Chiefs’ Achilles’ heel
Despite a Super Bowl appearance in 2020, the Chiefs quietly had one of the worst run defenses in the league. In fact, by DVOA standards, they were the second-worst team against the run, and that trend seems to have continued.
Through two games against quality running attacks, the Chiefs’ defensive front has been trampled for 404 yards and 6.03 yards per attempt. PFF has them graded as the worst rush defense in the league (29.5), and Football Outsiders has them last in adjusted line yards allowed per carry (5.76).
The Chiefs allowed Cleveland to convert all of its power situations (percentage of runs on third or fourth down, 2 yards or fewer to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown, plus runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the 2-yard line or closer), and Baltimore went 4-for-5 in those situations Sunday night. If Kansas City’s run defense were the only problem, this would barely be a topic, but that is not the case. Through two weeks, the Chiefs rank 20th in pass coverage and 27th in tackling by PFF standards. It should be no surprise, given their problems against the run, to find Kansas City has greatly struggled in defending pass attempts off play action.
The Chiefs’ two lead interior linemen on defense, Khalen Saunders and Tershawn Wharton, have never graded higher than 63.9 by PFF in run defense, and Chris Jones is now playing along the edge. They seem to lack a path to improve as much as they need to.
In Week 3 they will face the Chargers, who have not exactly lit it up with their running game. The Chiefs can certainly put forth a better effort in defending a lesser running attack, but this problem will persist, and the market has not factored this into its power rating of Kansas City. Kansas City is 1-11-1 ATS in its last 13 games because of its status as a public favorite, but also because of a defense that struggles immensely against strong running games. Will this poor cover run continue Sunday?
The bad news for Kansas City: Super Bowl losers do tend to backslide the following season, historically speaking. During their runs to the doorstep of a title, those teams put up a .778 winning percentage (or 13.2 wins per 17 games)1 on average in the regular season, with a +8.9 points-per-game margin. The next year, those numbers dropped to .633 (10.8 wins per 17) with a +5.0 average margin. Relative to league average in each season, Super Bowl losers’ offenses score 2.7 fewer points per game on average year-over-year — thanks in large part to less-effective quarterback play — and their defenses allow 1.1 more points per game.
Marc Ross: Last week against the Cowboys, the Chargers beat themselves with costly penalties and red-zone turnovers. This week will be different, with Los Angeles playing mistake-free football. Justin Herbert outduels Patrick Mahomes, torching a struggling K.C. defense that ranks dead last in the NFL in yards allowed (469.0 per game) and fifth-worst in points allowed (32.5 per game). Sunday will mark the first time since Weeks 5 and 6 of 2019 that Mahomes and the Chiefs lose back-to-back games.
Stat to know: Chiefs QB Patrick Mahomes boasts a 16-2 record as a starter in division games over his NFL career, with 35 TD passes to just eight interceptions in those games. Since Total QBR was first tracked in 2006, Mahomes is one of three QBs with a 70-plus career QBR in division play, ahead of Peyton Manning and Tom Brady (minimum 15 starts).
What to know for fantasy: Two of L.A. receiver Mike Williams’ top four career fantasy games have come in Kansas City — including 22.8 points in Week 17 of last season.
Betting nugget: The over has cashed in each of the past three games these two teams have played at Arrowhead Stadium, with the Chargers covering the number twice.
Smith’s pick: Chargers 31, Chiefs 27
Teicher’s pick: Chiefs 34, Chargers 31
FPI prediction: KC, 72.5% (by an average of 8.5 points)
One Week 3 projection I love: Chargers TE Jared Cook earning more than 38.5 receiving yards against the Chiefs.
Against the Chiefs in Week 1, Browns TE David Njoku racked up 76 receiving yards. In Week 2 vs. Kansas City, Ravens TE Mark Andrews had 57. Cook has seen 13 targets in two games, tied for sixth-most among tight ends. Volume and opportunity intersect to the tune of a 4/49/1 line from Cook on Sunday’s enticing AFC West bout.
Here’s the school of thought. Most fan bases would love to see their favorite team have balanced sides. They want to see excellence on offense and on defense. But if you can’t shore up a weakness then at least lean into a strength. And the Chiefs have a chance to do exactly that right now by signing Gordon.
Signing Josh Gordon would only encourage what the Chiefs already do best.
No one should be misguided here in a couple directions. For those who would say, “What about the defense?”, the truth is that there are no obvious free agents to sign or trades to be made at this point. Olivier Vernon is an intriguing veteran edge rusher, but he’s coming off of an Achilles injury and I’m sure the Chiefs would be all over it if they thought he was healthy and ready to produce. Maybe Trent Murphy or Tre Boston or Gareon Conley turn your engine. If so, that’s fine. Maybe the Chiefs should make such a move.
Around the NFL
The Saints announced that tight ends coach Dan Roushar and defensive line coaches Ryan Nielsen and Brian Young will miss Sunday’s game after they all tested positive for COVID-19 last week and have not yet met the criteria for returning.
The Saints were missing a total of eight coaches and nine starters in last Sunday’s lopsided 26-7 loss at Carolina. Since then, five coaches returned to practice this week (WR coach Curtis Johnson, RB coach Joel Thomas, offensive analyst Jim Chaney, offensive assistant Declan Doyle and special teams assistant Phil Galiano). No new coaches tested positive this week.
The Ravens placed nose tackle Brandon Williams, defensive tackle Justin Madubuike and edge rushers Justin Houston and Jaylon Ferguson on the reserve/COVID-19 list, the team announced.
Offensive tackle Ronnie Stanley (ankle) and defensive end Derek Wolfe (hip/back) will miss Sunday’s game against Detroit, the team also announced via its Friday injury report, while quarterback Lamar Jackson (illness), cornerback Jimmy Smith (ankle), cornerback Tavon Young (knee), linebacker Pernell McPhee (shoulder) and receiver Marquise Brown (ankle) are questionable.
Jackson’s presence on this list is of the utmost importance, as he is the engine that powers Baltimore’s ground-heavy attack. Jackson’s heroics helped the Ravens overcome a two-score deficit to beat the Chiefs last weekend.
Following the game, Rhule told reporters that McCaffrey had strained his hamstring, but that he did not know the severity of the injury. Rookie Chuba Hubbard took over the run game when McCaffrey exited, and rushed for 52 yards on 11 carries and caught three passes for 27 yards. Carolina also has veteran Royce Freeman at running back, and he took five carries for 17 yards on Thursday night. After the game, Rhule was asked what he’s looking for out of those two players if McCaffrey was to miss time.
“Yeah, I think they just have to be starting NFL running backs, and Royce has done that before,” Rhule said, via Pro Football Talk. “I told Chuba at halftime, ‘That’s why we drafted you, man.’ I thought Chuba was outstanding. At the end of the half, we didn’t give him a ton of chances, but I thought he got in there at the end and made some key runs. When we can line up in four-minute offense and run and get the first down on two plays, especially versus that stout defense, that’s a credit to the offensive line, credit to the tight ends and full backs. I thought those backs hit it, and the minute Royce got in he made that nice run, cut the ball back on a dual play, which that’s a veteran-run. That’s a guy that’s played a bunch and saw it. Those guys stepped up for us.”
In case you missed it on Arrowhead Pride
3. Covering the Chargers’ wide receivers
Quarterback Justin Herbert has the third-most passing attempts in the NFL this season. The Chargers have no problem throwing the ball all over the field, and they have the receivers to make it effective.
Wide receiver Keenan Allen has always been one of the best route-running receivers in the league, and his quickness in that respect is a mismatch for Chiefs cornerbacks. On the flip side, wide receiver Mike Williams is a big-bodied player that will catch over anyone — but he can also be an elusive player with the ball in his hands. Wide receiver Jalen Guyton can take the top off the defense, and running back Austin Ekeler is always a threat to align anywhere in the formation to make a play in the passing game.
With Allen as their primary slot receiver, cornerback L’Jarius Sneed will play a huge factor in the defense’s success against the pass this week. Charvarius Ward will see Williams on the outside quite a bit; in a contract year, this is a game that Ward has to play well to prove he’s worth a contract in the offseason.
A tweet to make you think
I'm convinced that the Chiefs will be playing in the first NFL regular season game played in Germany. https://t.co/FRMjFe9Q6j— Tom Childs (@tomchilds56) September 25, 2021