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Let’s not panic about the Chiefs’ offense — or get smug about the defense

We’re all just trying to get a handle on how we should feel about the team Kansas City is now putting on the field.

Denver Broncos v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

It’s very easy for fans of a particular NFL team to feel that everything that goes right with their team — or for that matter, everything that goes wrong — only has to do with their team. In this respect, Kansas City Chiefs fans are just like those of any other team.

And in the wake of the team’s 22-9 victory over the Denver Broncos on Sunday night, many might be feeling too little confidence about the Kansas City offense — and too much for the team’s defense.

This is not to suggest that the offense doesn’t have problems to solve; it certainly does. Nor should you take this to mean that I’m failing to credit the defense for its improvement in recent weeks; the unit has definitely earned it.

But let’s try and keep the Chiefs’ five-game winning streak in the proper perspective: the other guys get paid to play, too.

Denver Broncos v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

Before we get too worked up about the Chiefs’ offense scoring just 16 points (let’s remember that six Kansas City points came from Daniel Sorensen’s 75-yard interception return), we should remember that only two NFL teams have allowed fewer points than the Broncos this season.

Perhaps even more to the point, we should note that the Broncos have allowed the league’s fourth-lowest opponent passer rating in 2021. During his career, Patrick Mahomes and his receivers have often torched well-regarded pass defenses — but through 12 games during his worst season as a starter, he’s played against five of the top 10.

And after NFL defensive coordinators have spent three seasons trying to figure out some way to stop Kansas City’s star quarterback, we shouldn’t be surprised that they have found a few ways to make him less effective — and when the Chiefs adjust to meet those approaches, it shouldn’t be shocking for Mahomes to go through an adjustment period. After all, he’s spent his whole career relying on his incredible football instincts and sheer physical talent; he’s essentially being asked to learn a whole new way of doing things.

Meanwhile, the Chiefs’ defense held the Broncos to just nine points on Sunday night — but Denver came into the matchup ranked 21st in points scored, averaging fewer than 21 per game. Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s defense did face top-shelf offenses in games against the Green Bay Packers and Dallas Cowboys, but in both cases, those units were missing some of their top performers — if not the top performer.

Denver Broncos v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images

As comforting as it has been to see the Kansas City defense become a dominating unit over the last five games, we still haven’t seen them turn in such a performance against an elite offense with all of its pieces in place. That isn’t to say it can’t happen — but until it does, there’s no way to know for sure. And looking at the rest of the Chiefs’ schedule, it’s not clear that the team will face such a challenge until the postseason.

So what does all this mean? In his post-game rapid reaction, Pete Sweeney suggested that the Chiefs have simply flipped the script — that we should get used to the idea that Kansas City will win games on the strength of its defense. In his article about Mahomes’ post-game admission that the offense isn’t executing, Ron Kopp made the point that we’ve seen this kind of Chiefs team before — one that can be successful in the regular season, but fail in the playoffs; in our Instabreakdown of Sunday’s matchup, Bryan Stewart made a similar point. And during the game, NBC analyst Cris Collinsworth implied that 2021 could end up being a “maturity” season for Mahomes.

I think all of these viewpoints have at least a piece of the truth. There’s no doubt that the Chiefs’ offense isn’t performing as well as it should — and no one can argue that the team’s defense hasn’t made significant strides over the team’s five-game winning streak. But the offense isn’t terrible; it’s just not performing at the level we have grown accustomed to seeing during Mahomes’ tenure. And while we can’t absolutely say the defense has the horses to be a postseason force, it’s arguably a better unit than Spagnuolo had during the 2019 championship run — and I would take it over any defensive unit (and coordinator) that Andy Reid has had on the field in Kansas City.

Mahomes and the offense have a lot of problems to solve. But it wasn’t so long ago that we thought the Kansas City defense had insurmountable issues — and they turned the corner anyway. It’s not too late for the Chiefs’ offense to do the same. And if it doesn’t — resulting in a postseason failure — it will help Mahomes mature; I remain confident that he will eventually become a quarterback who can operate efficiently in the pocket and make plays out of structure. It might not happen this season — but it will happen.

And even if the offense never turns the corner before season’s end, the defense could still carry it across the finish line. I wasn’t the one who first said, “Offense sells tickets, but defense wins championships” — but whoever said it also had a piece of the truth.