For the Kansas City Chiefs, the goal is to be at least 3-1 in each four-game quarter. That which would give a team a 12-4 record on the season — and all but assure a good playoff spot. So we’re looking at the last four games, then repeating the process each quarter to see if the team is on track for a championship run.
The first quarter of the season was pretty rosy. The Chiefs started off 4-0 with an offense that was breaking records. Yeah... quarterback Patrick Mahomes was hobbling and the defense was struggling, but it didn’t matter because the wins kept coming.
Then the second quarter came. Mahomes was injured, forcing the team to play through nearly half of the quarter with his backup Matt Moore. Results were mixed, and the team went 1-3 in the second segment of the season.
Expectations have plummeted among fans and media; the team is no longer presumed to be a Super Bowl contender — or at least not the favorite. In order to get back on track, the team needs to get healthy. But in the meantime, they have to find a way to get a couple of wins anyway.
With lower expectations, the future forecast is for less growth — but that also could lead to outperformance if they get can back on track.
Can the team win without Mahomes?
Analyst’s concern: Mahomes covers up a lot of the team’s weaknesses. Without him, the Chiefs are mediocre.
Actual: The team has struggled when the MVP was less than 100%. Without Mahomes on the field, the team has rallied but come up short. Until proven otherwise, the team needs a healthy Mahomes to have a chance at the playoffs. The dilemma: rush him back and risk further injury, or wait too long — racking up losses and missing out on the team’s goals.
Analyst’s expectation: Maintain production versus last season — when the Chiefs led the league in sacks.
Actual: In the second quarter, it appears defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo rediscovered the blitz. All of a sudden, Chiefs linebackers are significant threats on opposing quarterbacks. They’ve also had decent production across the defensive front, and are now top-five in sacks. If they were slightly underperforming in the first quarter, they outperformed in the second quarter — and are back on pace to be among the better pass-rushing teams in the league.
Goal: Improve historically-poor run defense with new scheme and players.
Actual: In the second quarter, the Chiefs had some better performances against the run, but at the halfway point, they are still bottom-three. The run defense isn’t a problem... until it is. When charged with getting the ball back in order for the offense to have the chance to win a game, the defense has not been up to the challenge. The run defense has low expectations for the second half, but we’re still pessimistic overall.
Three of the biggest bulls and bears of the quarter
Mecole Hardman: When he gets the ball, he scores touchdowns; he now leads the team with four in the first half of the season. The speed is real — and so is the need to get him more involved in the offense. He’s now the team’s primary kick and punt returner as well; his value is only going up.
Emmanuel Ogbah: Received in the Eric Murray trade, the defensive end came in to the season with low expectations, but has been an impressive part of the rotation in the first half. He already has 4.5 sacks and three passes batted down. The idea that Ogbah would lead the Chiefs in sacks — and have a shot at double-digit sack numbers — would have been laughable when the season began. We’re now bullish on Manny.
Charvarius Ward: The much-maligned cornerback has made tremendous strides in the second quarter. He leads the team with two interceptions and has been able to tighten up coverage to the point of competence — and perhaps better. He’ll continue to be tested in the second half of the season, so we’ll see if his growth is real — or just creative accounting.
Austin Reiter: The Chiefs have struggled on the interior of their offensive line, and it starts with the center. It hasn’t all been his fault, of course; injuries and ineffective play have plagued his partners as well. The Chiefs drafted Nick Allegretti — a potential future starter at center — and added another in Stefen Wisniewski. The forecast for the rest of the season may include some competition for Reiter.
Damien Williams: Through the first half of the season, the running back named as the starter in the spring has just over 200 yards from scrimmage. His average of 2.1 yards per carry is abysmal. Williams is a dangerous receiver who fights for yardage when he can, but he’s also a guy who needs really good blocking to get going — and doesn’t always display the best vision. The fact that the Chiefs even considered trading for Le’Veon Bell (after adding LeSean McCoy and drafting Darwin Thompson) says a lot about what the Chiefs think of Williams. His projection is as a role player — not a starter. That’s probably what he was was all along.
Darron Lee: The linebacker appears on the Bears list for the second straight quarter because his role has continued to decline. The Chiefs badly need a skill set like the one Lee reportedly has; speed and coverage skills at linebacker would be very valuable. But whether it’s related to understanding of the defense, tackling issues — or something else — Lee isn’t a big contributor on defense. The guy playing his role — Ben Niemann — hasn’t been great, either. Unless some of these guys step up, linebacker might be an issue for the rest of the season.
Outlook and recommendation
In stock market terms, analysts review the quarterly report and the company’s guidance for the upcoming quarter and issue a buy, sell or hold recommendation. The recommendation is based on whether the company is hitting its short-term goals and the outlook for the future. The business gives the analyst detailed forecasts, and the analyst reviews the tone of the messaging — along with the targets for growth — and issues their own expectations for the upcoming quarter.
So based on their play in the second quarter, what are the Chiefs communicating?
There has been growth among many of the young players — especially from the 2019 draft class — that could help the team in the future. Matt Moore has performed admirably in the absence of Mahomes, and the defense appears to be coming together. Despite the team’s record, there are plenty of positives in the second quarterly report.
Unfortunately, we can’t overlook that 1-3 record — and the frustrating nature of the home losses. The team has been decimated by injuries and hasn’t found answers for some of its biggest weaknesses.
But stock prices are generally driven by future outlook more than past execution. In order to forecast the Chiefs in the upcoming quarters, we have to project a path of improvement, anticipating the boost that could be coming when players return from injury.
So we’re still issuing a Buy recommendation on the Chiefs for the second half. But there are headwinds in the form of injuries (and a difficult schedule) that leave this team a risky bet.
Three predictions for Week 9
- The screen game will be the key to the offense. Andy Reid has more screens than anyone, and he’s got the perfect set of skill players to take advantage. Want to get Hardman more involved? Want to minimize a strong pass rush? Want to get the run game going without ideal blocking? Want to get the ball out quickly to protect a backup quarterback — or a recovering starter? Well-designed screens can be the answer for all of these.
- The pass rush will get home this week. Kirk Cousins holds the ball longer than any other NFL quarterback — and the Chiefs are set to make him pay. By getting to Cousins, they can make the Minnesota Vikings one-dimensional. There’s just one problem: that one dimension is pretty damned good.
- The Chiefs find a way to win against a tough Vikings team — with or without Mahomes. This is no guarantee, but the Chiefs have their backs against the wall; they will come out swinging. It will take a full team effort, but I think they know what they have to do — and can get it done.
For those who want a complete look behind the curtain, here’s a link to the full market movers and roster rankings. There were quite a few minor reshuffling moves in our spreadsheet this past week.
How are you feeling about the Chiefs at the beginning of the second half?
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