Final score: Kansas City Chiefs 34, Detroit Lions 30
True to form, the Chiefs came out sluggish on both sides of the football. The Lions appeared to have the Chiefs’ defensive number early on, picking apart their zones and running the ball up the middle. The Chiefs offense just appeared out of sync against a very injury-ridden Lions defense. The third quarter was quite possibly the weirdest, crazy quarter of football this year and was sloppy on both sides.
The Chiefs offense looked almost caught off guard that the Lions were going to play physical, press-man coverage with a single-high safety behind it early on in the game. The timing between Patrick Mahomes and any receiving option not named Travis Kelce seemed off. The Lions did a good job baiting Mahomes into scrambling outside of his own teams’ protection and forcing him into timing and throws requiring.
Mahomes was uncharacteristically off-target on a few open throws. The offense didn’t get much going to start the second half, fumbling the ball away three times. Mahomes looked better in the fourth quarter, as he was able to find Travis Kelce again and again but he still was just slightly off throwing anything downfield. Mahomes took the field and executed a game-winning drive with a well-executed two-minute drill, but it eventually became a find Kelce-or-take off drill
LeSean McCoy was the lead back again, and it looks like he may be set up to keep that job even when Damien Williams returns. His vision and patience work perfectly behind the Chiefs run-pass option (RPO) system and his familiarity with Andy Reid make him an easy fit. The consistency for the Chiefs’ run game isn’t there on a snap-to-snap basis, but the threat to break a big one is always there. Darrel Williams saw a good chunk of work as the game wore on, including being on the field for the final offensive drive of the game, which was peculiar timing as McCoy’s playing style seemed like it would be a better fit. Darrel Williams did find the end zone twice on powerful, short runs that showcased his best trait.
The wide receiver group started out very sloppy, which wasn’t something most expected coming into the game, especially since Darius Slay couldn’t suit up. Sammy Watkins was by far the most effective option, as he showed an ability to beat man coverage consistently. Mecole Hardman and Demarcus Robinson struggled to beat the Lions press-man coverage and didn’t offer much help to Mahomes on timing routes as they were often pushed off their spots or slowed down. None of the wide receivers were very productive for the Chiefs with the most notable plays being a Sammy Watkins fumble trying to extend a run and a Mecole Hardman fumble on a kick return. Byron Pringle made a huge fourth-quarter catch to put the Chiefs inside the 5-yard line on the game-winning drive.
Travis Kelce was an issue from start to finish for the Lions’ man coverage despite their attempts to add extra players near him. The Chiefs did a good job of isolating Kelce on outside cornerbacks and letting him to go work. The Chiefs also got some early contributions from Deon Yelder, who looks sprier than he did to start the preseason. Kelce was the entire Chiefs passing offense in the second half — including an amazing an impromptu hook and ladder — despite being blatantly doubled by the Lions more often than not.
The Chiefs offensive line wasn’t bad to start the game, but there seems to be some confusion on where to set the depth of the pocket. The offensive tackles far too often appeared to be setting for short-to-medium drops while Mahomes was taking deep drops and trying to look for receivers to get free downfield. The communication between Mahomes’ deeper drops and the offensive tackles’ moderate drop depth was an issue all game, as both Mitchell Schwartz and Cameron Erving struggled to hold up to deep power rushes.
Like every other opening defensive drive this season for the Steve Spagnuolo-led unit, the Chiefs looked less than ideal to start the game. When Matthew Stafford had time to throw, he was able to pick apart various parts of the Chiefs; zone coverage. He was most commonly able to hit the gap between Juan Thornhill and Bashaud Breeland vertically downfield and even netted a touchdown to tight end T.J. Hockenson in that gap. Another big play came on a coverage bust from Kendall Fuller, as he didn’t stay on top of a post route and allowed a ball to slide in over his head and underneath Breeland.
Speaking of Breeland, he had another solid day when he was able to get isolated and work against a wide receiver trying to work vertically on him. He had a good breakup on a third down and almost had an interception. Breeland was also the benefactor of a goal-line fumble by the Lions that he was able to snag off the ground, sneak out of the pile untouched and returned it for a 100-yard touchdown.
Charvarius Ward was targeted down the stretch and was beaten on three straight passing plays for the Lions to take the lead late in the fourth. Juan Thornhill shored up some of the open zones down the middle of the field in the second half and Tyrann Mathieu patrolled the short middle of the field, forcing the Lions to do most of their work outside the numbers. Mathieu also had an incredibly fast sack.
Tyrann Mathieu’s closing speed pic.twitter.com/IOgI01GDMP— Matt Lane (@ChiefinCarolina) September 29, 2019
The Chiefs had the most success slowing down the Lions offense with pressure up front, whether it be from Alex Okafor, Frank Clark or Chris Jones. Jones, in particular, had a monster first half in which he was nearly unblockable for multiple processions in the middle of the half. Jones and Clark were seeing a ton of double teams and chips from tight ends and running backs. On an early goal-line snap, the Lions left Okafor one on one with a tight end to double both of them—that play resulted in an Okafor sack. The second-half pass rush wasn’t near as successful as the first but the sloppy play combined with the rushing attack of the Lions helped set the pass rushers on their heels.
The Chiefs run defense continues to be a major issue, and there hasn’t been a ton to hang their hat on there yet. Like the previous weeks, the Chiefs had more success stopping runs to the left in which Frank Clark could set a hard edge and disengage from his blocks. The issue came with the second level and defensive tackle pursuit, as the Lions had a ton of success cutting back to the middle of the field and picking up chunk plays. Too often, both defensive tackles were getting washed down the line of scrimmage rather than pushing at an angle into the backfield toward the run to help spill the play outside.
The Chiefs linebackers suffered the same issues as the defensive tackles, constantly over-pursuing and being unable to shoot the gap to make a play on the ball carrier. Anthony Hitchens, Damien Wilson and Darron Lee were all allowing blockers to get into their frames and wash them past the ball carrier consistently.
Both Alex Okafor and Damien Wilson left the game with injuries that everyone hopes are minor.