The Kansas City Chiefs are searching for answers after a shocking Week 2 loss in Baltimore. On defense, there are more questions than answers.
In back-to-back weeks, the K.C. Chiefs have put the weight of the world on Patrick Mahomes. Last week against Cleveland, he delivered as he willed the Chiefs to a 33-29 victory in the home opener. This week, the opportunity was taken away from him by a rare Clyde Edwards-Helaire fumble that took the ball out of the offense’s hands.
Mahomes not getting the opportunity to punch it in the end zone was not the biggest issue with the game, however. The biggest issue is the defense.
Kansas City simply had no answer for the read option that Baltimore presented them with. Yes, Lamar Jackson is an elite runner, but the Chiefs didn’t even come close to slowing him down in the rushing game. While Tyrann Mathieu has looked good, every other position has needed work on the defensive side of the ball through two weeks and it is time to wonder whether it will be corrected.
The Defensive line
Perhaps the most puzzling part of the Chiefs defensive struggles is the defensive line, which many touted as being a very deep group. On Sunday night, there were no sightings of Jarran Reed, who was believed to be a “steal” from Seattle. Reed got very little push and was credited with two tackles, neither of which were all that close to the line of scrimmage. On top of Reed’s performance, Chris Jones was unable to record a single solo tackle. He had one assist as the Ravens ran at him all night long. Frank Clark made one nice play in the backfield. Derrick Nnadi, like Reed, was a non-factor.
How can a defensive line coached by Brendan Daly look so ineffective on obvious rushing downs? Why did the Chiefs insist on leaving Chris Jones outside even after it became clear that he was a liability against the option that kept burning them? How is this going to be fixed?
It is currently unclear what change could be made to correct the defensive line woes. Perhaps losing could light a fire under a few of the players that need it the most. It’s possible that the line has regressed from a year ago. There are simply more questions than answers at this point.
The linebackers have been a very inconsistent mess. One play, Nick Bolton will make an excellent tackle as they stop a ball carrier for a short gain. The next play, Bolton will get burned on a short out-route that costs the defense 20 yards. While Bolton has been the occasional bright spot, there have been very few good things coming from Anthony Hitchens or Ben Niemann.
Anthony Hitchens lost contain on several run plays last night and on one of the Lamar Jackson touchdown runs, he allowed himself to get sealed to the inside by Mark Andrews, a tight end. Ben Niemann appears to be a step too slow getting to his spots which causes him to miss guys in the open field and blow coverages all too often.
The problem may be resolved when Willie Gay is back in the starting lineup. Although it is unclear how much of a difference he will make, he was touted by many media members as being one of the best defensive players on the field during training camp. That being said, it may be an inconsistent group all year long.
Outside of Tyrann Mathieu, there are some concerning trends in the Kansas City secondary. Charvarius Ward has gotten beaten downfield on multiple occasions and narrowly escaped long touchdowns due to bad passes from quarterbacks. Daniel Sorensen, while occasionally clutch, has missed eight tackles, which leads the team.
There are some mysteries surrounding Juan Thornhill, who has seemingly played better and played in fewer snaps than Sorensen with little explanation from the Chiefs’ coaching staff. Currently, the secondary is the most productive group on the defense and still has something to prove.
The Chiefs have been in this situation before. The last time they were here, Bob Sutton was the defensive coordinator and Eric Berry was still “day-to-day.” Later that season, the Chiefs fell to the Patriots in the AFC Championship due to a defensive collapse. While Kansas City will win games on the back of Patrick Mahomes this year and beyond, they would certainly like to avoid humiliating losses late in the playoffs due to poor defensive play.
The most troubling part of all of this is that the Chiefs haven’t really done any one thing well on the defensive side of the ball. There has been little to have optimism about regarding the defense. If the Chiefs can’t find any kind of identity on defense, this will be an ongoing issue all season.
I, for one, do not believe that we are headed for a disaster of a season or even a “down year.” I do, however, believe that things need to get turned around immediately. Unlike the AFC Championship-losing team of 2019, this team’s defense is more talented and better coached than in 2019. Kansas City must come out and prove that they are not totally abysmal on defense. If that can happen, the Chiefs will remain atop the league.