Last week we talked about the Kansas City Chiefs and Patrick Mahomes breaking through a resistance level by beating the Pittsburgh Steelers. This week against the San Francisco 49ers, they may have established a new support level.
Mahomes wasn’t as sharp as he was in prior weeks, and the team left some plays on the field. But they still got out to a big lead, and the game wasn’t really in doubt. IF this support level holds, and this becomes the new norm — or even the floor — for the Chiefs, it’s going to be a very good year.
Defensive end Allen Bailey: For a guy that many Chiefs fans thought could be a cap casualty, Bailey has arguably been the most active and disruptive defensive lineman. With another sack — plus and two tackles for loss — against the 49ers, the Hulk is putting together a solid season.
Running back Kareem Hunt: Hunt scored twice this week, and as many have recently noted, he’s worked on his all-around game this season. So far, rushing yards and breakaway plays aren’t coming as easily to Hunt as they did in his rookie season, but eventually they will. For now, Hunt is converting tough yardage when it counts, and that’s good enough.
Quarterback Patrick Mahomes: There’s not much more we can say about the kid at this point. He’s off to a record-breaking start, showing intelligence and poise to go with the arm talent. This week, his stock is up — even though he was off-target a bit more than the prior games. The crazy stats continue, now with 13 touchdown passes to nine different receivers. Mahomes also made another video-game-level touchdown pass, but he really impressed analysts and fans alike with his mastery of the little details of playing quarterback.
Dat Mahomes! Don’t limit him to just a good arm-the kid is surgical right now!!! @GetUpESPN @Chiefs @TerezPaylor @ChiefsReporter @mattderrick @ChiefsViews @ChiefsInsider #ChiefsKindom pic.twitter.com/Cg9Xzfi1b9— Dan Orlovsky (@danorlovsky7) September 24, 2018
Defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi: Nnadi has arguably been the best of the Chiefs rookie class thus far. He’s still getting fairly limited snaps (26 percent this week), but he shows up with a consistent push, and occasionally, surprising quickness. He’s got a good understanding of leverage and advanced hand usage to go along with his elite strength.
Derrick Nnadi's not just a block eater/power guy, he's got a little bit of agility to him. Feels the center off balance from the snap, drops the inside shoulder to let him slip off, gets into the backfield to blow up the play. pic.twitter.com/FeWsvMa8sJ— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) September 25, 2018
Wide receiver Sammy Watkins: Watkins makes the list for the second week in a row after making an impact as a receiver and a runner. Watkins picked up his first touchdown as a Chief in impressive fashion — while racking up five catches for 55 yards, and adding two runs for 20 yards. Watkins showed tremendous effort and power as he fought through tackles to move the chains. He adds depth to the list of playmakers that provides a new level of support to the offense. If one guy has a bad game — or gets injured — this group won’t miss a beat. That simply wasn’t true before Watkins arrived.
Others trending in the right direction: Marcus Kemp, Cam Erving, Travis Kelce, Orlando Scandrick
Linebacker Reggie Ragland: Ragland simply doesn’t appear to be moving well in space. He’s still making plays when he can attack the line of scrimmage, but he’s struggling in coverage to the point where he’s losing snaps to Terrance Smith. This week he failed to go with Kyle Juszczyk and gave up an easy touchdown.
Here's the busted coverage on the Juszczyk drag wheel. C2 Man, and the dig flushes Fuller. The RB in the flat forces Speaks up, the TE coming across the back of the formation keeps Hitchens home, and it's Ragland v Juszczyk, except he doesn't pick him up. Parker too MOF. Easy TD. pic.twitter.com/ztV0UdR211— Craig Stout (@barleyhop) September 25, 2018
The defense’s ability to force turnovers: We knew this would likely be an issue with the exit of Marcus Peters — and with Eric Berry struggling to return. After three games, the team is +1 in the turnover margin, with just one fumble recovery (on special teams) and one Ron Parker interception. Sure... a couple of forced turnovers this season have been called back for penalties. But this team needs to have a credible threat on defense, and the ability to change games. At this point, the defense is just holding on for dear life each week.
Safety Eric Murray: The Chiefs reportedly are at least exploring a trade for All-World safety Earl Thomas. It’s not because Eric Berry is still missing time, or because of Ron Parker’s play thus far. Murray is getting an extended opportunity to show that he’s improved since last season, and can now be a starting safety. From what I can see, he still needs to elevate his level of play — or the Chiefs need to consider playing Armani Watts — or paying Thomas.
Eric Murray has allowed 8 rec. of 11 targets (73% catch rate) for 125 yards and 1 touchdown. Last year he allowed 25 of 41 (61%). He also has 3 missed tackles in 3 games after missing 3 tackles ALL of last season. He played in 100% of snaps on Sunday. #Chiefs— Matt Conner (@MattConnerAA) September 24, 2018
Run blocking: I’ll give them this: they got it done at the end of the game when it mattered most. Kareem Hunt waltzed into the end zone twice, and was able to run out the clock against the 49ers. But after three weeks, Hunt is averaging 3.2 yards per attempt, and 56 yards per game. His longest run thus far is 16 yards. Eventually, the Chiefs are going to need to match the passing offense with a rushing game that can break off big chunks — or at least provide balance.
Tackling: Nobody on the Chiefs defense has been immune from poor tackling. It’s a simple execution issue; it can’t be blamed on scheme or coaching. I do think there’s some validity to the idea that tackling (and blocking) are suffering league-wide as a result of the limited padded practices as specified in the league’s collective bargaining agreement with the player’s union. But if that’s the case, you’d hope that it improves as the season goes on, and teams have more in-game (and on film) work to build on.
Others trending in the wrong direction: Terrance Smith, Breeland Speaks, zone pass coverage, run defense.
Tight end Demetrius Harris: A touchdown catch and a drop. That’s par for the Chiefs number two tight end. Harris played more special teams snaps than anyone on the team this week, along with just about one-third of the offensive plays. That’s about right for him.
Linebacker Dee Ford: Another good game where he was able to get to the quarterback — this time against Joe Staley, who is a very good left tackle. But alas... another injury that may sideline Ford again. Unfortunately, his ability to rush the passer is offset by his lack of availability.
Dee Ford, who was scheduled for an MRI on Monday, recorded 7 pressures against the 49ers Sunday, per @PFF.— Arrowhead Pride (@ArrowheadPride) September 25, 2018
That’s 17 total pressures through 3 weeks, tied for third-most among EDGE rushers in the NFL.
Safety Ron Parker: He’s been pretty good in coverage overall, and has the team’s only interception thus far. But he’s shown up with some poor angles and missed tackles. That’s fairly consistent with what we’ve seen from Parker in previous seasons. It was the right decision to bring him back; he’s a consistent part of this defense — for both the good and bad parts of it.
Linebacker Justin Houston: Box-score analysts will note that Houston logged two sacks and multiple tackles-for-loss this week, and declare that he’s back all of a sudden. I’m here to argue that he never left. Even if it’s not jumping off the screen during the broadcast, number 50 still gets quarterback pressures each week, and is a shut-down edge run defender. The real objection to Houston has always been his health and his contract, but neither is really pertinent to what’s happening on the field in 2018. As Pro Football Focus noted, he dropped into coverage for nearly a quarter of his defensive snaps this week — which is both frustrating and impressive; he’s still fairly productive on the edge in 75 percent of his plays.
Others who are who we thought they were: Chris Jones, Kendall Fuller, Steven Nelson, De’Anthony Thomas