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Chiefs-Chargers Instabreakdown: Defense improves, but turnovers seal loss

It’s back to the drawing board as turnovers and big plays drop Kansas City to 1-2

NFL: Los Angeles Chargers at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Final score: Kansas City Chiefs 24, Los Angeles Chargers 30

Offense (Ron Kopp)

From the first play of the game, the Chiefs’ offense could not be stopped by the Chargers’ defense; the only thing stopping them was themselves. In their first two drives, they didn’t face a single third down — but both ended with self-inflicted turnovers. On the third possession, running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire fumbled for the second time in the last two games.

Ball security has become a huge issue for Kansas City. Not only does that negatively affect the offense, it hurts the defense — who played very well to start the game, but can only hold down a high-powered offense for so long.

Even as they moved past the turnovers, the offense struggled to get it going at first. The offensive line had a few untimely mistakes late in the first half. An attempted screen pass to Edwards-Helaire looked like it could be a long gain — but the leading linemen allowed a linebacker to get through them and blow it up single-handedly. On the following third down, right guard Trey Smith — who had a good game overall — was beaten quickly by Joey Bosa; it led to a drive-ending sack. A false start by left guard Joe Thuney on the last drive of the first half also hurt the team’s chances of scoring before the break.

Quarterback Patrick Mahomes’ pocket presence was a minor issue in the first half. His footwork was messy even in manageable pockets, running into blockers as he set up to throw. It led to some throws that were off. For most of the second half, it improved — but it was still a problem late in the fourth quarter.

The run blocking was great throughout game — but with the turnovers being eliminated in the second half, it began to make a bigger impact; because of it, Edwards-Helaire averaged six yards per carry. Chiefs running backs ended up with 128 yards on 24 carries. even if Bosa did get the best of both offensive tackles a few times, the offensive line’s pass blocking held up well.

The play-calling was excellent in the second half. The ball was distributed to every playmaker; Hardman had two big plays on jet sweeps — including a fourth-quarter touchdown. Edwards-Helaire scored on a well-designed screen in the red zone. Darrel Williams and Byron Pringle both had crucial first- down conversions.

Even as the offense looked more like their old selves after halftime, it was another crucial turnover that doomed the Chiefs. Mahomes tried a very risky deep throw that ended up nowhere near the intended target — and fe;; right into the hands of a safety. It’s the second time Mahomes has had an errant throw intercepted in as many games — and it’s the second time it’s severely impacted the Chiefs’ chances of winning.

Even with that bad interception, the Chiefs still had a chance to win on their last drive — but crucial incompletions to Hill and Pringle — both of which could have been caught — buried their chances.

The bottom line is that teams rarely win games when they turn it over four times — especially when the last one is in such a crucial spot. Ball security — from securing the ball as they run to not throwing it up for grabs — needs to have a much heavier emphasis.

Offensive Player of the Game: Tight end Travis Kelce

To no one’s surprise, Kelce was the most consistent receiver of game. He constantly had chunk plays in crucial situations. He didn’t get into the end zone, but he was the offense’s best player for the entire game. He finished with seven catches and 104 receiving yards.

Defense (Talon Graff)

The defense got off to a hot start thanks to the energy level with which the group was playing. On the opening drive, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo’s squad allowed only five yards and got off of the field after a quick three-and-out. Following an unfortunate interception, they forced a second consecutive punt.

After the offense turned the ball over (again) on their second drive, Kansas City defenders started to drop back down to Earth a bit. Justin Herbert led the Chargers on a 9-play, 51-yard scoring march. Daniel Sorensen continues to be one of the more frustrating players on the field for the Chiefs. Where is Juan Thornhill — and does he really deserve to be benched for Daniel Sorensen? Whenever No. 22 has been on the field he has made plays — but hopefully, this all gets sorted out soon. Juan Thornhill has got to receive more playing time moving forward.

Linebacker Anthony Hitchens looked as good as he has in a Chiefs uniform. He was flying all around the field for Kansas City. Former Missouri rookie Nick Bolton played a solid game as well. Getting Willie Gay Jr. healthy is going to help out a lot. The defense has plenty to fix — but getting more key players on the field more will be a start.

The run defense looked much improved, allowing only 3.5 yards per carry. The pass defense struggled against the Chargers receivers. Mike Williams had his way with the depleted Chiefs secondary while Keenan Allen left his own footprint. Charvarius Ward’s absence — plus Rashad Fenton going down — allowed Los Angeles to take advantage through the air. Justin Herbert tossed four touchdowns and was only sacked once. The lack of a pass rush has been devastating; being without one puts too much pressure on the defensive backs to make plays.

On a pivotal fourth-and-9 play, cornerback Deandre Baker was called for a pass interference penalty. Two plays later, the Chargers scored a game-winning touchdown.

In the end, though, the four turnovers the offense committed were too much for this Chiefs defense to overcome. Even so, late in the fourth quarter, they forced a field goal that tied the ball game at 24, setting up a game-winning drive for Mahomes — which ended with the interception.

There were some positive takeaways — and the defense can build upon those — but these early losses in a competitive AFC West are tough to swallow. The defense, however, should not be shouldering full blame for this one.

Defensive Player of the Game: Anthony Hitchens

Hitchens played a heck of a game. He looked explosive and healthier than he has in a while, making an impact in multiple facets by making tackles and deflecting passes. The linebackers get critiqued quite often — but not without reason. On Sunday, Hitchens — along with Bolton — played a good game.

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