broncos, Los Angeles Chargers, and Pittsburgh Steelers over that win streak. Only the Packers, Cowboys, and Chargers are in the current playoff picture—the Packers didn’t have their starting quarterback and both them and the Cowboys are in the NFC. That leaves the Chargers as their most significant win in that stretch, and—what do you know—Los Angeles scored the most points of any Kansas City opponent during their win streak. With all of that taken into account, the Chiefs’ matchup with the Bengals in Cincinnati would be the biggest test of their defense’s legitimacy. It didn’t go so well for Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s guys. Burrow was coming off of the best game of his career and he didn’t slow down with the chance to clinch an AFC North title. Kansas City’s defense couldn’t do anything to shut down Burrow or wide receiver Ja’Marr Chase. The quarterback threw for nearly 450 yards and four touchdowns, with Chase accounting for 226 yards and three touchdowns receiving The biggest problem was that they weren’t making adjustments as Chase had a career game. Cornerbacks were constantly left in single coverage against the likely Offensive Rookie of the Year, including on a 3rd-and-27 play that essentially sealed the game late in the fourth quarter. A lot of the blame on that play and the general lack of adjustments for Chase on Sunday fall on Spagnuolo and his play-calling. Why would you bring the house while leaving the Bengals’ best receiver in single coverage amidst a career day? There were also plenty of instances of bad tackling that allowed the Bengals to keep drives alive and turned small gains into big plays. Sometimes offensive guys can just make really good plays. But bad tackling only aggravates the big yardage that can come from poor coverage downfield. Speaking of poor coverage, that was an issue as well. Not only were guys like Charvarius Ward and Rashad Fenton getting burned by Chase, but safety Daniel Sorenson got to show off his… inability to take good angles. Yikes. The Chiefs are now 1-4 this season against teams that are currently in the AFC playoff picture. With the defense being a big reason for that, Kansas City’s ability to make a deep run in the playoffs feels less guaranteed. They’ve struggled to defend playoff-caliber offenses for all of the regular season, and their loss to Cincinnati means they need a win and a Tennessee Titans loss to get back that first-round bye. If Spagnuolo can’t make the defensive adjustments necessary—and soon—the Chiefs will have a hard time making it back to the Super Bowl for a third straight year.

Written By

Jack McKessy