There were moments when fans sounded overly tired of the coachspeak. I can say that because I was one of them. Yet it turns out that the leaders responsible for guiding the Kansas City Chiefs were telling the truth all season long—even if I didn’t want to hear it.
Earlier this year, the Chiefs looked like a shell of their current selves. Instead of near-perfect execution, their games were marked by careless errors and mental mistakes. The team’s technique looked shoddy on all levels, and defenders were missing tackles or out of alignment. We all remember those times. The endless giveaways. The lack of turnovers. The missed opportunities.
In those first couple months of the ’21 season, it was hard to watch such an obviously talented team, one with championship dreams and the experience to back them up, suddenly giving games away like they were an expansion franchise. Think about it: teams were discussing the Chiefs in the same way we talk about the present Bears or Jets or Giants.
It turns out the Chiefs leaders were telling us the truth all along.
At the time, when reporters pressed for answers during media sessions, the Chiefs leadership stuck to the same script. It didn’t matter if Andy Reid himself was at the microphone or it was one of his coordinators. For that matter, it didn’t matter if it was the coaching staff or front office personnel or even the rare appearance from team owner Clark Hunt. The messengers were in lockstep with one another and the message sounded like something like this:
We know what we have to do. We’re focused on getting there. We’re making the changes we need to make.
Each and every week, it felt like Chiefs Kingdom heard some variation of that—or maybe all of those statements strung together. At the time, it sounded like coachspeak, some sort of word salad that lacks any meaning at all. It’s akin to when someone says, “Well, you know, it is what it is.” What? That doesn’t actually say anything.
The difficult part of hearing that rhetoric is that it sounded like a cover for one of two things: 1.) It felt like either overconfidence from a team still believing too much in their own press, or 2.) They were clueless about how to fix what was beyond their control. The former was frustrating because fans wondered just many losses it would take for the team to wake up and start making significant changes. The latter was frustrating because it meant the problems were even worse than feared.
As it turns out, the worries were all for nothing. That’s because Reid & Co. were telling the truth all along. They knew what they had to do. They were focused on getting there. They were making the changes they needed to make.
Behind the scenes, fans didn’t realize that Brett Veach was eyeing one more veteran addition to the pass rush all along—and that it was the same guy he’d been flirting with for quite some time. Behind the scenes, fans didn’t know that the Chiefs were employing a patient shift away from older veterans toward younger performers. Behind the scenes, fans weren’t aware of just how much a couple of injuries were affecting the entire unit.
When a unit makes the leap from worst in the NFL to one of the best in a single season, it sounds like the sort of story that required seismic changes. Instead, Jarran Reed just needed time. Chris Jones just needed to get back inside. Dan Sorensen and Ben Niemann just needed to stay within their respective wheelhouses. Nick Bolton just needed some experience. Juan Thornhill just needed the reps. Frank Clark and Chris Jones just needed to get over nagging injuries.
Even the move to add Melvin Ingram wasn’t some major trade. He was a veteran pass rusher who had to settle for a one-year deal late in free agency who was then made available for a single sixth-round pick. He’s played just over 50 percent of snaps since his arrival in K.C. Statistically speaking, Ingram has more pressures to his credit with the Steelers (in one less game) than he does in K.C. On the surface, in other words, even that wasn’t a major move.
Instead, Ingram’s acquisition was the final domino to fall after a series of internal shifts that the Chiefs had been working on all along. If Reed was ready up front and Clark was stable outside, then kicking Jones inside and bringing in another savvy veteran to anchor the line moved the entire unit from a weakness to a championship-caliber unit.
Yes, there are observable changes we can point to, but we’ve learned a lot this season about the level of trust we should all have in a coaching staff that didn’t garner a lot of it (trust) early in the season. Even when the waves are choppy and the journey of following this team is unsettling, the Chiefs leaders have proven that their patient approach and body of experience should keep fans more even-keeled than we were willing to be earlier this year. Or at least that’s what I’ve learned in 2021.