Week 8 is in the books, and the Chiefs walk away from their Monday Night Matchup evening with their record at 4-4 with a narrow 20-17 victory. While the team failed to answer many of the questions that we had going in, it definitely didn’t feel like an evening where we walked away with more. For the 2021 Chiefs, I’m considering that a win. 2 wins in 1 night, we’ll take it.
While the offense still looked a little off kilter (we’ll get to that later), let’s spend some time focusing on the defense. This is by far the best that the Chiefs defensive unit has looked all season. They’ve flashed in halves (second half vs. Cleveland, second half vs. Washington, second half vs. Tennessee), but for the first time it felt like we put a complete game together on the defensive side of the ball. Nick Bolton again was an absolute animal playing the mike linebacker position, coming away with another 11 tackles in a rookie campaign that is shaping up to be nothing short of spectacular. Add to that 9 tackles from his battery mate Willie Gay, to go along with a huge interception in the first quarter that essentially negated Mahomes’ early turnover and allowed the Chiefs to strike first, and the Chiefs young linebacking corps proved again why the Kingdom should be excited about the second level of this defense for years to come.
While I’m on the defense, I’ll be interested to see how the armchair QB’s rant and rave about Chris Jones and Frank Clark this week. Obviously these two have taken a ton of the brunt of the fan base’s frustrations for the defense’s slow start, as two of the highest paid players on the unit. But the bottom line is both have been banged up. Jones told the media after the game that he tore ligaments in his wrist in week 2 vs. Baltimore, which is why he missed time earlier in the year. Will he be 100% this season? Probably not. But if he plays the way he did last night, that will be enough. The Chris Jones at Defensive End Experiment also seems to be coming to a close, with 28 of his 42 snaps last night coming at the defensive tackle position. Melvin Ingram coming to town, you can expect to see CJ occupying multiple blocks from opposing interior offensive linemen very regularly, and very soon. And Frank Clark. If you took the time to listen to Frank’s press conference on Friday, you heard a very real account of how this man has been handling his business on and off of the field this season. He was humble, but he was real. And he mentioned that he was starting to get into his rhythm. Yes, yes he is. He had the Chiefs second highest PFF grade out last night at 91.7 (second highest of all pass rushers in the league in week 8), produced 5 pressures and 4 hurries throughout the course of the night, and had the final sack of Daniel Jones that sealed the win for the Chiefs. Chris Jones got to Danny Dimes a few moments earlier to put the Giants in fourth quarter purgatory before Frank sent them back to the airport with another L in their bag. Say what you want about Chris Jones and Frank Clark, their contracts, their “effort”, whatever…the final drive vs. the Giants is exactly why we pay these guys.
While the defensive performance consisted of mostly positive things to write home about, there is still a glaring weakness that continues to creep its way onto the field. Daniel Sorensen saw 27 snaps at free safety last night (45% of the defensive snaps), and gave up a team high 65 yards and a touchdown last night. Please don’t take this as a Dirty Dan roast – Sorensen will forever have a place in Chiefs lore as an absolute momentum rocket. The 2019 divisional game against the Texans is a perfect example of this. He almost single handedly turned the tide in that game with incredibly clutch defensive and special teams play. But the ship has sailed on him as an effective NFL defender. On the year he has given up 18 receptions on 22 targets (81.8% completion percentage – unfathomably high), 295 yards, 16.4 yards per completion, and is allowing a 149.1 QB rating when targeted. Those numbers are absolutely laughable. He has become an easy target for opposing quarterbacks, and it’s not a matter of if they will target him, it’s when. Spagnuolo has been subbing in the Sorensen/Niemann package on third down, even last night, and that needs to end. Willie Gay and Nick Bolton are both 3 down linebackers at this point, and Juan Thornhill and Tyrann Mathieu can hold down the fort at safety. Ending that nightmarish experiment will allow our defense to continue to grow.
Offensively, yikes. Not all bad obviously – any time you can walk away from a game with a win, Mahomes over 250 yards through the air, and Tyreek Hill catching 12 passes, we’ve had a decent night. But compared to the standard we’re used to – the Chiefs are not close. You can’t blame the pass protection last night – the unit as a whole graded out at 88.1 pass block rating, an incredible tally. The highest graded player on the team was Creed Humphrey, who is going to mess around and be named an All Pro as a rookie, and Trey Smith was out there turning grown men into boys. In case you missed it. Also worth noting Creed’s 94.2 PFF grade last night is the highest by a rookie offensive lineman since 2013. 2013! That’s 8 years worth of rookie offensive linemen that he’s outperforming thus far. He’s also the highest rated center in the league by PFF this season, period.
But there is something still off with the Chiefs passing attack. Hill remains one of the more dominant and impossible to defend pass catchers in the NFL, but unfortunately the cupboard is pretty bare outside of number 10. Even Travis Kelce has been bottled up the last few weeks. Kelce had 4 catches last night, but only 27 yards, and a fumble to boot. We’re seeing him struggle against press coverage this season, for two reasons. One – he’s getting cover corners lined up over the top of him when he’s flexed out because the Chiefs simply do not have a viable WR2 on the roster at the moment (Kelce is the de facto WR2 playing tight end), and two – he appears to be banged up. There’s no concrete evidence of this, but to the naked eye it appears that (perhaps) the neck injury he suffered against Buffalo is lingering a little more than we’re being led to believe. Nate Taylor even mentioned that this morning on 610 sports. Smart of the team to play that coy, we don’t want people keying on our franchise tight end. But it appears he’s definitely not 100% comfortable out there right now.
What’s going to be the topic of conversation this week nationally, and in small pockets of social media locally that take the aggrandizing approach to “reporting” on the Chiefs, is the play of Patrick Mahomes.
“Has the league figured him out?”
“Is he spooked from the Super Bowl rout?”
“His head’s not in the game.”
“He’s got happy feet.”
I have no clue if any of those things are true or false. But I do know he is still Patrick Mahomes. And it is going to take one week of the offense clicking for him to be back on his game. Unfortunately we haven’t really seen the offense click since week 4. So what fixes do we have to work with? Well, in order to identify the fix, we have to first identify the problem. Mahomes is having major issues finding open targets. This is due in part to personnel, but mostly to opposing teams gameplans. If you watched the Giants safeties last night, they played 2 high safety bracket coverage all….night….long. the safeties were at times 20-25 yards off of the line of scrimmage. Which is ridiculous, but effective if you want to take big plays away from offenses like the Chiefs. The good news here is that the Chiefs have the recipe, here and now, to counter punch this strategy into oblivion. This offensive line is downright dirty in the running game. During what I’ll refer to as the Derrick Gore drive last night – the 11 play, 68 yard drive in the second quarter last night where Gore carried the ball 7 of those 11 plays for 41 of the 68 yards and the touchdown to cap it off – Orlando Brown could be seen yelling at the sideline to continue pounding the rock. The Chiefs are averaging a hair under 5 yards per carry on the season. Establishing the run consistently (more than the 36% clip they’re running the ball right now) will not only force opposing defenses to bring those safeties up in the box, it will also allow for the play action passing game to become more effective. It will wear down opposing defensive lines – who to this point have been getting pressure on Mahomes at an alarming rate (he’s been sacked 16 times and we’re only being blitzed 10.4% of snaps – defensive lines are getting home). But almost more importantly – it will put us in much, much more favorable down and distance scenarios. Assume a 5 yard run on first down, with a 2nd and 5 down and distance this season, the Chiefs have a 100% first down rate on running plays (8 for 8), and 53% success rate on passing plays (8 of 15). 70% first down rate at that down and distance. Small sample set, but I think you all get the point. Establishing the run may not have been something we needed to worry about in the past, but for the success of the 2021 Chiefs it’s going to be paramount. And it will take some pressure off of Mahomes, who will be able to operate the offense much more effectively.
While we all would have liked to see a dominant performance last night on both sides of the ball, I believe the improvement we saw on defense is more encouraging than the questions that might arise from the offense’s performance. Like I said, we’re one explosive game away from the offense completely having their swagger back, and for this group confidence is key. We don’t need to worry about past mistakes. They are in the past. Move forward, play our game, and continue to stack wins on top of one another.
Trade Deadline Action
The Chiefs made probably the biggest move of the day when they traded a 6th round draft pick to Pittsburgh for Melvin Ingram. Melvin f’ing Ingram. Welcome to the Kingdom you beautiful beast. Giving up a 6th rounder for Melvin was an absolute no brainer, and a move that’s going to get the internet pitch forkers off of Brett Veach’s case for at least the next 48 hours. Not only does Ingram soup up a defense that already appears to be on the up and up, he lets us fully move CJ95 back inside to occupy block street, and brings 50 career sacks, 14 forced fumbles, 72 tackles for loss (shoutout @CFStatistics) along with 3 pro bowls, 10 years of experience, and numerous snatched souls from offensive tackles and quarterbacks across the NFL. This season for Pittsburgh his numbers have been fairly modest, but they were dropping him back into coverage every 13 snaps. Misusing a player is worse than not playing him, let’s hope Spags took notes on that.
The Chiefs made another move late in the day that was a bit less impactful, but likely means more down the line. They shipped off beloved offensive lineman Dr. Laurent Duvernay-Tardif to the Jets in exchange for tight end Dan Brown. Brown has been predominantly a special teamer in his career in the NFL, but the move got LDT’s $1.5M contract off of the Chiefs books while only bringing in ~$550K with Brown. A savings of around $1M to the cap, and with a certain former Andy Reid wideout being waived by the Rams just over an hour ago (hello D-Jax), we could be looking at another offensive weapons for Mr. Mahomes to zero in on. Fun fact – the Buccaneers defense has given up two passing plays of 40 or more yards this season. Both of those plays were Desean Jackson.
It’s not a given that we will sign D-Jax, but I’ve been hearing whispers of this since Sunday. It would not be surprising to see Andy land one of the most prolific weapons he had from his days in Philadelphia back in Kansas City. Let’s just hope it’s more effective than the Shady McCoy move from a couple years ago. Another team that will likely be in the running for Jackson is the Las Vegas Raiders, who announced today that star wide receiver Henry Ruggs will be charged with felony DUI resulting in death. Some things are bigger than football, and tonight there are multiple families picking up the pieces on a day that shattered multiple worlds. Just an awful, awful situation, and our thoughts and prayers are with the family of the victim.
By: La Charles