The Chiefs quest for the team’s first Super Bowl victory in five decades begins on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. What should fans know headed into the pivotal contest?
What a season, am I right? I’ll be honest, it wasn’t the type of barnburner I anticipated heading into the first game. During the off season, I predicted what Patrick Mahomes production would look like, and even though my simple model predicted regression, I still expected him to put up gaudy numbers relative to the rest of the league. In fairness, he still had a great season especially considering he was banged up.
As a whole, I expected the Chiefs to take a step forward and demonstrate that all of the offseason departures and acquisitions were for a reason. Instead, the defense started slow and ended the season with a bang. The offense did the exact opposite, starting the season hot and cooling to a simmer to close out the year.
All this said, I believe this is one of the more balanced teams the Chiefs have had in recent memory. Their offense is still very good, it’s just that expectations were so high following a jaw dropping 2018 campaign. On the flipside, the defense has improved dramatically. This is no longer a bad defense, or even an average one. They have rapidly improved over the second half of the season and can arguably hold their own against any team that comes their way.
With the playoffs finally upon us, now the real work begins. All that has been accomplished to this point for this Chiefs team was expected. Double digit wins, a division crown, and a first-round bye seemed a given heading into the season. Yet that has all simply been preparation for the ultimate goal of winning the Super Bowl.
With the Houston Texans coming to Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday, with dark intentions of shattering the dreams of a team and the city that team calls home, what are the important storylines to consider heading into the pivotal game?
Thornhill’s loss will affect the entire defensive scheme
I’ll be the first to admit, I was a little concerned with Brett Veach as the GM going forward after his first draft with the team. Unfortunately, Derrick Nnadi is the only player from that class who has been able to carve out a significant role for himself. The rest of the group has either been hurt, barely seen the field, or is no longer with the team. Things didn’t look very good, and some questioned several of Veach’s decisions in this year’s draft.
Any who questioned this year’s draft are currently eating crow, even if they don’t want to admit it. Based off the production of nearly every single pick in the draft, this has been one of the more complete drafts for the Chiefs in recent memory. The picks of Hardman, Thornhill, Saunders, Fenton, Thompson, and even the trade for Frank Clark all seem to be excellent decisions in hindsight. Many publications are beginning to take notice, with Pro Football Focus recently ranking the Chiefs 2019 draft class as one of the best in the league.
The sad thing is, the Chiefs will be without arguably the best pick in this class for the upcoming playoff run. Juan Thornhill suffered a torn ACL in the final game of the season against the Los Angeles Chargers, and he will be tough to replace.
Thornhill has gotten better seemingly every game this season, finishing the season as arguably one of the league’s best safeties. According to Pro Football Focus, Thornhill played the fifth most snaps of any safety, had a top-10 coverage grade for safeties playing more than 500 snaps, and had a top-five yards per coverage snap grade for safeties playing more than 300 snaps.
What’s arguably the biggest loss, besides his overall production, is the schematic flexibility he gave Spagnuolo and company. Thornhill possesses a rare blend of speed, quickness, and awareness that allows him to patrol the entire deep part of the field. This has allowed Spagnuolo and company to deploy more single-high looks which has in turn helped in both the run and shallow pass defense.
Unfortunately, without a speedy safety to take his place this will likely force more cover-two than we’ve seen lately. While not a showstopper, this will undoubtedly lead to lighter boxes and more or larger lanes for quarterbacks to target. This defense should still perform well, but Spagnuolo will have to get creative to make up for the loss of Thornhill.