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Chiefs vs. Packers Instabreakdown: Defense shines; offense still struggles

Defense takes advantage of a Packers offense without Aaron Rodgers

NFL: Green Bay Packers at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

Final score: Kansas City Chiefs 13, Green Bay Packers 7

Offense (Ron Kopp)

If you had thought that Sunday’s game might be when the Chiefs’ offense would finally break out of its shell, you felt very smart after the team’s first drive. It took 15 plays, using the short passing game and effective runs to march down the field; the Chiefs converted four third or fourth-down attempts on their way to their first homefield opening-drive touchdown of the season.

The opening script looked unstoppable — but into the rest of the game, it did not continue. After the first drive, the Chiefs only totaled 178 yards and eight first downs. For the game, they averaged 3.7 yards per play. A combination of an unwillingness to run the ball traditionally — and an out-of-rhythm passing offense — led to six punts in 11 possessions.

The communication and chemistry between quarterback Patrick Mahomes and his receivers was clearly off. There were dropped passes, slips on routes and clear miscommunications — but Mahomes also made inaccurate throws and missed some opportunities. On one play in the first half, Mahomes took a contested shot instead of getting the ball to tight end Travis Kelce, who was wide open over the middle of the field. On multiple third downs in the second half, Mahomes passes were dropped by their intended targets; one was a little behind to Kelce — but the other was on on the mark to wide receiver Mecole Hardman.

Speaking of Hardman, the dropped pass wasn’t the only play in which he made a negative impact. At one point, he muffed a punt — and also appeared to have caused a false start on a fourth-and-goal; immediately after the whistle, Mahomes and Hardman began an animated conversation — strongly suggesting there had been a miscommunication.

Early on, the rushing attack was effective — but the Chiefs didn’t stick to it as much as I’d like to see. On their second drive, the Chiefs went four-and-out; each play was a pass. Running back Darrel Williams did a great job of getting downhill and playing with power, gaining yards through contact and not wasting time by moving horizontally. On the flip side, running back Derrick Gore danced around a little too much for my liking; he was not as impressive as he had been on Monday night.

While the Chiefs’ defense gave their offense plenty of opportunities to run away with the game, Kansas City consistently gave the ball right back to the Packers. The second half started with four straight possessions ending in a punt; three of them were three-and-outs. There wasn’t one particular reason why they failed, there was one player to blame on one play, then another on the next. The whole passing attack was simply out of sync and out of rhythm.

Instead of relying more on the ground game, the play-calling has continued to trust Mahomes to drop back and ignite the offense. Yet he finished the game with 4.5 yards per attempt — the lowest single-game rate of his entire career. At some point, the offense is going to have to transition to more of an emphasis on running the ball.

Offensive Player of the Game: The offensive line as a whole

For the second consecutive week, the offensive line looked very much improved in pass protection; the only sack allowed was by backup right tackle Andrew Wylie, who filled in for injured starter Lucas Niang — and outside of that snap, he did a decent job. Unfortunately, the passing offense failed to take advantage of the good pass protection. The line also blew open a few running lanes for the running backs — but the ball carriers didn’t seem to take advantage of the blocking as much as they could have.

Defense (Talon Graff)

The Chiefs’ defense took full advantage of a Green Bay offense that was without star quarterback Aaron Rodgers. Steve Spagnuolo’s squad held Jordan Love to only 190 passing yards and picked him off once. They were also able to sack him once thanks to a Tyrann Mathieu blitz.

There were, however, some missed opportunities. Mathieu and cornerback Charvarius Ward each dropped what seemed to be sure interceptions. Chris Jones also made a near-special play when he beat the Packers center as a 1-technique rusher. He was able to force a rushed pass — but as quickly as he got into the backfield, it should’ve been a sack. Jones looks much more explosive when he is on the interior —and now with Melvin Ingram’s presence on the outside, he should be playing inside much more regularly.

Ingram played some meaningful snaps in his Kansas City debut. His counterpart Frank Clark put in another positive performance. Even though he did not record a sack, he did tally two tackles — one for a loss — and three quarterback hits while applying numerous pressures to Love in the backfield.

The return of Anthony Hitchens was a welcome sight — and he put in a nice day. Nick Bolton looked more explosive and athletic; he clearly looks like the future at linebacker. Willie Gay seems more and more comfortable as well. Hitchens totaled seven tackles, Bolton had five and Gay finished with two.

Cornerback L’Jarius Sneed had what was arguably his best game of the season. His interception was the only pick of the day for either team. Heading into the 2021 season, Sneed had a lot of lofty expectations placed upon him — and he hadn’t yet lived up to them. But on Sunday, he was solid in coverage — and made a miraculous play over star Packers receiver Davante Adams.

Overall, the defense holding a Green Bay offense to only seven points is a huge positive. Aaron Rodgers’ playmakers were available to Love — and Kansas City defenders were able to hold them in check. Aaron Jones only rushed for 53 yards while Davante Adams only mustered 42 receiving yards on six receptions.

It was a solid day for everyone on the Chiefs’ defense.

Defensive Player of the Game: Cornerback L’Jarius Sneed

One of the team’s more prolific defenders in 2020, Sneed has underperformed so far. But in Week 9, he stepped up with contributions that were vital to the team’s fifth victory. Sneed’s late-game interception — while covering Adams — was a stellar play that helped seal the victory. He finished with six tackles and two pass deflections to go along with his pick.