Titans 27, Chiefs 3
It’s never a good idea to make an important decision, have a tough conversation, or write about football when you’re angry. The dust has settled on Sunday’s shellacking and I have finally come to terms with the fact that the Chiefs simply got dominated on both sides of the football on Sunday vs. a Titans team that looked to be very motivated to do so. While there were a lot of kneejerk reactions during and in the immediate aftermath of the game, it’s important to allow time and perspective to develop and more importantly to lick wounds and work your way through the entire grieving process, which looked a little like this for yours truly over the past 4 days :
Shock and Denial : did that really just happen?
Pain and Guilt : there’s no way we’re making the playoffs.
Anger and Bargaining : $%^&$ #@$!!#$ fire everyone! Bench the whole defense!
Depression, reflection, and loneliness : now that the Chiefs are bad all I have left in my life is my family and friends. What a miserable existence.
The upward turn : at least my family and friends aren’t making TikToks in my face while I’m depressed
Reconstruction and working through : we have some things to correct, but overall our offense has been good enough to win most games this year! We could easily be 5-2!
Acceptance : bad loss, but it’s a long season! We got this!
Now, the area between upward turn and acceptance are the reason that I essentially live the movie Groundhog Day when it comes to my existence as a Chiefs fan, but if there weren’t people like me (us, because I know if you’re reading this you know how I’m feeling), Arrowhead wouldn’t be the Mecca of American football. So what do we make of all of this? Pretty crucial that we evaluate a few facets of the game that went well, that went bad, and that went ugly. We’ll take a look at the good first…don’t worry, this won’t take long.
Nick Bolton :
First game wearing the green dot…and boy did he have himself an afternoon. 15 total tackles, 9 solo, 4 tackles for loss. The True Son was absolutely all over the field on Sunday, and he was absolutely up in that ass when Derrick Henry was running the football. We held the Avatar character to under 100 yard rushing and a big big part of that was Nicky B. Here’s some season long stats for context on how good Nick Bolton has been.
9 tackles for loss (1st in the NFL – 1st on Chiefs and 1st among all rookies)
39 solo tackles (6th in the NFL – 1st on Chiefs and 1st among all rookies)
55 total tackles (12th in the NFL – 1st on Chiefs and 1st among all rookies)
Not bad. Mr. Bolton might have some hardware coming his way come January.
Byron Pringle :
Pringle has been consistent and reliable over the past few weeks, no different on Sunday. His 5 catches on 6 targets were third behind Tyreek and Trav, but he led the team in yards with 73. He also made a nice catch in the third quarter on the Chiefs only scoring drive on 2nd and long that went for 23 yards that got the Chiefs into field goal range.
I told you that wouldn’t take long. Now, on to the bad and the ugly. They’re the same really. Trying to narrow this down was difficult, but there are three aspects of the current iteration of the Chiefs that continue to be a negative theme in 2021. Each side of the ball gets equal shine (or lack thereof) on this, so we’ll start with the offense.
The elephant in the room with the Chiefs this year is turnovers. From 2018 to 2020 we averaged 15 turnovers per season. That’s an entire season. This year we have 17 through 7 games, including 9 interceptions from Patrick Mahomes. Now, the fact that he is leading the league in interceptions at 9 is a little bit deceptive. Mahomes ranks 12th in the NFL in “turnover worthy throws”, which is a metric developed by Pro Football Focus that essentially narrows down interceptions into a bucket where it’s directly on the quarterback for making a bad throw. Throwing into triple coverage, throwing behind a receiver, etc. Mahomes has chucked up 6 turnover worthy throws this year (I think we can all remember at least a couple), which only takes 3 off of his total, but when you look at the company he’s in, it brings some context. He’s tied with 7 other quarterbacks at 6, including Justin Herbert, Lamar Jackson, and Aaron Rodgers. So, while we have been unlucky, and the media has gotten their rocks off on talking about his picks ad nauseum, they’re failing to remind you of that.
Part of the reason that Mahomes has struggled so much this season is because of what the offensive line and receiving corps have allowed other defenses to be able to do. Which leads me to the second portion of offensive offense. Each member of the Chiefs offensive line, save maybe Creed Humphrey, has had issues in pass protection early in the season. Orlando Brown at times has looked like he’s not quite comfortable yet at LT full time, we’ve made the change from Niang to Remmers which has been an upgrade, and Trey Smith and Joe Thuney have had a couple of mishaps but have made up for it with their run blocking dominance. The issue here is that when we have these pass protection issues, it’s because the plays are being extended. We’re being blitzed at the lowest rate of any offense in the NFL (10.7% on the season), and only 1 out of 39 (!!) on Sunday vs. the Titans. Blitzed one time, and Mahomes was sacked 4. This means that teams are getting home with rushing 4. So is the issue in the offensive line? Not so fast.
We are tops in the league in extended plays – meaning 5-7 second drop backs. This does not come from protection breakdowns. This comes from people not getting open. Outside of Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, and in recent weeks Byron Pringle, the Chiefs have stricken zero fear into opposing defenses with their pass catching unit. The loss of Jody Fortson two weeks ago hinders us even further in this. Teams are playing 2 high safety looks (cover 2, cover 4, or 2 man) 59% of the time this season. The league average is 38%. They are daring us to come at them, and it’s resulting in us having to take the field in shorter chunks, and check down a lot more. The Chiefs desperately need a WR2 to step up in the worst way, but the people in the room currently (sans Josh Gordon who’s only had ~10 practices – not even an entire training camp’s worth with the team thus far) appear to have no interest in doing so. This will be covered more in depth in our trade deadline piece later in the week.
But how do we fix it? It starts and ends with the running game, and the packages that we run out of. The Chiefs are passing ~62% of the time this season. That’s actually down from years past, but a lot of that ratio comes from games prior to Clyde getting injured. Darrell Williams played a fantastic game against the WFT, then we come out and hand him the ball 5 times vs. Tennessee. Obviously we got down early, and when that happens the passing game is the go to, but we have to establish the running game. Our entire offensive line is plus in run blocking on the season – the same cannot be said for pass pro. The run game assists the passing game as well. How do you set up play action? Run the ball. How do you get defenses up in the box, and then take them deep over the top? Run the ball. How do you help struggling tackles with more athletic pass rushers? 11 personnel, set up by running the ball, who can help the tackles chip on these guys. The bottom line is – the Chiefs need to establish the run if they want the offense to reach it’s full potential.
Defensively…where do I begin? I keep going back and forth in my head on this – is it scheme, or is it personnel? While I can’t say for certain that I’ve absolutely landed on one, I can tell you this. Our pass rush is a problem. Here are some numbers for you to chew on :
19.5% – Chiefs pressure percentage while rushing 4 (last in the NFL)
81.2 opposing quarterback QBR (there have only been 6 quarterback ever have individual season with QBR that high)
78% completion percentage for opposing QB’s on unpressured throws
9.4 YPA for opposing QB’s on unpressured throws
Simply put, our lack of pass rush and defensive inefficiency in general is making every quarterback we play look like one of the best of all time. I made the comment to a friend on Sunday that we were making Ryan Tannehill look like Peyton Manning, but we were actually making him look better if you look solely at QBR. Tannehill posted a 87.8 QBR against the Chiefs on Sunday, and Peyton’s best season was 86.4 in 2006. Now, one game compared to an entire season is not a realistic comparison at all, but you get what I’m saying. The Chiefs have to find a way to get pressure on opposing QBs. One would naturally think “let’s blitz”, but that’s not helping. We are second in the league in blitzes, and below average on QB pressures on those plays. Partly personnel, partly scheme. Guys like Dan Sorenson and Ben Niemann, while great locker room guys and hard workers, are not tough blocks at the NFL level, particularly when the blitz packages are not very well disguised.
Open field tackling also continues to be an issue. The Chiefs are 4th worst in the entire league in YAC yards allowed. Which would explain how we’re giving up 48.7% of third down opportunities (3rd worst in the league). When you couple that with the fact that we’re allowing opponents to score touchdowns on 73% of red zone visits (5th worst in the NFL), we’re going to be in for days like Sunday where Tennessee controlled the ball for nearly 40 minutes of the 60 in the game, and started out Touchdown, Touchdown, Field Goal, Touchdown, Field Goal on their first 5 drives.
It’s clear that the Chiefs have a lot of fixing to do if they want to get back to their 2018-2020 form. And it may not happen immediately, and maybe not this year. But with Patrick Mahomes at quarterback and Andy Reid behind the clipboard, this team has a punchers chance to pull just about anything off. I would not write off a Super Bowl run just yet. Don’t forget Super Bowl 54, when things also didn’t look good. I believe the quote from Mr. Mahomes was :
“They’re gonna talk about this shit forever.”
Let’s hope when they do it’s a good thing.