Through the three preceding entering Sunday’s game against the Philadelphia Eagles, the Kansas City Chiefs season had been characterized by a simple fact: the offense will have to be incredibly efficient — and if it isn’t, the Chiefs may give up too many points and lose.
Sunday’s game didn’t really do much to change that — though it was an obvious step in the right direction to get the 42-30 victory. The problems that we have seen in the Chiefs defense — the miscommunication, the missed tackles and the general lack of quarterback pressure — persisted, but the difference on Sunday was that the Chiefs didn’t turn the ball over four times. That allowed for an eight-point halftime Chiefs lead.
The lead would have been greater if defensive lineman Chris Jones would have fallen on a loose ball with the second-quarter clock ticking to down to zero — but he clearly wanted six points on the play. It may be time for the Chiefs to think about switching Jones to his original defensive tackle position; I think that could be a talking point this week. But if you make that move, I just don’t know what you do along the edge — considering that Frank Clark can’t stay on the field and Mike Danna is playing like the only reasonable option.
It is rare to see Patrick Mahomes make blunders, so to see him throw a couple of questionable interceptions in 2021 is a bit odd. The pick against the Baltimore Ravens and the second one against the Los Angeles Chargers were killers — and he’d probably say that his interception on Sunday was the result of forcing another ball. It was the Chiefs’ only turnover of the day — and there was true beauty in Mahomes’ response.
Mahomes answered with an 11-play touchdown drive after the pick — along with 24 completions on 30 attempts for 278 yards and five touchdowns (a passer rating of 131.0) on the day. I often think of that NFL Films clip from Super Bowl LIV, in which Andy Reid tells Mahomes to keep firing despite an interception; Mahomes seems completely unaffected when he does make a rare mistake, and there is a reason that Reid now has 100 wins with two franchises.
The trend of Mahomes miscues does not look like it will continue. Two trends that do seem like they may continue are the tackling issues and the overall defensive miscommunication.
Chris Jones was lined up at DT for that play, then called for a sub. Joshua Kaindoh, a DE, ran on the field,leaving the Chiefs with three DE (Kaindoh, Okafor, Danna) on the field. Eagles, in turn, run a sneak on third/short. Kaindoh, lined up at DT, gets bowled over. First down.— Sam McDowell (@SamMcDowell11) October 3, 2021
The Eagles took advantage of this early by working quickly to the line to catch the Chiefs. That is why they were in the game in the first half. On one occasion, Jones could be seen desperately calling for a timeout in what looked to be utter defensive confusion.
There was a play in the first quarter in which the Eagles rushed to the line because running back Kenneth Gainwell looked like he might have fumbled. The replay showed he did. Without a challenge, the play led to seven Philadelphia points. It did not cost the Chiefs on Sunday — but against a better team, that cannot happen. Perhaps that swing would have ended the Eagles’ day way before the fourth quarter.
The one positive for the Chiefs’ defense was better success in the red zone (3 stops in 6 tries), but I also thought Eagles head coach Nick Sirianni made two critical mistakes — one in the first quarter and one in the second quarter. Entering the game, opposing offenses were 5 of 6 on fourth-down conversions against the Chiefs. It may be bold, but I would have gone for it on the Kansas City 7-yard late in the second quarter. Sirianni opted to kick. The more egregious decision was not going for it on the game’s first possession at the Kansas City 3. The Eagles originally lined up to go for it, but needed a timeout as the play clock was running out. When they came back on the field, it was the field-goal unit.
Later in the game, the Eagles went for it on fourth down at the Kansas City 3, and what resulted was a touchdown before it was ruled a pick play (a break for the Chiefs), but it kind of proves my point. You got to go get the points against the Chiefs, who finished with 42 on the day.
A quick note about the Eagles’ offense: rookie wide receiver DeVonta Smith and Gainwell, the rookie running back, are awfully talented. Smith against Mike Hughes (or anybody) is not a matchup the Chiefs should like.
The Eagles’ defensive game plan matched those that we’ve seen against the Chiefs in early weeks. Find a way to shut down Tyreek Hill or Travis Kelce with extra attention (they did a nice job with Kelce — only one target in the first half), take away the deep opportunities and make the Chiefs run extra plays — and maybe they will cough the ball up.
With that opposing strategy, the Chiefs’ run game has to be solid — and on Sunday, I thought it was. The Chiefs took a committee approach on the ground on Sunday — Clyde Edwards-Helaire had 14 carries for 102 yards and two catches for 12 yards and a touchdown, and Darrel Williams had 10 carries for 42 yards and a touchdown and two catches for 16 yards. In the offensive line, Creed Humphrey and Trey Smith are rookie stars.
Hill’s ball-tracking remains ridiculous. He embarrassed old friend Steven Nelson on a 36-yard touchdown. With Kelce occupied for a bit of the day, Hill became Mahomes’ go-to guy in Philadelphia — and Hill finished as the most-targeted Chief, with 11 catches for 186 yards and a well-earned three touchdowns on the day. No other receiver had more than 23 yards, which is why Kansas City is reportedly rather eager for the Josh Gordon call-up.
It was a solid Chiefs win that took four quarters. But there is more work to do for the Chiefs to get back to championship-level ball.