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Instabreakdown: Hot and cold Chiefs team executes enough to beat the Dolphins

Kansas City had just a few more ups than downs, leading to a close win over Miami in Frankfurt.

Miami Dolphins v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by Alex Grimm/Getty Images

On Sunday morning, the Kansas City Chiefs hosted the Miami Dolphins in the NFL’s Week 9 International Series game at Deutsche Bank Stadium in Frankfurt, Germany — and emerged with a 21-14 victory to give them a 7-2 record.

Offense (Caleb James)

The Chiefs' offense was hot and cold for most of the game — but in the end, it was just enough to defeat the Dolphins.

Kansas City’s opening drive went like clockwork, with well-timed plays and precise Patrick Mahomes strikes downfield to Marquez Valdes-Scantling and Noah Gray — and an 11-yard touchdown pass to Rashee Rice.

The Chiefs' next three drives would stall, but a well-executed 13-play, 95-yard drive would end with a Jerick McKinnon touchdown. On that drive, Kansas City was able to pound the rock with Isiah Pacheco — plus a 23-yard chunk play from Skyy Moore and an 18-yard rip from Kadarius Toney.

But that would be the last time the offense would reach the end zone. It struggled throughout the second half, punting on three drives and ending another with a Patrick Mahomes fumble that helped the Dolphins get back into the game.

The offense’s inconsistency on third down was a key factor in the second half’s struggles. In all, the team went three-for-10 on third down, continuing to struggle in short-yardage situations.

Mahomes had 20 completions on 30 attempts for 180 yards and two touchdowns. Pacheco led the rushing attack with 16 carries for 66 yards. Travis Kelce had a quiet game— but his backup Noah Gray led the team in receiving yards, catching three balls for 34 yards. Moore, Valdes-Scantling, Rice, and Justin Watson all had two receptions.

Offensive player of the game: Patrick Mahomes

It wasn’t a pretty effort, but Mahomes fought to keep his team in the game and laid it on the line as the game progressed. With his targets downfield struggling to get open, he scrambled six times, picking up 24 yards — and taking big hits on more than one play.

While this performance was not even close to his best showing, Mahomes’ will to win sparked the team — and helped the Chiefs win their biggest game of the year.

Defense (Ron Kopp Jr.)

Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo came out with a focused effort to disrupt the rhythm of the Dolphins’ offense. That started on early downs, when the unit consistently attacked the line of scrimmage to limit Miami’s runs and quick passes. Kansas City kept the league’s highest-scoring team off the scoreboard through seven possessions, allowing only five plays past midfield.

That started at the defense’s second level. Linebackers Drue Tranquill, Leo Chenal and Willie Gay shared the field on many first downs, flying to their gaps and stuffing them. On outside runs, cornerbacks L’Jarius Sneed and Trent McDuffie fought through blocks, keeping plays from getting to the sideline.

When the Dolphins dictated the Chiefs into their Nickel personnel on running downs, safety Chamarri Conner was used in the slot — rather than sliding McDuffie inside and bringing in Joshua Williams or Jaylen Watson to play the outside. This just made the unit bigger around the box — even with five defensive backs.

That led to success on third downs — because early in the game, the Dolphins needed nine or more yards on every attempt. That allowed Spagnuolo to focus on defending a straight dropback by disguising coverage until the snap. All three safeties flew around the secondary during the offense’s cadence, making quarterback Tua Tagovailoa hesitate after the snap.

That set up the blitzes. Cornerback Jaylen Watson came unblocked off the left edge on an early third down, leading to a sack. Later in the game, another cornerback blitz led to a critical sack by defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton.

Miami only converted three of their 12 third-down attempts. That was the key to holding the unit down. That became clear when the Dolphins came alive in the second half by getting to shorter conversion attempts — or avoiding third down altogether.

But even though it allowed two third-quarter touchdowns, the defense executed well enough — especially on the ultimate drive. A heavy blitz was used on Miami’s last two dropbacks — each of which needed 10 yards. Both attempts were shut down.

Defensive player of the game: Cornerback Trent McDuffie

The team’s top tackler on Sunday also made the unit’s most impactful one. The hit on wide receiver Tyreek Hill late in the first half turned into his fourth forced fumble of the season — an NFL-leading mark pending the rest of Week 9 — and led to the game-winning touchdown.

We should also credit to safety Mike Edwards for scooping up the ball — and then pitching it to safety Bryan Cook, who looked like a sprinter as he returned it for a score. The play, however, started with McDuffie — who is not only a very dependable coverage player, but undoubtedly one of the best all-around playmakers at his position.

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