The Kansas City Chiefs still have several reasons to be optimistic

KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - NOVEMBER 03: Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs talks with head coach Andy Reid before the game against the Minnesota Vikings at Arrowhead Stadium on November 03, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)
KANSAS CITY, MISSOURI - NOVEMBER 03: Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs talks with head coach Andy Reid before the game against the Minnesota Vikings at Arrowhead Stadium on November 03, 2019 in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images) /

The Kansas City Chiefs haven’t fulfilled the preseason visions of greatness, but the story is not even close to being finished for this Super Bowl hopeful roster.

There’s no way around it. The 2019 Chiefs have been inconsistent, injury-plagued, and wildly unpredictable. Fans who approached this season expecting a swift march to the Super Bowl have been sorely disappointed. However, there are a couple of key reasons for optimism as the Chiefs sit at 7-4 heading into their bye, even if the 2019 season has proven to be short of our idealized visions thus far.

Let’s recall the moment of Patrick Mahomes‘ injury, in the Week 7 game against the Broncos. (I know it’s painful.) This moment is probably hard-wired into every Chief’s fans’ memory, so we don’t need to relive it in detail. Mahomes exits the field after injuring himself on a quarterback sneak. The initial reports and attitudes surrounding the injury looked grim, with speculation that Mahomes would have to miss 6-8 weeks or, even worse, the rest of the season.

We can’t forget that, initially, the knee injury looked like it would prove fatal to the Chiefs’ chances at a deep playoff run. Fast forward to the present and Mahomes is healthy heading into the bye. All such worries about his health have dissolved.

Mahomes had a rough game statistically speaking against the Los Angeles Chargers this week, and there are certainly some kinks to work out as he works his way back from injuries. Despite the struggles, watching Mahomes run for first downs, looking faster than he has all year, was extremely encouraging. We can’t forget that this team is immensely fortunate to have their phenomenal quarterback healthy and rolling, despite the initial injury fear.

A lot of the Chiefs’ struggles this year are due to mental mistakes, the kind of miscues that can be solved by rigorous coaching adjustments. I’m speaking of the offense in particular here.  For one, fumbles have plagued the team in crucial moments. LeSean McCoy fumbled at a pivotal juncture in the Week 5 loss to the Indianapolis Colts. Damien Williams had a brutal fumble returned for six points against the Tennessee Titans. We all know about the botched snap on special teams in that same game.

How is this a reason for optimism? These mental mistakes are surely a sign of carelessness, and you can blame both coaches and players for the abundance of such mistakes. But such mistakes are fixable, and they don’t point to severe deficiencies, like a lack of talent or poor scheming.

Losing games due to mental mistakes points to the fact that the Chiefs are in a position to win nearly every game they play. This bye week should serve as a nice reset, mentally and physically, and will allow Andy Reid and co. to fine tune the very fixable mistakes which are leading to losses.

By no stretch of the imagination is the Chiefs defense yet a strength of the team. We know yards are easy to come by, especially on the ground. But through 11 games, I think Steve Spagnuolo deserves credit for understanding the limitations of his defense and adjusting accordingly.

Does anyone else have nightmares of Julian Edelman running 12-yard drag routes at will? Last year, Bob Sutton depended on the pass coverage abilities of his linebackers and corners to come up with stops. His “bend don’t break” mentality only works if you have stellar pass defenders and linebackers capable of guarding tight ends and running backs.

Spags doesn’t want to play that game, and his designs will accept the occasional big play and/or blown coverage in pursuit of quarterback pressure and turnovers. This is in direct response to his knowledge that the linebacking core simply cannot cover those speedy backs and slot receivers. It’s not ideal, of course, but it’s making the most of the talent available.

I won’t mince words: the defense is going to be a liability going forward, and the linebacker position must be addressed in the offseason. For all the fans who were physically pained by the defensive playcalling in the AFC championship last year, know that Spagnuolo is going to be a lot more dynamic and responsive in his play-calling, a trait sorely lacking in the Sutton-led defenses of previous years.

There’s no question that the Chiefs must come out of their bye week a more polished, disciplined football team. They are deficient on defense, but Spagnuolo, unlike Sutton, understands this, which goes a long way in terms of coaching adjustments. The mental mistakes which have plagued the Chiefs are far more fixable than deeper personnel issues. Fans have to make the leap and expect that Andy Reid, Eric Bienemy, and Dave Toub will make proper adjustments related to ball security and penalties.

I’ll leave you with this: If I were to tell you, toward the end of the week 6 game at Denver, that the Chiefs would enter their bye week with 1) A healthy Patrick Mahomes behind center, 2) a 7-4 record, and 3) A healthy roster overall, you would be ecstatic in disbelief.

It’s important to remember these issues, and adjust expectations according to adversity. Let’s hold onto that optimism of the offseason and remember that the story of the 2019 Chiefs is far from finished.

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