While the Kansas City Chiefs have completely shifted their focus to their next opponent, we still need to understand (and learn from) Sunday’s third consecutive loss to the Cincinnati Bengals — especially considering what seems to be a lack of strong opponents through the rest of the regular season.
While there were things to learn on both sides of the ball, it was the Cincinnati offense that exploited the Kansas City defense early (and often) throughout the afternoon. The Bengals’ passing game rarely looked out of rhythm — even though the Chiefs’ young cornerbacks appeared to be playing competently in coverage.
The problem was that over and over, Cincinnati quarterback Joe Burrow had plenty of time to operate from the pocket and deliver non-pressured throws — which didn’t escape the notice of Kansas City defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
“I think that quarterback beat us with his brain, his arm and his feet,” Spgnuolo conceded to reporters on Thursday. “The brain part is on me. The arms and feet are on all of us.”
Spagnuolo tried to rattle the third-year quarterback, who looked like a better overall player than he was as the AFC’s Super Bowl representative in February. Spagnuolo sent everything from standard four-man rushes to all-out, seven-man blitzes. Nothing got home — which has been a theme of the last three games against the Bengals.
“On the feet part of it, I just think he’s really good,” admitted Spagnuolo. “In those few moments we had shots at him, he found a way out of it. He made it really tough.”
The coordinator has big-picture problems to address — and his staff is always keeping that in mind. That’s why we saw Darius Harris taking a handful of snaps away from starter Willie Gay Jr. during Sunday’s game.
“When Willie was out, he played some good football for us,” Spags said of Harris. “Guys that do that deserve to get some playing time — and at some point down the stretch, we’re going to need pieces to change. Bryan Cook had to go in when Juan [Thornhill] was injured, and Bryan Cook had play some downs prior to that.
“I just believe in guys getting guys ready. It’s not a reflection on Willie. It’s probably more of a compliment to Darius than anything else.”
The offense’s failures felt more in the moment — one play here or there that made the difference. The most obvious example was tight end Travis Kelce’s fumble in the fourth quarter, ending an opportunity for the Chiefs to take a two-score lead in the fourth quarter.
“Trav has been through this,” offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy told reporters. “He understands that cannot happen. When you’re playing in those type of games — in that type of atmosphere — the margin for error is so small, so minute, that the littlest thing can dictate the outcome of the game.”
Three other offensive plays stood out in the same way: the unsuccessful third down on the opening drive, a penalty for an illegal man downfield that negated a big third-down conversion in the second quarter and the third-down sack that ended the team’s final possession. All of them demonstrate why football is called a game of inches.
“The thing I took away from that experience,” said Bieniemy, “was getting our guys to understand that you never know when something little can have such an impact. So it’s important that we’re focusing on the little-detail aspects of our game. That way we don’t have to worry about that.
“We’ll improve. We’ll be better. Sometimes, you need those type of lessons moving forward — to help you to continue to grow in the right way as a group.”