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Film review: Examining the plays that allowed the Broncos to make it a game with the Chiefs

What started out as a very fun game to watch for Chiefs fans ended with more questions and frustrations.

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

If you're a fan who likes to experience the full swing of emotions throughout a football game, the Kansas City Chiefs provided that opportunity very well this past Sunday in Denver against the Broncos.

Early on, it appeared it was going to be a nonstop fun, stressless Sunday of viewing for Chiefs fans, as the team dominated early in what would become the 14th straight win over the Denver Broncos. Yet, as is too often the case in recent years for the Chiefs, things became very tense, nervous, and perhaps even anger-inducing as the Broncos quickly mounted a comeback, all the way to a 27-21 score.

So what caused this near meltdown? And how can the team avoid it occurring again throughout the rest of the season?

Let's dig into the film:

Film review

On the first defensive series with a 27-point lead after linebacker Willie Gay Jr.'s pick-six, another three-and-out was forced by the Chiefs' defense, with two big plays coming from rookie first-round draft picks: defensive end George Karlaftis and cornerback Trent McDuffie.

In the clip below, the Chiefs would love to see Karlaftis get the quarterback down, and it's admittedly a hard job when Russell Wilson is capable of quick, sudden movements. Chiefs fans know from watching Patrick Mahomes that quick pressure without finishing the job defensively can sometimes lead to even worse results than if the pressure had never been there at all.

However, Karlaftis deserves credit for clearly starting to ascend his game here in December.

Will he ever be a dominant All-Pro who leads the league in sacks? Probably not. But his improvements — no matter how big or small they may be — are critical for this team to close the season with the ultimate prize.

As for McDuffie, in what would easily be described as his worst game so far, it still was far from bad. To close out that first drive up 27 points, McDuffie showed more of the familiar technique and poise. On this play, he sticks tight to his receiver in coverage — as well as anyone on the roster.

The Chiefs' offense then retook the field, up 27-0 with the halftime break quickly approaching. This is where Mahomes' first big mistake came. The interception below is a risk that I'm not sure he would be willing to take had they not been up so much.

The increased margin for error has always led Mahomes to take more chances — it's why many of his interceptions throughout his career have come with multi-score leads.

When the defense was forced back out on the field, they too appeared to lack focus. Maybe, more importantly, the pass rush was non-existent, which allowed Wilson time to make plays that aren't always realistic.

The defense was also very soft in this initial Denver scoring drive and too soft, in hindsight. Denver is the kind of offense you can count on to often screw things up on their own, but they didn't late in the first half.

The ball went back to Kansas City with just a couple of minutes remaining in the second quarter, and it really wasn't all bad. There were still glimpses of the traditional excellent Mahomes-led passing attack even while he appeared more nonchalant than normal.

It wasn't for long, though, as just after Smith-Schuster's impressive third down conversion, Mahomes once again attempted a throw that simply didn't need to occur.

Back in 2019, when the Chiefs played the Tennesse Titans during the regular season, Mahomes attempted a similar jump pass that resulted in a very long Mecole Hardman touchdown reception.

That play must have boosted confidence that such a throw can end with a positive result — and with Mahomes, it can. However, it still isn't likely to end well, and it did not on Sunday, when one of the league's very best cornerbacks, Patrick Surtain Jr., made a phenomenal interception.

The ball then went back to Denver, and the reliance on the blitz continued to burn Kansas City. The type of call made on second-and-14 in the clip below by defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo is more frequent when you don't trust your defensive line to create pressure on their own, unfortunately.

Live by the blitz, die by the blitz.

I imagine Spagnuolo feels his hands are tied somewhat each week because when teams can limit defensive tackle Chris Jones, quarterbacks do not feel threatened by the four-man pass rush.

The problems weren't limited to the front of the defense either — miscommunications in the secondary, once or twice a game, have become a steady theme for this unit. With so many rookies, you expect this sort of thing early in the year.

It's December now, though. Playoff football is on the horizon. Opposing offenses are going to score, sure, but it can't be made this easy due to silly mental errors.

Opening the second half, another blitz killed the Chiefs when Denver called up a screen right, where Kansas City's extra defenders were coming from. This is why blitzing more is no simple fix for this defense moving forward.

When the game was still 27-21 and the Chiefs' offense struggled with back-to-back three-and-outs, the defense responded with multiple quick series of their own to give the ball back to Mahomes.

New defensive tackle Brandon Williams did flash at times in his 15 snaps Sunday, something for fans to be hopeful about as the season progresses. I pondered if he could be their new Mike Pennel within this defense — and that appears possible, if not likely.

Despite a brutal stretch of turnovers and punts, the offense finally had success against late to put the game out of reach once and for all. Mahomes returned to his natural playmaking self while being warier of putting the ball in harm's way.

The bottom line

It wasn't the most enjoyable viewing experience, but the Chiefs got yet another win over their longtime rival, on the road, in December. The team is 10-3, tied atop the AFC, with a decent chance to still come out of the regular season as the conference's No. 1 seed.

They have problems that need improvement, but guess what? So does every other team. The most passionate fans just notice the Chiefs' weaknesses much more.

For now, I encourage fans to be critical and understand that this team certainly does have hurdles to climb if they want to be playing in Arizona for Super Bowl LVII, but we also recognize the moment we are in watching perhaps the most talented quarterback the sport has ever seen.

Issues and all, Kansas City has as good of a chance to hoist the Lombardi Trophy as anybody else.

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