In their loss to the Cincinnati Bengals this past Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs gave up 34 points, the most they had given up since Week 5 against the Buffalo Bills (who scored 38) during that early stretch in which the entire team struggled.
The Chiefs’ defense finally had what many would consider a bad game after a dominant eight-game winning streak where they were among the top defenses in the NFL allowing just 13 PPG during their winning streak.
You would be kidding yourself just a tiny bit if you couldn’t admit that part of that success was because the Chiefs faced some rather stagnant offenses. Of course, their defense has come a long way since the beginning of the year due to players stepping up and getting the scheme down. However, playing against teams missing key players or just straight-up bad teams does help.
The Bengals offense, led by Joe Burrow and Ja’Marr Chase, was a better unit than the ones Kansas City had faced in recent months. So when the Bengals put up 34 points and one guy beat you over and over again all day, it isn’t a great confirmation that the defense can stand up to truly dynamic offenses. It won’t be a surprise when national media pundits start to use this game to fuel their narrative that the Chiefs defense isn’t all that it’s hyped up to be.
Steve Spagnuolo got exposed on Sunday for his stubborn commitment to bad habits.
I do believe the Chiefs’ defense turned a significant corner and what happened in Sunday’s game is an outlier. I think if you play that game 10 times, the Chiefs win 7 out of 10. Despite that fact, what unfolded in that game defensively was inexcusable.
Why did it happen? Well, it all goes back to defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. To preface, Spagnuolo deserves a large chunk of credit for the way the defense was playing; however, his odd tendencies and bad habits to play the wrong personnel and not make adjustments came back to bite at the worst possible time. To throw salt in the wound of losing to the Bengals, the Chiefs also relinquished the No. 1 seed in the AFC back to the Tennessee Titans.
What exactly went wrong? If you have been paying attention, since Spagnuolo was essentially bullied by fans and the media to bench Dan Sorensen among other decisions, he has slowly crept them back into the lineup and went back to his old ways.
We let it slide because the Chiefs defense overall had been playing better and they were winning games, but those decisions were always going to come back to bite him because elite teams were going to pick on players like Daniel Sorensen and Ben Niemann on money downs (or just in general) and that’s exactly what the Bengals did on Sunday.
In the third quarter of Sunday’s game, Ja’Marr Chase scored his second touchdown by burning the Chiefs defense deep and the defender who had deep responsibilities was none other than Sorensen, who was solely responsible for the touchdown given up. Sorensen ended up playing just over 30% of the defensive snaps, which is simply too much. Really makes you wonder where Armani Watts stands on the depth chart but that is a whole other angle.
Furthermore, Spagnuolo rolled out into the second half after Chase had already racked up over 100 yards with absolutely zero adjustments. He consistently left his men on an island with Chase and didn’t even bother to try out their best cornerback L’Jarius Sneed on him instead of Charvarius Ward and Rashad Fenton, who simply are less talented than Chase.
The officiating is obviously a point of concern that people will talk about, but this game was essentially lost on the 3rd-and-27 play that was converted for a first down. Once again, They left Chase on an island with Ward and zero safety help over the top and Spagnuolo opted for an all-out blitz instead of playing it safe and the Burrow knew exactly where to go with the ball.
If the Chiefs are to face the Bengals again in the postseason I would expect a different game plan from the coaching staff, but it’s certainly not a bad thing they have this game to look back on and make changes based on what happened. Hopefully, it’s a final reminder to Spagnuolo to not go away from what was working and play the guys the front office invested high draft picks in.