After the giant lump of coal, the Kansas City Chiefs fans received in their stockings on Christmas Day, can the team recover enough to handle the Cincinnati Bengals? Earlier in the season, I would have answered with a resounding yes, but now I’m unsure.
The debacle we witnessed on Monday left me with so many questions that I don’t know where to start. The offensive line is broken, period. Not one player is playing to the level that Andy Reid expects. As I’ve said all season, the tackle positions were suspect at the start. Patrick Mahomes is running for his life on every passing play.
So much so that he can’t even make his reads accurately; something is off with Mahomes, which I’ve also been saying all season. He has zero confidence in his receivers. No wonder with the plague of drops this season. The chemistry he likes to develop with his receivers through his off-season passing camp never materialized this year. Which is very perplexing.
This doesn’t account for all the woes on passing downs. Patrick Mahomes is afraid. Why is he afraid? It comes down to two or three issues. He’s not seeing all his options when he drops back; he is scrambling too soon, and the whole confidence thing is real.
He’s not playing the game we are so used to seeing nor is he having fun. There is another aspect of the game that is contributing to his skittishness. The game plan and play calling. For some reason, the plays aren’t getting out to him promptly. Is that Andy Reid or Matt Nagy? When he gets a play call, he tries to execute without question. That’s a coach accountability thing. Mahomes doesn’t feel he has the authority to change the play at the line of scrimmage, or perhaps not the time.
This is a tricky chain of command thing. Mahomes is a gifted improviser. He can take any call and switch it to something he can work with, but then he catches hell on the sideline after the play, whether it worked or not. This is where he needs to exert his ability and position in the organization. He is not only the face of the Chiefs, but he is also the face of the NFL.
He must change the play-at-the-line scrimmage if he gets a play call that he doesn’t like based on what the opposing defense is showing. The Raiders made him look like a rookie running around all game. According to NFL Next Gen Stats, he ran around 900 yards trying to escape the Raiders D. The last time he went over 900 yards (945) was in Super Bowl LV, and they lost to Tom Brady and the upstart Buccaneers. Mahomes has exceptional vision, usually. Calling an audible when he feels he has a better idea than the sideline does, do it.
This is the coaching aspect. I don’t know if or why the off-season change in offensive coordinator from Eric Bieniemy to Matt Nagy was so impactful when the play calls are essentially the same. Tyreek Hill has commented on how EB held the players accountable for their play. We’ve all heard how tough a coach he was. Did the Chiefs make a regression this profound by missing someone like that?
If something doesn’t change, it will be a one-and-done playoff visit. Unfortunately, it will happen at Arrowhead in front of a Chiefs Kingdom that is not used to losing. The first step in getting this right is a win on Sunday afternoon.
Let’s look at where the Chiefs stand against the Bengals. The Chiefs currently have the 9th-ranked total offense. They are 4th in passing and 20th in rushing. Meanwhile, the Cincinnati Bengals sit at 31st in total defense. They are 28th against the pass and 26th against the run. The Chiefs have an exceptional advantage on offense. The only caveat is, can they execute enough to take over the game?
On defense, the Chiefs are 2nd in total defense and 2nd in scoring defense. They are 3rd against the pass and 18th against the run. The Bengals have the 21st-ranked total offense and are 28th in passing and 25th in rushing. I expect a dominant defensive game from the Chiefs. Steve Spagnuolo will use all his weapons, and I see a lot of action in the backfield. The Bengals have given up 41 sacks so far, which is good for 23rd rank and 2.7 per game.
I expect an entertaining game. I don’t have a lot of confidence that we’ll see a dominant Kansas City win, but stranger things have happened. The Jake Browning-led Bengals are not the same as a Joe Burrows-led team. Head Coach Zac Taylor will have his team prepared, but they don’t have the firepower needed to dominate any but the lowest teams.
That said, I will not discount the Ja’Marr Chase, Tee Higgins, and Tyler Boyd broad receiver group just because of how they play. Chase hasn’t practiced until Thursday due to a shoulder injury, and after his comments criticizing the Chiefs cornerbacks, he’ll be on the field Sunday. They are far more talented than the Chiefs receiver group and have shown more consistency despite losing Joe Burrow for the season. On the ground, Joe Mixon and Chase Brown will get after it, and KC must play better run defense than they did in the fourth quarter against the Raiders.
The likelihood Isaiah Pacheco will not play in this game has increased throughout the week. The concussion he sustained after getting kneed by Creed Humphrey will have an impact. That will leave the ground game to Clyde Edwards-Helaire who has been battling the flu, Deneric Prince, and La’Mical Perine. Mecole Hardman may be activated for this game, but that will likely be a game-time decision.
On the defensive side, Bengals defensive end Trey Hendrickson can be a game-wrecker. He leads the team with 16 sacks this year. DE Sam Hubbard will anchor the opposite side and make a good impression of Hendrickson, so watch for a stout pass rush from Cincinnati.
We know that the Chiefs are trying. At least that’s what they are saying. The product on the field will tell the story. I hope this hasn’t become “the season that could’ve been.” It would be a waste of a prime year for Patrick Mahomes and a big letdown for the Chiefs Kingdom.
Chiefs 21, Bengals 14