After their victory in Minnesota on Sunday afternoon, the Kansas City Chiefs have a quick turnaround Thursday Night when they face division rival Denver. Thus, they have little time to relish the victory that pushed their record to 4-1 on the young season. So tired bodies, a rushed game plan, and fan expectations at Arrowhead will merge as the Chiefs hope to derail the Broncos chances for an upset.
Last week, Patrick Mahomes became the youngest quarterback in NFL history to beat the other 31 teams in the league at least once, and only the 10th player to ever accomplish that feat overall. What is undeniable at this stage of his career, Mahomes has become the greatest player to ever grace the gridiron, bar none. Yet, he’s only 28 years old and still ascending.
Even though the Vikings game didn’t quite meet the expectation level of the fan base, the result is not surprising. I know all the grumbling about officiating has kind of shaded the game. Yet, what we saw was the Chiefs were penalized 10 times for 86 yards while the Vikings were flagged four times for 51 yards. I’m pretty sure the tale of infractions favored the Vikings.
Both Mahomes and Kirk Cousins had almost identical stat lines for the afternoon. Cousins was sacked three times. The Vikings offense turned over the ball just once on a forced fumble by TE Josh Oliver courtesy of Chiefs safety Justin Reid who knocked the ball loose. That turnover led to the Chiefs taking an early 7-0 lead. Overall, both teams had comparable offensive yards, the Chiefs with 333 and the Vikings, with 329. The difference in the game boiled down to the fact the Chiefs’ defense was better than the Vikings.
Steve Spagnuolo’s unit seemed to be everywhere they needed to be when the time came to make a big play. L’Jarius Sneed and Trent McDuffie played lights in keeping Justin Jefferson to the lowest catch total of his career. Led by Chris Jones, the defense generally put a lot of heat on Cousins. In fact, the only time he was able to gain big chunks of plays for the Vikings, KC’s defense was in prevent mode.
Keeping the quarterback uncomfortable didn’t seem to have the complete effect Spags desired but it was enough to keep the defensive energy at a high level. This will be key, ongoing, by keeping the motor running fast and hot. Spags does tend to soften during stretches of the game, and one would think perhaps he’s lulling the opposing offense into a false sense of comfortability, but when the time is right to strike, he does not hesitate to send the blitz.
With the Denver Broncos coming to Arrowhead holding down the basement of the AFC West, what should we expect from this matchup in the depths of Chiefs Kingdom? First, don’t be lulled into a false sense of security. The Broncos are going to try their hardest to snap their double-digit losing streak to the Chiefs.
Head Coach Sean Payton inherited a less-than-stellar squad from former head coach Nathaniel Hackett. I don’t believe that Payton will allow for a mediocre showing in prime time, but his football team has a massive identity crisis. The Broncos are ranked 32nd in total defense and 32nd in points allowed with 181. with 181. Offensively they’re middle of the pack at 16.
The Chiefs, on the other hand, are ranked 7th in total offense and 9th in total defense. The defense has only given up 80 points through five games and that ranks them 5th in the NFL with only 80 points. Having top ten units on both sides of the ball is a luxury every team would take.
To this point, the Chiefs’ defense plays tight coverage with a mix of zone and man. Spags is only blitzing on 26.6% of defensive snaps so his scheming is mixing up how the line looks to opposing quarterbacks. They rely heavily on stunts and getting to the running lanes fast. Currently, the defense is tied with the Philadelphia Eagles for 1st in quarterback hurries and 7th in pocket pressures.
The Chiefs’ passing defense is 8th in lowest completion percentage at 61.1%. The defense has only allowed just six offensive touchdowns and tied for 4th, overall. They are 6th in scoring defense. The Chiefs are also tied for 4th in passes defensed.
The woeful state of the Broncos defense has been exposed more than a few times this season. I don’t want to see the Chiefs take their eye off the ball in this or any game this season because the Broncos have some playmakers on the roster.
Andy Reid is big about preaching the next game is the most important one the team faces. Players must take to heart his words, and not get complacent thinking Denver can’t win. With Travis Kelce injuring his ankle this past week. He was limited in practice this week, but overcoming his ankle injury shows the kind of leadership that rubs off on his teammates.
On the flip side, the rise and fall of the Broncos rest solely on their quarterback, Russ Wilson. Their offense ranks as 8th best in the NFL. Wilson has respectable numbers to date, with 109 completions in 163 attempts, and 1,210 passing yards with a 66.9% completion rate. He has 11 touchdowns to 2 interceptions. Wilson has also rushed for 119 yards on 18 attempts with no scores. His current rating is 106.1.
By comparison, Patrick Mahomes has 123 completions on 184 attempts with 1,287 yards compiled with a 66.8% completion rate. He has ten touchdowns to four interceptions. In addition, Mahomes has rushed for 154 yards on 23 attempts.
So, you have similar stats between these two quarterbacks, what gives? For the Chiefs, the defense is what is winning games for them, right now, while the Broncos’ defense is losing games for them.
My concern with the Chiefs is why are they not being more decisive. There were opportunities, almost too obvious where an Isaiah Pacheco rush would’ve been appropriate. At other times, going for fourth-down conversions and even better play calls for third down could’ve put the game out of reach.
Is this a coaching issue, is this a play-calling issue, or is this a quarterback issue? I don’t know. What I do know is that aggressive play calling in certain instances favors a positive outcome. Too conservative and you look like you’re afraid of your own shadow.
The Kansas City Chiefs are fortunate to have some of the best players in the entire NFL. My belief is by settling down and working through some of the superficial issues, peeling back the onion a bit, and putting your playmakers in a position to make plays, this team can accelerate quite a bit more.
Suffice it to say, I’m happy the Chiefs are 4-1. Although this season is starting to remind me of 2019 in terms of close wins. I don’t think this week will change my opinion on the direction of this team, it still has a winning culture that Andy Reid and his crew will continue to foster. So, I remain optimistic, we have yet to see the best of this team, but I know it’s on the way
Chiefs 35 – Broncos 10