The third quarter saw Matt Moore pull out a victory against a solid Vikings team with a very good Chiefs defensive performance. Then Mahomes returned, only to watch the Titans pull off another miracle. Division games proved to be the medicine this team needed to get back on track, as the Chiefs continued their division dominance before and after the bye with wins against the Chargers and Raiders.
So, where does this leave the team going into the fourth quarter of the season? Can it put together the improvements of the defense and get back to dominating on offense?
The goal every quarter is 3-1, so the Chiefs needed three wins against the Vikings, Titans, Chargers and Raiders.
The Chiefs met expectations with their overall record, with their one blemish being the annual tradition of a heartbreaking loss to the Titans.
Analyst concern: secondary
Expectations for the Chiefs secondary have been low all year, especially when it comes to the cornerbacks. Long thought to be the biggest issue on the team, many have expressed frustration with Brett Veach for not being more aggressive in addressing the position. Many of us were holding out hope for upgrades until the trade deadline passed.
Third quarter results
With each passing game, the cornerback rotation has consistently been... quiet. Which is one of the highest compliments we can give them. If, after training camp, we knew that the corners would be invisible, most of us would have been ecstatic. Analysts have seen too many Chiefs corners start off competent and subsequently get relentlessly picked on by opposing quarterbacks. The true test is this weekend, but if this group can escape the matchup with Tom Brady without embarrassment, we can be bullish on the Chiefs cornerback room.
The safety group is a different story. The position with the biggest upgrades in the offseason has been dramatically improved. Thornhill and Mathieu have been solid all season but are really starting to open eyes by making plays on the ball, like last week where each logged an interception against the Raiders.
Three of the biggest bulls and bears of the quarter
Mike Pennel: The big man came out of nowhere and made his presence felt in the middle of the Chiefs defense. If there were any question that he was making a difference, it was answered when he was inexplicably benched for the Tennessee game. Will the potential return of Xavier Williams change his outlook?
Charvarius Ward: Few players have seen such a big turnaround in fan sentiment within the span of three-fourths of a season. Ward has not only avoided the fated of being picked on, but he’s making big pass breakups and contesting receivers all the way through the whistle.
Darwin Thompson: All signs point to growth for the rookie running back. He hasn’t been used all season, but came up big with a game-closing drive last week. It’s hard not to root for the diminutive-but-dynamic back who plays with tremendous strength and contact balance. We now know that the position coach believes in him, and the depth chart has thinned a bit with Darrel Williams going on injured reserve and Damien Williams missing this week. We’ll see if that translates to bigger opportunities in critical games coming up.
Sammy Watkins: For corners and offensive linemen, being invisible is a good thing. For receivers... not so much. Watkins caught fewer passes each week through the last quarter, including a zero-catch performance against the Raiders. His last touchdown was on September 8. The Chiefs’ highest paid player is the player we’re now most bearish on.
Blake Bell and Deon Yelder: The Chiefs are getting basically no production from the second tight end position, regardless of which guy they try there. Perhaps there’s less of an emphasis on two-TE sets this season, but last year’s No. 2 was the target of many critical passes (some he even caught). There will come a time as soon as this weekend when the primary targets are taken away, and somebody needs to make a play. Can these guys show some life?
Austin Reiter: The interior of the offensive line continued to be a problem through the third quarter, even as some of the original starters made their return to the lineup. The guy in the middle calling out the protections shouldn’t also be the guy that gets beat most often. Reiter has struggled consistently, and I’m still wondering if he’ll eventually face competition, given that there are two promising options on the bench in Nick Allegretti and Stefen Wisniewski.
Outlook and Recommendation
This Chiefs team outperformed in the first quarter of the season and underperformed in the second quarter. The third quarter might have shown who this team really is. They haven’t quite put it all together yet, but there might be a consistent formula they can build on for a playoff run. An opportunistic defense that can get to the quarterback and cause turnovers, an offense led by a healthy Mahomes is ready to break out again. The only question is: Can they put it all together? And can they consistently be the complete team their talent would indicate they can be?
We’re bullish on the Chiefs overall, heading into the Patriots game, but the bandwagon might be overflowing if they can pull out a win on Sunday afternoon.
Three predictions for week 14
1) Mecole Hardman makes two big plays against New England. As others have predicted, the Patriots are likely to focus on Kelce and Hill. That opens the door for the speedy rookie to get open against single coverage and break one. It’s been his pattern all season… get a couple of targets each week and take one of them to the house. Doing so again this week could turn him into a difference-maker.
2) Tyrann Mathieu continues to show out as a playmaker on defense. He’s got the ability to read a quarterback and go get the football, and the Chiefs will need him to do just that in order to come away with a win.
3) Patrick Mahomes might just will this team to victory. This defense is a tough matchup, but he’s now seen enough in this league to figure it out. In the AFC championship game, he was confounded in the first half and dominant in the second. This week, he’ll be the aggressor, forcing the defense to react to him and taking advantage throughout. The stats may or may not be flashy, but expect some classic Mahomes highlights and a victorious performance for the young MVP.
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. We also switched special teams above the depth players as a nod to the importance and contributions of the “other third” of the team at the end of the third quarter.