How are KC Chiefs messy and great at the same time?
When you look at the Kansas City Chiefs’ record they look like a truly great team, but when you watch them play you also see that they’re kind of a mess.sasd
For the second straight week, the Kansas City Chiefs went down to the wire with a vastly inferior opponent. This time around it was the lowly Houston Texans who took the Chiefs into overtime where the Chiefs needed a fumble recovery to avoid a complete disaster. The win brought the Chiefs to 11-3 on the season, which is tied for the second-best record in all the NFL. The uninspiring win also clinched the AFC West (and a playoff spot) for the Chiefs for the 7th consecutive year.
A team with an 11-3 record that has clinched their division with three weeks to go is one of the league’s great teams. A team that has the best quarterback in the league and has been to four straight AFC Championship Games and won a Super Bowl deserves to be viewed as one of the NFL’s great teams. If you had every NFL writer/reporter/blogger make a list of the great NFL teams this season, I feel confident that the Chiefs would be on the vast majority of those lists. There are clearly reasons to be optimistic about this team.
So if you ask the question “Are the Chiefs a great team?” I think the answer is yes. However, if you ask the question “Are the Chiefs a mess right now?” I think the answer might also be yes.
The “bad” side of the KC Chiefs
In the same way we just made a list of qualifiers that prove that the Chiefs are a great team, we can make another list that shows that they have some characteristics of a bad team too. That list includes things like turnover differential, penalties, their recent defensive performances, and special teams (especially kicker) reliability.
I could spend more time focusing on the good things with this team, justifying why they are a legit Super Bowl contender, but I think we can all just agree that is the case. The Chiefs have the record and the upside to win a Super Bowl this season. Patrick Mahomes and their offense give them a chance to beat absolutely any team in the NFL. Period. The problem we have seen the past two weeks is that their “bad” characteristics give them a chance to lose to absolutely any team in the NFL too.
So what do the Chiefs need to improve on over these last three weeks of the season to raise their floor on a week-to-week basis? Let’s start with the turnover differential issue. The Chiefs lost the turnover differential battle once again against the Texans on Sunday, but thankfully the one turnover that they did get came at the perfect time in overtime to help them win the game. It’s a reminder of how important turnovers are and why the Chiefs can’t keep counting on winning despite losing the turnover battle.
As of my typing this Sunday afternoon (so not including the Sunday late afternoon or evening games) the Chiefs are tied for the 3rd worst turnover differential in the NFL. They are flat-out terrible in that department. They are tied for the 8th fewest turnovers forced in the NFL and are tied for the 4th most turnovers committed. They are poor performers on both ends of the issue. That’s a characteristic of a bad team and you can’t argue otherwise. The Chiefs cannot continue to be bad at turnovers and win a Super Bowl. That needs to be one of the main areas they clean up. Period.
Next up are the penalties. On the season the Chiefs have done a pretty good job of avoiding penalties. However, last week against the Denver Broncos the Chiefs had 70 yards in penalties, and in this last game against the Texans, they had a brutal 10 penalties for 102 yards. That’s massive. The Chiefs outgained the Texans 502 to 219 in the game, but those extra 102 yards are what allowed them to keep it close and force overtime. We can all agree that some of the calls were questionable, but especially on defense, the Chiefs aren’t good enough to get the benefit of the doubt on close calls. They have to clean things up, especially in the secondary with all the grabbing.
If the Chiefs are going to struggle with the turnover battle they can’t be horrible with penalties too. That’s a recipe for disaster and exactly how you let inferior teams stick around. Sunday’s game was a perfect example of that. Then there’s the defense. The past two weeks the Chiefs have played two of the absolute worst offenses in all the NFL and allowed them both to score season-highs in points. What is going on there? Why are the Chiefs allowing the Broncos and Texans to score 52 combined points and the Buffalo Bills and Cincinnati Bengals 51 combined points?
I get that it’s easier to get up for bigger opponents and that the coaches are more likely to pull out all the stops when game-planning for them, but playing down that far to your opponent is inexcusable. Davis Mills and Jeff Driskel throwing to Chris Moore and Jordan Akins with Royce Freeman and Dare Ogunbowale at running back shouldn’t be able to keep pace with an Andy Reid and Patrick Mahomes offense and force them to overtime. It just shouldn’t happen, I don’t care if there were some questionable penalties involved.
Let’s not completely let the offense off the hook either. Patrick Mahomes was 36 of 41 for 336 yards with 2 touchdowns and no interceptions. Isiah Pacheco and Jerick McKinnon combined for 25 carries for 138 yards (5.52 YPC) and a touchdown. So why did they only have 24 points at the end of regulation? Why aren’t they turning that production into more points? Yes, it would have been 27 points if Harrison Butker made the field goal at the end of regulation, but I think we can all agree there’s no excuse for the Chiefs offense to have not put up more points in this game given how easily they moved the ball through most of it.
We should also take a moment to address the Harrison Butker situation. He isn’t good right now. Period. I don’t know if it’s still related to the injury from early in the season or if he’s just lost his mojo, but it’s a problem. Even great teams need a reliable kicker come playoff time and if the Chiefs are already struggling with being a “bad” great team they can’t have a shaky kicker to boot (pun intended). Over the past four seasons (including the playoffs) Butker has now missed 16 extra points. That in and of itself is a problem, but the fact that his field goal percentage is at just 76.2% this year when his previous career low was 88.9% is an even bigger problem. Whatever the reason for these issues, they simply have to get it cleaned up by playoff time.
Mixed emotions around the Chiefs
If I’m being honest, I don’t know how to feel about this team. On one hand, it feels crazy to complain about an 11-3 team that just clinched their 7th straight division title—one that has made 4 straight conference title games, won a Super Bowl, and has the best quarterback in the universe, a Hall of Fame head coach, and tight end too. How spoiled do we sound going “but I don’t like how they’ve looked in those 11 wins”. Talk about first-world problems, right?
On the other hand, it feels wrong to just ignore issues that are plain to see that could cause this team to fall short of their very real goal of winning another Super Bowl. I don’t just want to be a blind homer fan that goes “everything is great” because the team is still winning and then be heartbroken when they lose in the playoffs.
The Chiefs are a great team, or maybe the better way to say it is that their ceiling is truly great. The problem is that they have some issues that right now today make them a “bad” great team. I don’t think that’s an oxymoron, in this case, I think it’s an accurate picture of where this team is today. The good news is that they still have time to fix some of these issues, the turnover differential probably being top on that list, before the playoffs roll around.
So what do you think Chiefs fans? Do you agree that this team has both earned the right to claim they are one of the NFL’s great teams and also shown some very bad habits that could come back to bite them if they don’t get them cleaned up? Are we being bad fans if we’re concerned about what we’re seeing even though the team is 11-3 or do you think these concerns are valid? I’d love to read your thoughts in the comments below.