Will the Kansas City Chiefs defense prove to be a liability for this team?
The Kansas City Chiefs loss to the Baltimore Ravens was hard to watch. What made it particularly difficult was that we all must now admit that our great offense can only carry this team so far.
Let’s get this out of the way.
When you score 35 points, you should rarely lose an NFL game. Even with all the rules changes to help the passing game and quarterbacks throwing more than ever, 35 points should generally be enough to get a win.
We learned last Sunday night what we learned during the 2018 regular season 54-51 loss to the Rams – the best offense in the league isn’t always enough to overcome a complete lack of defense.
What’s most concerning is seeing that scenario replay itself three years later.
The Ravens ran for over 250 yards and passed for another 230. The honest truth is that they could have passed for a lot more but they were so successful running, they didn’t have to.
This was going on while Mahomes was his usual self, going 24-for-31 with 343 passing yards. On the other end of the spectrum, the Kansas City Chiefs managed only 62 positive yards on the ground.
This leads directly to an awful realization for Chiefs fans. Lamar Jackson finished with a 78.8 passer rating. Mahomes finished with a 131.5 rating.
And the Chiefs couldn’t win the game. That’s tough to understand.
There is no mystery here. In just two games this year, the Chiefs have given up over 400 rushing yards. They look historically awful against the run.
Watching the loss last Sunday night felt like a flashback to Marty-Ball, only the Kansas City Chiefs were on the other side of the equation. Back in those days, fans begged for a forward pass. Who doesn’t remember all those 3rd and long plays where Marty dialed up a screen pass?
But give Marty credit. He knew you could win a lot of games by running effectively and playing stout defense. He also proved that his formula doesn’t work well in the playoffs.
We are now seeing the exact opposite of Marty-Ball. Unstoppable offense and virtually no defense. And I have to admit, it’s not any more palatable than watching Barry Word run up the backside of a guard.
Every level of the defense was bad against the Ravens.
It looked like Chris Jones doesn’t know how to set the edge or play the RPO. It’s all still new to him, and I expect he’ll improve, but he looked lost in space at times. It seemed like he wants to get sacks and be a bigger star, I get that, but Sunday night was a mess.
Jones finished the night with zero tackles and one assist. Against a team that ran the ball over 40 times, that’s unacceptable.
The Ravens ran inside, they ran outside, they ran anywhere they pleased. On paper, Jones and Frank Clark look like an incredible duo on the edge. Against the Ravens they were paper tigers.
The pass rush was OK, witness Lamar’s 78 QB rating, and they were able to flush Jackson out of the pocket occasionally. But that is exactly the wrong way to play him. You want him throwing, not scrambling. You want him contained in the pocket, not able to step up, run forward, or escape to the edge.
Either the coaches didn’t know this, or the players didn’t execute it. The result was a ‘Lamar Jackson for MVP’ promotional video.
Hitchens and Bolton were busy guys. They accounted for 17 of 45 solo tackles on defense. Given that the seven d-line players who rotated throughout the game only made 8 tackles all night, I guess that makes sense.
Ben Niemann was a ghost. He contributed three solo tackles and zero assists. As much as I like Willie Gay, I’m not sure he could have done any better. The linebackers were constantly fighting off the Ravens offensive linemen on the second level. In many ways, their struggles were a reflection of the porous D-line.
The Chiefs addressed linebacker with Bolton this year. It looks like he’s going to be a solid piece. When Willie Gay gets back, the Chiefs defense will instantly be more athletic. But if the Chiefs linebackers are fending off offensive linemen four yards down the field every run, it won’t matter.
As we saw Sunday, when the linebackers pinch up to stop the run, all the pressure falls on the secondary.
I’m not Vince Lombardi, but I’m pretty sure you don’t want your two safeties to be your leading tacklers. Alas, that’s what Mathieu and Sorensen were against the Ravens. Mathieu also contributed two huge INTs.
Despite the glossy stats, we saw several big plays by the Ravens caused by miscommunication. The jump pass TD to Hollywood Brown still boggles the mind. How does the #1 receiver on the Ravens run down the field without someone within 15 yards of him?
Still, of the three defensive units, the secondary had the best day. With Lamar buying time and the safeties inching up to help with the run, it’s a wonder there weren’t more big passing plays.
This doesn’t bode well for the Kansas City Chiefs
The loss to the Ravens – not to mention the narrow escape from the Browns – is ample evidence the Kansas City Chiefs have a fatal flaw.
Every NFL team must do one of two things along the defensive line. You either have to stop the run and force other teams to pass or you have to muster a dominant pass rush that forces them to run.
Currently, the Chiefs defensive line can do neither.
Until this gets fixed, the Chiefs will be in a lot of high scoring games. That might lead to another MVP year for Mahomes, but it certainly isn’t a Super Bowl-winning formula.
There’s a reason football coaches use the cliche about “winning starts in the trenches” – because it’s true. Right now, the Chiefs are losing badly in the trenches – frankly on both sides of the ball. A magical QB, TE, and WR can mask that for a while, but not over 17 games.
Until the Chiefs fix the problems upfront on the defense, every week looks to be a high wire act for the fans. Every offensive possession must end in a TD. Any stop on defense – even a field goal by the opponent – will feel like an unexpected victory.
Staying on this trajectory might be enough to get to the playoffs, but it sure doesn’t feel like enough to win a Super Bowl.