Is there a defense for this Chiefs offense?
Early on Sunday’s broadcast of the Chiefs vs. Saints, Tony Romo broke down the Saints’ defensive approach. The Saints were going to rush four men and drop linebackers into coverage, and dare the Chiefs to run the football. In short, they wanted to deploy all their resources to blanket the secondary in order to limit the Chiefs’ aerial offense. Romo even remarked that the Saints are one of the only teams in the NFL with the speed on defense to control K.C.
After all, the Saints could generate plenty of pressure given how strong their defensive line, not to mention the fact that they have marquee pass-rushers like Cameron “Mr. Right Hook” Jordan. Pair that defensive line with a versatile secondary, and it’s no wonder many have pegged the Saints’ defense as the best match to upend the Chiefs.
The plan mostly worked—at least as well as it could have. Mahomes was under hellacious pressure all game. He was sacked 4 times and hit 11 times. He wasn’t super efficient either, finishing the game with a completion percentage just north of 50%. Tommy Townsend had an unusually busy day punting the ball. The Saints special teams unit was even able to force a safety off of a perplexing Demarcus Robinson decision.
In other words, the Saints mostly lived up to the task. It’s been a while since Mahomes was disrupted so often, forced to scramble that much. And yet, at the end of the day, the Chiefs were still able to tally 32 points.
I don’t mean to say the Chiefs are flawless, or necessarily unbeatable. But what seems to be the case, especially this season, is that the Chiefs are uniquely able to cover up their errors. The have an offense that stalls, at times, but also has the quick strike capability to wipe away the sting of those blunders.
One way to put it is that the Chiefs have a certain *gear* that is simply unstoppable. There are games, like the Ravens game earlier this year, or the Bucs a few weeks ago, where the offense performs at that level for most of the game. Then there are games like Week 14 vs. the Dolphins, or the Chargers during Week 2, where we only see snippets of that gear. It’s a unique Chiefs phenomenon: the offense can play unevenly, even anemic for large periods of a game, but when they’re “on”, the play is unmatched.
It’s a possible explanation for why the Chiefs play so many close games. They execute flawlessly on 4-5 drives, but also throw in a bunch of drives that stall—be it from penalties, sacks, drops, or a rare turnover. Maybe the defense plays a bad half. But they are so unbelievably great when they are on, that they more often than not wipe away the cost of an error.
However, this “gear” is as much mythology as it is concrete. Protecting Mahomes and eliminating drops are the tangible factors that help enable this sublime play.
We didn’t get a ton of Mahomes magic this week. But we got enough (from Hill and Kelce, too) to offset some offensive struggles. So, while the Chiefs aren’t unbeatable, their top offensive setting seems stronger than even perfectly matched defenses. It’s just a matter of “how often” they can turn to that well, that gear, the thing that makes a lot of people sit back and say, “Who can beat this team?”