Sunday afternoon’s game against the Las Vegas Raiders wasn’t exactly a must-win game for in the Kansas City Chiefs’ season — but after the offense had failed to get a second-half score in three straight games, Sunday’s performance was huge. Starting with a 14-0 deficit in the first half, the Chiefs went on a 31-3 run that allowed them to enjoy a comfortable 31-17 victory against their divisional foes.
Here are five things we learned from Kansas City’s victory over Las Vegas.
1. We were right about Rashee Rice
In a season that’s been marked by subpar wide receiver play, the lone bright spot has been the steady emergence of the rookie wideout. Once he gets the ball in his hands, Rice looks like a battering ram on two legs — but one that has a little bit of wiggle in his hips.
For weeks, fans have been clamoring for Rice to get more involved in the passing game. On Sunday, they got their wish. Rice led all Chiefs receivers with 10 targets — and the man did not disappoint. He caught eight passes for 107 yards, highlighted by an eye-popping 39-yard catch-and-run for a touchdown.
After what we saw in Las Vegas, it looks like the Chiefs should keep feeding Rice at a similar pace for the rest of
the season his career.
2. The Chiefs must protect the football
This was only the second game this season where Kansas City didn’t register a turnover. (The other was the team’s Week 5 win over the Minnesota Vikings). The Chiefs’ recipe for success is simple: if they don’t beat themselves, they usually win.
Even last week's matchup against the Eagles was decided by a pair of mistakes. Two red zone drives ended with turnovers — one of them a Travis Kelce fumble and the other a Patrick Mahomes interception. But even though they were trailing by 14 points during Sunday’s first half, it never felt like the Chiefs were frustrated or pressing to make plays.
The coaching staff had a good game plan against the Raiders. All that was left was for the players to go out and execute. They did.
Now it’s up to the team to do it again against the Green Bay Packers at Lambeau Field — proving that this performance wasn’t fool's gold against a bad team.
3. An aggressive defense has no safety net
The trouble with the super-aggressive defense Kansas City has fielded in 2023 is simple: when everyone on the line is bringing heat, there is very little left at the second and third level to cover any mistakes. While the Chiefs’ defense works great most of the time, it’s the opposite of a bend-but-don’t-break defense: while it’s strong at the front, it’s also brittle; if one person fails at their job, the floodgates are open. We saw a good example of this in the first half, when Raiders’ running back Josh Jacobs broke for a 63-yard touchdown.
But this is also why Steve Spagnuolo characterizes cornerback L’Jarius Sneed's semi-frequent penalties as the cost of doing business. In this hyper-aggressive world, it’s better to give up an occasional penalty than a chunk play that might go for (or lead to) a touchdown.
In Las Vegas, we saw both sides of this coin. Early on, the Kansas City defense looked sluggish and unsure of itself. This was most notable in the play of the safeties, who missed multiple tackles that allowed the Raiders to build that early lead. But luckily, the Chiefs turned things around. In the second half, the defense played like the unit we’ve become accustomed to seeing.
4. Wanya Morris might be closer than we think
While it was just one series, it was enough to give us a glimpse of what the future could hold for this rookie left tackle.
It was enough for us to see Morris record his first pancake as a pro. It was enough to see him keep Patrick Mahomes clean, giving him space to navigate the pocket and extend plays.
Morris looked quick and athletic — and better than he did in the preseason. He looked like a guy who could compete for the starting left tackle spot next year, maybe giving the Chiefs the guy they’ve been trying to find since losing Eric Fisher in 2020.
But it was a small sample size. Only time will tell if Morris will turn out to be the real deal.
5. The Chiefs’ coaches agree about Marquez Valdes-Scantling
Publically, the Kansas City coaching staff (and Mahomes) have backed the veteran wide receiver, saying they have as much faith in Valdes-Scantling as they always have. The proof, however, is in the pudding — which consists of target share and involvement in the game plan.
In Las Vegas, Valdes-Scantling was a non-factor — which was not surprising, since he has struggled to make a positive impact this season. The somewhat surprising difference was that he seemed to be an afterthought.
If head coach Andy Reid really believed in Valdes-Scantling, you would think he would dial up a few plays to restore the wideout’s confidence after he dropped the game-winning touchdown last Monday.
But that didn’t happen. We’ll just have to see if he continues to be left out of the mix.