Is the Kansas City Chiefs defense carrying the team?
The Kansas City Chiefs absolutely dominated the Oakland Raiders on Sunday as the defense came up huge again, but should we be worried about the offense?
The Kansas City Chiefs absolutely clobbered the Oakland Raiders on Sunday, winning by a final score of 40-9. When a team wins by 31 points against a division rival with control of the division on the line, you can’t be anything but pleased with the outcome.
There is real reason to be excited about the improvements the defense has been showing the last couple of games, and it would be crazy to come away from a game where the Chiefs scored 40 points with any questions about the offense.
I mean, the Chiefs have Patrick Mahomes at quarterback, a couple of All-Pro weapons in wide receiver Tyreek Hill and tight end Travis Kelce, and a legendary offensive coach in Andy Reid. They are now averaging 29 points per game, which as I type this is good for third best in the NFL. So questioning that offense after a 40-9 win is crazy. I’m sure it is.
You know what, we’ll come back to the offense. I want to talk about the defense for a second, because I truly believe that they are the biggest story coming out of that game. We entered the season saying that if the Chiefs new defense under Steve Spagnuolo could just not be terribl,e they would have a real chance to win a Super Bowl. As we now head into the final quarter of the season, I am officially ready to decree that the Chiefs defense is not terrible. In fact, I would argue that they have carried the team the past two games.
Before the bye week, the Chiefs narrowly held on to beat the Los Angeles Chargers in a game where the defense held the Chargers to 17 points and picked off Philip Rivers four times. Now this week against the Raiders, they picked off Derek Carr twice, including a great pick six by rookie Juan Thornhill, and held the Raiders to just 9 points. In addition to the pick-six by Juan Thornhill, the Chiefs also ran back a blocked extra point attempt for two points and set the offense up with short field position on multiple occasions.
While the run defense still appears to be K.C.’s biggest problem, they rebounded from a rough start against Josh Jacobs and ended up allowing Oakland to rush for just 122 yards on 25 carries on the day. While that may not qualify as “good” run defense, it shouldn’t sink the Chiefs in big games if their pass defense continues to shine and the offense can consistently score points (again, more on that in a second).
Coming into the season most Chiefs fans were most concerned about the pass defense. There were big question marks at cornerback and, in a passing league, there was certainly reason to have some doubts. Well, the Chiefs and Spagnuolo seem to have answered some of those doubts about the coverage at this point. We are now officially through 3/4 of the season and the pass defense numbers are vastly improved. The Chiefs are giving up over 40 yards per game less through the air. Their allowed completion percentage and yards per attempt are both down from last year as well. Finally, the Chiefs currently have allowed 18 touchdowns and have 12 interceptions. That’s a much improved ratio from the 30 touchdowns to 15 interceptions that they had last season.
While the defense is allowing 9.2 more rushing yards per game than last season and 0.1 more yards per carry, that slight drop in run defense has been more than offset by the 42.6 less passing yards and 0.4 less yards per pass attempt that they’ve allowed. Most importantly, the defense is allowing just 22.1 points per game this year. That’s down 4.2 points per game from last season. Depending on how the Sunday and Monday night games end up, that should put the Chiefs about 16th in the NFL in points per game allowed. You don’t get much more middle of the pack than that, and that is all most of us were asking for before the season started.
So why aren’t most Chiefs fans predicting a Super Bowl win right now? I mean, if we have an average defense and an elite offense, we’re all set. Right?
Well that brings us back to Mahomes and company. Look, I’m not saying we should all panic about the offense; I’m just saying it doesn’t seem to be clicking like it was last season, or even the beginning of this season. Let me put it this way: In the last five games that Mahomes was the primary quarterback, the Chiefs are 2-3 with both wins (Chargers and Raiders) as the aforementioned ones in which the team was carried by the defense. In those past two games (both wins), Mahomes had the following stat lines.
vs Chargers: 19/32, 182 yards, 1 TD, 1 INT
vs Raiders: 15/29, 175 yards, 1 TD, 0 INT (but had one dropped and another called back)
I get that it was REALLY windy on Sunday, but if we’re being honest the passing game has just seemed out of sync a lot more this season than it did last year. Is it all the injuries they’ve had to deal with? Maybe. Has the offensive line been an issue at times? Yes. Has the lack of a consistent run game made them easier to defend this year? Probably. Could the offense have put up bigger numbers if Andy Reid kept his foot on the gas pedal? Probably. Were their numbers last season so good that expecting them to produce at that same level again this year is unrealistic? Probably.
We can come up with valid reasons for why we are seeing what we are seeing on offense. The Chiefs aren’t bad, they just aren’t all-time great. The problem is, if they aren’t going to field a great offense then suddenly having an average defense isn’t going to get the Chiefs where they want to go. That combination may be able to carry them against Philip Rivers and Derek Carr, but they’ll need better in the playoffs. An average defense wins when Pat is throwing for 350 yards and 3 touchdowns. When he throws for 180 yards and 1 touchdown—not so much, at least in the playoffs.
That is why next week’s game against the New England Patriots is such a great test as the Chiefs head into the final stretch of the season. They’ll face a team with one of the best defenses in the NFL. It’s time for Mahomes and the rest of the offense to prove they can still put up big points against good teams. The Chiefs put up points against the Patriots in both games last season. Can they still get it done this year when New England is better on defense and the Chiefs are struggling a little on offense? I can’t wait to find out the answer. On the other side of the ball, the Patriots offense has been struggling and K.C.’s improving defense has a chance to make a statement in this game as well.
Beating the Raiders by 31 points and putting a stranglehold on the AFC West are reason enough for every Chiefs fan to be feeling good this week. They took care of business and ultimately that is all that matters. The defense (especially the pass defense) is coming around and has even carried this team the past few games. Now if the offense can just put it all together so that the defense doesn’t have to carry them, we can get back to dreaming of a Super Bowl win. Here’s to hoping they come out and do just that against the Patriots in Week 14.