On Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs held on to defeat the Las Vegas Raiders win 35-31 in their new stadium at the end of the Strip. Pete Sweeney’s rapid reaction addressed the team’s ‘ultimate fixers’ and John Dixon counted off five things we learned — including an observation that the Raiders might be pretty good. Among their three big takeaways from the game, the AP Nerd Squad worried about the Chiefs’ pass rush. But Matt Stagner brought up a subject that would reverberate throughout the week.
Juan Thornhill: It was noticeable all night: the Raiders were having their way with the Chiefs coverage over the middle of the field, and Thornhill was nowhere to be seen. After hitting his season-low in snaps (11), on a night when his skill set could have been useful, his coach said this:
Andy Reid on Juan Thornhill, who didn’t play much: “He’s a situational guy right now.”— Sam Mellinger (@mellinger) November 23, 2020
The most memorable part of Sunday’s game was the Chiefs’ two-minute drive in the fourth quarter to put the game away. On Monday, we took you inside it.
“I’m not going to lie,” said tight end Travis Kelce of the final scoring play. “I kind of got tricked on it. I thought it was a middle-field open look. When I got through [the] second level — which is the linebackers — I felt an opening on the opposite hash.”
And then Kelce smiled. “Might as well go where the void is,” he laughed. Using the tracking technology of Next Gen Stats, you can clearly see the opportunity he had sensed.
Patrick Mahomes-Travis Kelce Game-Winning 22-yard TD— Next Gen Stats (@NextGenStats) November 23, 2020
➤ Mahomes Speed: 12.68 MPH
➤ Receiver Separation: 4.8 yards*
➤ Completion Probability: 60.6%
*Mahomes is responsible for 3 of the top 10 'most open' deep passes in the end zone this season.#KCvsLV | Powered by @awscloud pic.twitter.com/f1G2ncsnOt
“Tyreek Hill was the number one option,” head coach Andy Reid said of the play, “and then back to Travis. It was kind of dependent on what they did and how they pushed.”
You can see this clearly, too. Hill is well-covered by Raiders rookie cornerback Damon Arnette (20) down the left side. When Mahomes rolls away to his right, safety Johnathan Abram (24) sees the open field in front of Mahomes and comes forward — not realizing he’s missed Kelce’s move to the other hash — leaving the tight end wide open in the end zone. By the time Arnette can disengage from Hill, it’s way too late.
Game. Set. Rematch.
We also took a look at the star tight end’s big game.
Mahomes has always appreciated Kelce’s intelligence when maneuvering coverage. He thinks it comes from his experience of playing a different position.
“He has a great understanding of zone coverages, man coverages, how to get himself open and how to be on the quarterback’s timing,” Mahomes explained. “That comes from him playing the quarterback position and him having the years and experience, and I think you’re starting to see that from Tyreek Hill as well. If we can just keep evolving game-by-game, we’ll be a hard offense to stop.”
As the Chiefs enter the final six-game stretch of the 2020 season, Travis Kelce is as much of a sure thing for first-team All-Pro at his position as any other NFL player. He’s the most important offensive weapon on the league’s best offense, he’s toward the top of receiving categories for all positions, and he just put up his third-consecutive performance of 100 or more receiving yards.
On Tuesday, we examined where the Chiefs stand in the 2020 playoff race.
Getting a first-round bye
Here, the Chiefs have the same problem they faced a week ago: those pesky Pittsburgh Steelers keep on winning. Even running the table through the last six weeks of the season only gives the Chiefs a 90% chance at the AFC’s only postseason bye.
Should the Chiefs pull that off, a Steelers loss to the Ravens on Thursday (or the Buffalo Bills in Week 14) would clinch a Chiefs bye. Otherwise, the Chiefs would need two Steelers losses (along with that 6-0 finish) to claim the top seed.
Then Craig Stout went to the defensive film to find out what had gone wrong in Las Vegas. There was plenty.
The Raiders are significantly better than most predicted they would be this season. Carr has shown the ability to hang in the pocket and throw downfield accurately. He looks like the best version of himself, and he’s very comfortable in Gruden’s system. To Gruden’s credit, he’s pulled out all the stops against the Chiefs and dialed up some top-notch offensive plays that the Chiefs have struggled to identify quickly and defend well.
That doesn’t excuse a poor performance from the Chiefs, however.
The Raiders have a good offensive line, but the lack of pressure from this group — through a four-man rush or fabricated through blitzing — is unacceptable. The missed tackles for the Chiefs seem to be looming larger and coming at worse and worse times as the season goes along. Finally, Spagnuolo is finding out that he can’t trust his secondary in consistent man coverage against above-average weapons without safety help over the top.
Tuesday concluded with the Chiefs re-signing former offensive lineman Stefen Wisniewski to the practice squad — and putting wide receiver Byron Pringle on injured reserve.
To make room for Wisniewski, the Chiefs released cornerback Lavert Hill — a former Arrowhead Pride lottery ticket — from the practice squad. The 22-year-old Michigan product had signed with Kansas City as an undrafted free agent and was added to the practice squad after not making the initial 53-man roster.
Wide receiver Byron Pringle suffered an ankle injury in the Chiefs’ win over the Las Vegas Raiders on Sunday. Mecole Hardman entered the game in relief — despite not having practiced all week. It’s a bad break for Pringle, who had recently been promoted to the team’s kick returner position. He has nine catches for 108 yards on the season. He will be out for at least the next three weeks.
After Andy Reid’s description of the second-year safety as a “situational player” after Sunday’s game, Wednesday brought some additional clarity about his situation.
“I’ve been through [an] ACL twice,” fellow safety Tyrann Mathieu told reporters on Wednesday. “I remember when I went through my ACL, it wasn’t until a year [or] two years after until I really began to feel like myself again.”
Mathieu seemed to be confirming what Reid had implied — that Thornhill needs more time to get back to his 2019 form, saying that he would counsel his young comrade to be patient.
“I think everybody’s body is different,” added Mathieu, “but I think the most important thing we all have to kind of understand is that patience. It’s going to take some time to get there — and there will be a lot of expectations from other people outside of you who want you to reach your destination quicker than [it’s] possible.”
On Thursday, we shared the defensive leader’s thoughts about his unit’s performance against the Raiders.
“We’re kind of upset with the last two outings we’ve had. I wouldn’t say that we’re down. We’ve kind of been in these situations before — the kind of situations where you have to lean on each other [and] take the coaching. You’ve got to find a way to get better.”
But it’s worth noting that these two games have been against teams that aren’t exactly offensive slouches. At 28.6 points a game, the Raiders currently rank eighth in scoring — and are second only to the Chiefs in offensive scoring percentage at 50.1%. The Panthers aren’t far behind at 46.2% — and have been without their main offensive weapon Christian McCaffrey for most of the season. In his return to action against the Chiefs, the All-Pro running back had 151 total yards and two touchdowns.
“Obviously, every football game won’t be a blowout,” observed Mathieu. “Every football game won’t be a dominant defensive performance. But I think mostly, our fans should be able to see us playing hard — us sticking together.”
Friday brought welcome news: the oft-injured wide receiver would likely be back for Sunday’s game against the Tampa Bay Buccaneers.
Chiefs cornerback BoPete Keyes (ankle) was added to the injury report on Thursday, but he still practiced fully Thursday and Friday. His addition likely means he’s receiving treatment for an issue stemming from Wednesday’s workout.
The Tampa Bay Buccaneers have three offensive linemen of note on their injury report: left guard Ali Marpet (concussion), who has not played since Week 8, put in three full practices this week but still needs to work his way out of the protocol — so he is questionable, left tackle Donovan Smith (ankle) did not practice all week and is officially questionable (game-time decision) and center A.Q. Shipley (neck) has been ruled out and has been told to stop playing football. Shipley will become a member of Bucs head coach Bruce Arians’ coaching staff.