Last week, we talked about the difficulty in calling the top of the market. This week, many outside of Kansas City will wonder if the Kansas City Chiefs have plateaued. They ran into the market leader — showing they are legitimate competition — but weren’t quite able to get over the hump. Still, the team left with a great deal of confidence and resolve.
Safety Jordan Lucas: Lucas made his Chiefs debut last week, when he stepped in for the 17 (or so) safeties that were injured, and had an impressive interception and 49-yard return. This week, he nearly picked off Brady. But it’s his steady play overall (in 100 percent of the defensive snaps this week) that has endeared him to Chiefs fans. Lucas has at least earned an extended look when guys like Eric Murray and Eric Berry return to the field. Perhaps he can be part of the solution to one the defense’s biggest problems. As the AP Nerd squad says... all aboard!
Welcome to Berry, Lucas, and Murray, how can we help you today? https://t.co/QTOpvlPObX— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 15, 2018
Linebacker Breeland Speaks: After last week, I didn’t believe it. This week, with a dramatically increased role, Speaks showed consistent disruption and a high motor. His sack/fumble was a pivotal play for a Chiefs defense that badly needed one as part of their furious third-quarter comeback. If only he could have held on for that second sack later on! But perhaps that will be added motivation for the rookie. Speaks is getting better each week. Even if he never becomes an elite edge rusher, he can help this team win if he keeps trending in this direction.
Kick returner Tremon Smith: A tip of the hat to Chiefs twitter, as more than one person pointed out during the game that Smith was getting closer to breaking a big kick return. Soon thereafter, he did just that. Filling in for an injured De’Anthony Thomas, the rookie totaled 180 yards on his four kick returns. He’s yet to make an impact on defense, but if he keeps breaking off kick returns, he’ll more than earn his keep.
Special teams coordinator Dave Toub: Speaking of Tremon, he’s just one part of a Chiefs special teams unit that has been — according to Football Outsiders — historically good this year. When a special teams unit has a kicker that hasn’t missed all season, kick returners who consistently help win the field position battle, and the unit doesn’t miss a beat through injuries and roster turnover, you know the coach is doing something right.
The offensive line: Part of it is the quarterback. As many of us anticipated, Patrick Mahomes has displayed an awareness and elusiveness that helps him avoid getting sacked. But you still have to respect the way the offensive line has played — especially against New England. No sacks allowed, eight yards per carry for Kareem Hunt and 40 points in Foxboro is a good night’s work — especially considering they were down two starters by the end of the game. The big uglies up front didn’t miss a beat with Jordan Devey and Andrew Wylie. This week, they’ll welcome back an old friend to help hold down the fort, and allow the kid to keep running around and making plays.
Running back Kareem Hunt: At some point, the Patriots will stop Hunt from breaking off big plays — but it hasn’t happened yet.
Others trending in a bullish direction: Harrison Butker, Patrick Mahomes, Chris Jones, Derrick Nnadi, Allen Bailey, Tyreek Hill
The run defense: There was a ton of attention paid to stopping the run this offseason. It appears the defensive linemen are doing their part. So what is the issue? Sure, Eric Berry would help erase a lot of mistakes, and make plays like a missile in the run game. But the others in the middle of the Chiefs defense seem as incapable of getting off blocks as they are at tackling. I still believe there is talent to at least be competent against the run, but the fundamentals must improve.
All of the inside linebackers: Chiefs General Manager Brett Veach specifically targeted and invested in Anthony Hitchens, just like he did with Reggie Ragland the year before. So far, neither of the starting inside linebackers look right. They appear hesitant and (at least) a step slow. Neither was expected to be excellent in coverage, but both were known to be sure tacklers and big hitters.
Unfortunately. the missed tackles have been more frequent than the highlights. Opponents have found great success when targeting the middle of the Chiefs defense. What should have been the most reliably upgraded position group on the team now appears to be the biggest weakness. Something has to change — perhaps giving snaps to Dorian O’Daniel and/or Ben Niemann?
There is just too much inconsistency with the Chiefs ILBs this year. Ragland IDs the play correctly but needs to squeeze down a split second faster. Hitchens reacts timely but isn't square and attacks the climbing OT's chest rather than inside shoulder, gets driven back 7-8 yards pic.twitter.com/cunm4OiyxS— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) October 16, 2018
Defensive coordinator Bob Sutton: So, if the run defense isn’t good, the team isn’t getting off blocks or tackling, and the defensive back just signed off the street was expected to keep Gronk from winning the game this week... well, it’s fair to question the man in charge of the defense. Not all of the Chiefs struggles on defense are Bob Sutton’s fault, but adjustments have to be made, and he is responsible for putting the players in positions where they can succeed — that is, to do what they are capable of doing. As my friends vented post-game, we’re still bearish on the coordinator until further notice.
Running back Spencer Ware: Ware is doing his part in pass protection, but he isn’t really making plays in the limited number of touches he sees. I noted that Damien Williams hasn’t been productive in previous weeks, and this week it was Spencer Ware. Perhaps either would be more effective with more volume? Kareem Hunt is still the guy in Kansas City, but he’ll need some more help from his friends at some point this season.
Others trending a bearish direction: Ron Parker, Terrance Smith, Josh Shaw
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins: As talented as Watkins is, he still isn’t getting consistent targets. Perhaps we should expect him to have a big game every three or four weeks, while Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce take turns on the others. Or it might just be that he’s building a successful career out of being a decoy — a very highly paid one at that.
Center Mitch Morse: The Chiefs center has been among the best offensive linemen on the team from the day he was drafted. Unfortunately for Morse and the Chiefs, he’s battled injuries throughout his career. Now with his third concussion (that we know of), Morse will miss more time in a contract year.
Others who are who we thought they were: Kendall Fuller, Anthony Sherman, Travis Kelce