On Sunday afternoon, the Kansas City Chiefs took on the team that ended their season last year. In a hard-fought road game against the Cincinnati Bengals, the Chiefs lost 27-24 — dropping their third consecutive game to Cincinnati.
Here are five things we learned from the game.
1. The pass rush took the day off
Against the blitz, the Bengals’ Joe Burrow is one of the league’s best quarterbacks. We knew this going into last season’s AFC Championship game — and we knew it before Sunday afternoon’s matchup.
Joe Burrow: 93.2 PFF Grade vs the blitz— PFF (@PFF) January 13, 2022
1st among QBs pic.twitter.com/YmVT0UiIvn
If the Chiefs hoped to beat Cincinnati, they were going to have to create pressure with a four-man rush. Coming into the game, ESPN analytics ranked Cincinnati as 30th in pass-block win rate. Meanwhile, in recent years, Kansas City has invested roughly 26% of their cap space — and significant draft capital — in its defensive line.
But instead of rising to the challenge, the Chiefs massively underperformed; they struggled to even get within arm’s reach of Burrow.
Eventually, defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo gave in to his instincts and reverted back to blitzing. But even then, Kansas City still struggled to get home.
Here’s the bottom line: the Chiefs have invested a lot of money and draft picks into rushing the quarterback — and when it matters most, they still can’t do it.
Kansas City defensive end Carlos Dunlap summarized it best in his postgame comments.
“They did a lot of what we expected,” he told reporters. “They out-executed us today — and they won.”
2. Harrison Butker’s ankle might still be an issue
Eyebrows were raised when the Chiefs’ placekicker revealed last month that he was still not 100% healed from the ankle injury he suffered in Week 1 against the Arizona Cardinals. Since then, special teams coordinator Dave Toub has said that Butker might not be 100% at any point this season.
Trailing by three points with 3:24 left in the fourth quarter, Butker missed a game-tying 55-yard field goal. On the CBS broadcast, Tony Romo noted that the snap was not perfect; punter Tommy Townsend was late getting the laces spun around. Was that why Butker missed the kick?
Maybe. Or maybe his ankle isn’t 100% because the Chiefs rushed him back too early.
A 55-yard field goal is not a chip shot by any means — but it’s definitely within Butker’s range; he’s already made a 62-yard field goal this season. The problem is that we just don’t know.
It’s just another variable that the Chiefs have to worry about on a week-to-week basis.
3. Travis Kelce is human
Coming into Sunday’s game, the Chiefs’ tight end was 88 yards from 1,000 receiving yards for the season — and 82 yards from 10,000 yards in his career. In the first half, Kelce did not record a reception. But as the game wore on, he seemed to be coming alive. In the second half, he caught four passes for 56 yards.
Watching the game, you got the feeling that once again, Mahomes and Kelce were going to find a way to put the team on their back and win. We’ve seen this before.
With 14:06 left in the fourth quarter, Kelce caught the ball and began his trademark rumble up the field, fighting for extra yards — and lost the ball when Cincinnati defenders ripped it from his arms.
Kelce is still the greatest tight end of all time. The problem with superheroes on your team is that every now and again, Superman has a Clark Kent moment. Unfortunately, you can’t have the Man of Steel without also accepting that sometimes, he is the nerdy reporter for The Daily Planet.
As much as we would like to think that Kelce is not from this world, he is still a human who sometimes does human things — like fumbling on a crucial fourth-quarter drive.
And that’s okay.
4. The Chiefs need to get better at tackling
On Sunday, Kansas City struggled with tackling. I don’t think it’s because the Bengals are inherently stronger or bigger than the Chiefs. Anyway, that’s not what starting middle linebacker Nick Bolton thinks.
“I feel like we didn’t tackle very well today,” he said after the game.
One example that comes to mind is Cincinnati running back Samaje Perine stiff-arming safety Justin Reid into an early grave. Reid should have stopped Perine near the line of scrimmage. Instead, the running back gained 10 yards on the play.
Samaje Perine with the stiff arm on Justin Reid pic.twitter.com/ISYdHsGLfr— Dov Kleiman (@NFL_DovKleiman) December 4, 2022
If Reid spent as much time working on his tackling as he spends on starting Twitter beefs, maybe he might have been able to bring Perine down. Sure... it was a great stiff arm. But the issue is that a defensive back in the open field has no business trying to tackle a running back that high on his body.
Approach ball carrier, chop feet and get under control. You never want to be caught flat footed. Aiming point is the inside hip of the ball carrier. We do not use the term “break down” because breaking down will get defenders caught flat footed.
Stay low. Sink the hips, eyes on belt buckle. Sink the Hips and Sky the Eyes.
Tackle through. Explode through the target with head up. Contact must be made with shoulder pads (same foot, same shoulder). Feet need to be active (chopping) and underneath you. Shoot hands up, wrap up, and grab cloth.
Drive through. Many kids will make the mistake of stopping their feet on contact. Teach your players to shoot and drive through the ball carrier.
Now rewatch Reid’s tackle attempt. He literally did the exact opposite of this.
5. The Chiefs might get another shot at the Bengals this year
After Sunday’s loss, Kansas City has slid into the No. 2 position in the AFC’s playoff race — while Cincinnati climbed up into the fifth spot. The roads these two teams will travel to end the regular season could not be more different.
The Chiefs will close with games against the Denver Broncos (twice), Houston Texans, Seattle Seahawks and Las Vegas Raiders. It’s very possible that the Chiefs could win out, finishing the season 14-3.
If the Bengals drop even two of these games, they will finish the regular season at 11-6. Depending on what the Bills (and the rest of the AFC) does, that will put them in the bottom half of the playoff picture. There is definitely a scenario in which the Bengals could travel to Kansas City in the postseason.
Let’s hope the Chiefs show up ready to play.