There was reason for confidence heading into the Kansas City Chiefs’ Week 5 battle with the Las Vegas Raiders: the Chiefs’ passing defense was statistically one of the best in the league, defensive tackle Chris Jones was returning from injury and the team had held the Raiders to 19 total points in two 2019 contests.
But on Sunday, it quickly became apparent that the game wasn’t going to play out like other recent matchups.
Las Vegas pounced on the Chiefs defense with big passing plays, a patient running game and a flat-out better game plan. The Raiders ended up winning 40-32 — and the leaders of the Chiefs defense could do nothing but tip their hats.
“You got to give those guys credit: they get paid too,” Chiefs safety Tyrann Mathieu told reporters in his post-game press conference. “I thought their coaches did a great job of catching us in certain coverages, certain calls. On a lot of those third-and-1s, third-and-2s, they schemed us up pretty well... Hats off to them, they played well. They picked the right spots to affect us — and they won. We’ll be more motivated than ever going forward.”
Jones had similar thoughts.
“They had a heck of a game plan; you have to give it to them,” he admitted. “They came out with some formations we hadn’t seen on film, they started throwing shots — especially out of gun. They caught us off-guard a little bit.”
So if you thought the Chiefs looked lost on defense, the unit’s two leaders have now basically confirmed your view. They allowed 490 total yards, a conversion rate of 56% on third and fourth downs and surrendered 10.8 yards per passing play. Those are unacceptable numbers — and the lack of pressure on Raiders quarterback Derek Carr was a contributing factor.
“As a defensive line, we harp on making sacks, affecting the quarterback — and we didn’t come out and execute today,” said Jones. “I felt like we had to do a better job in the front four. When the defensive line is dominant, we don’t even need the linebackers — and we make it better for our defensive backs. We’ll make the adjustments, we’ll make the corrections [and] we’ll come back next game firing on all cylinders.”
While Jones shouldered blame for his position group’s lack of success, Mathieu did the same thing for the secondary.
“I just didn’t think we finished how we normally would,” noted Mathieu. “When we got in certain zone coverages, I don’t think we matched them as well as we have done in the past. They made the plays that counted and we didn’t — and I think that’s why we lost the game.”
The failures in the back end of the defense were painfully noticeable to Chiefs fans. There were four passing plays of at least 42 yards, including a 59-yard touchdown catch by wide receiver Nelson Agholor and a 72-yard score by rookie receiver Henry Ruggs III — both in the first half.
Jones was direct about how he felt the defense performed in the first 30 minutes of game time.
“First half, we gave up 24 points. For this defense, that’s horrendous,” Jones declared. “We got to make corrections — especially on the front line. Defensive line? We’re better than that. I’ll make sure we’re better than that. We weigh that heavily on ourselves.”
Cornerback Charvarius Ward was in coverage for a few big of those big plays. After halftime, he didn’t initially rejoin the defense on the field. Instead, the team looked to go with cornerbacks Rashad Fenton and Bashaud Breeland — who had nabbed an interception in his first game back from a four-game suspension.
Derek Carr throws his first INT of the season to Bashaud Breeland, who is just coming off a suspension.— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) October 11, 2020
Carr threw 316 passes in a row without an INT.
I hope the Carr brothers don't block me on twitter for pointing this out.pic.twitter.com/i2dHX6RCXU
Mathieu appreciated Breeland’s effort in the game, but referenced the big play he made as a learning point for the defense.
“Some minor things that [Breeland] can clean up, but for him to come out in his first game, make a big play for us — which I felt like swung the momentum early in the game,” said Mathieu. “Defensively, we have to try our best to capitalize off of that. Especially when we make big plays on the football — sacks or turnovers — we gotta find a way to play consistent after that. That’s a new challenge for us: how can we protect leads? How can we get out in front and play the kind of defense that we’re accustomed to playing?”
As easy as it is for frustration to boil over after such an unexpected performance, Mathieu didn’t think it was fair to freak out. After all, the Chiefs just suffered their first loss in the last 14 games — ever since November 10, 2019.
“Going forward, it’s all about continuing to encourage my guys,” said Mathieu. “It’s a long football season; I can’t get down on them. We haven’t lost a game since last year, so who am I — as a leader — to jump down their throats because we didn’t perform as we would like as a group? I gave up a big play today — and that’s all a part of the game. We’ll get back in the lab... I haven’t felt this motivated in a very, very long time. I know my teammates on all sides of the ball feel the exact same way.”
Jones’ closing words shared a similar sentiment. Obviously the Chiefs are trying to win every game, but there’s a reason no team has ever gone 19-0 through a season and postseason.
“As much as we want to go undefeated — which is never talked about in this locker room — we can see the vision,” explained Jones. “We have the talent — and we have the team — to do it, but it’s hard to win every game. No matter what, we’re getting everybody’s best. (Raiders head coach) Jon Gruden, he’s built a remarkable team over there... they came out ready to play today, firing on all cylinders. Give it to them: they beat us.”
No matter how you choose to react to this game, It’s been a long time since a division foe has been able to do that.