The street estimated an unreasonable margin of victory this week at 16.5 points. With the biggest game in the NFL regular season looming on Monday Night Football, it seemed inevitable that there would be some sort of letdown. Many expected the Kansas City Chiefs to overlook the Arizona Cardinals this week.
I don’t believe they did.
But this game did end up being a trend-buster for the Chiefs. They lost the first coin toss of the season — which we can blame on many in the media — and then the Chiefs allowed a touchdown on their opponent’s first drive for the first time this season. In the end, this was a game where the offense was acceptable, and the defense took over.
Sometimes corporations take defensive positions when there is a downside risk that exceeds the potential upside. Coming in as an 8-1 team, the Chiefs didn’t have much to gain by beating the Cardinals — but there was plenty to lose. So in a sense, they managed risk by playing defense aggressively. The outcome was a good one, and there’s plenty of optimism that the Chiefs have built a winner in Kansas City.
Linebacker Justin Houston: Sometimes we forget what it looks like when Houston takes over a game. Sunday was a nice reminder of how dominant number 50 can be. Houston did everything — including one of the biggest plays of the week: his momentum-changing interception. If this is the Houston we get to watch through January, we might get to watch him in February.
Dee Ford, Allen Bailey, Chris Jones, Derrick Nnadi — basically the entire front seven: This stock report could be entirely about the Chiefs pass rush this week. Everyone got involved, and everyone made plays. Collectively, they were the reason the Chiefs won the game. Chris Jones kept his streak alive with a couple of sacks, Allen Bailey manhandled people on the inside, and Dee Ford continued his monster season, finally taking over when the game was on the line. Of all of the things the Chiefs could develop this season that will help them win down the stretch, a dominant pass rush is second only to an elite quarterback.
Oh... and they held Arizona to 94 net rushing yards.
Allen Bailey wanted in the action late in the game so he comes in with his bread and butter, the bull rush. Not only does he have the strength to move someone, never let Bailey get extended w/ inside hand(s) but the wrist control to forklift the OG's left arm was amazing. pic.twitter.com/8DIK1sLmY7— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) November 13, 2018
According to @PFF, Dee Ford (8), Chris Jones (7) and Justin Houston (5) combined for 20 QB pressures on Sunday against the #Cardinals.— BJ Kissel (@ChiefsReporter) November 12, 2018
They had 29 (!!!!!) as a team. #Dominant pic.twitter.com/8asZ4xJ8Q0
Balance: The number one team in the AFC has an elite quarterback, the best set of skill-position players, the number one special teams unit, a very good pass defense — and after week 10, the number one pass rush. That, my friends, is what we like to call a balanced football team. In stock market terms, the Chiefs are building a wide moat — which means that they’re doing things that other teams can’t replicate. It’s what separates them from the competition.
Steven Nelson: Did we miss Nelson developing into a top-tier cornerback? We tend to consider Nelson a solid/scrappy corner that will battle, but sometimes gets beat. As the season goes on, it seems that he’s been beat less and less. He’s still making big tackles and the occasional interception. Nelson is quietly having a tremendous season.
Steven Nelson was the Chiefs' top graded player against the Bengals, according to @PFF. In the last four weeks, they've got him giving up just 10 catches on 29 targets. No scores.— Sam Mellinger (@mellinger) October 23, 2018
Others trending in a bullish direction: Kareem Hunt, Ben Niemann, Breeland Speaks, Dorian O’Daniel
Offensive linemen Eric Fisher and Austin Reiter: as good as the Chiefs pass rush was on Sunday, Arizona’s was nearly its equal. Chandler Jones looks like the new James Harrison, as he was a real challenge for Fisher all afternoon. Fisher — who rarely gets help — needed Spencer Ware in order to contain Jones. The Chiefs offensive line has been seen as a bright spot all season, but a closer look at the numbers suggests that Patrick Mahomes has been a big part of making them look good. So this is our concern going into Rams Week: both Mahomes and the big uglies need to be on their toes — or they’ll be on their backs against Aaron Donald and Ndamukong Suh.
The refs and all the flags: These are two problems that have plagued the Chiefs all season. The Chiefs have been flagged for some unnecessary penalties at inopportune times, but we have seen some atrocious calls. This week, there was a terrible ball spot that extended a Cardinals drive. Another very questionable roughing-the-passer penalty helped give the Cardinals life. And finally, the Tyreek Hill punt return touchdown that was called back by officials who seemed as unsure of the call as I was while watching it. Of course, the Chiefs can’t fix the NFL’s officiating problems. But they need to do a better job on what they can control. If they can figure out how to stop shooting themselves in the foot, some of these games would not be as close as they have been.
NFL International: The concept makes sense — take a uniquely American sport and introduce it to the world. But it does create some obvious logistical problems, and disadvantages to the teams tasked with playing in locales like Mexico City and London. To make it work, it takes significant coordination between local officials and the NFL. From the first images shared on Twitter, there were obvious concerns about the condition of the field at Estadio Azteca. The decision to move the game to Los Angeles is a prudent one, as it will prevent potential injuries and a poor on-field product. But it’s a bad look for the league to wait until the week of the game to realize they don’t have an adequate place to play.
Wide receiver Chris Conley: One of the issues with the offense this week was the inability of Chiefs wide receivers to get open. There was a clear dropoff from Sammy Watkins to Conley, who registered only one catch for 22 yards. Players like Conley have a role on the team — but if they want a bigger one, they have to make plays when they get the opportunity.
Others trending in a bearish direction: Eric Murray, Josh Shaw, Damien Williams
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes: This was a good week for Mahomes, but not quite to the level we’ve come to expect. His stat line was respectable enough for the average QB, and he again had some highlight throws that almost nobody else could have made. But at least for this week, he shared some responsibility in the five sacks allowed. It’s not that he’s entirely to blame, but those sacks nearly all happened in key spots where you can’t take a loss. Mahomes has the elusiveness and quick release to avoid sacks. He just has to know when to bail and when to hang in there and make a play.
Linebacker Reggie Ragland: Ragland might be more one-dimensional than we hoped. But when he’s playing downhill — with aggression — that one dimension is pretty damn good.
Sorry for all the Nnadi Tweets, I promise I'll be nice tomo.— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) November 13, 2018
Worth noting, Reggie Ragland is coming on STRONG again for the stretch run. pic.twitter.com/XyAyYTAzoK
Others who are who we thought they were: Tremon Smith, Demetrius Harris