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Question of the Week: How much margin for error do the Chiefs have without Chris Jones?

It does not appear like Jones will suit up for the NFL’s season-opener. How does that impact the rest of the team — and particularly, the offense?

NFL: Preseason-Kansas City Chiefs at Arizona Cardinals Joe Camporeale-USA TODAY Sports

This is a new weekly series I'm starting for Arrowhead Pride. Inspired by the "10 Biggest Questions" series I wrote this summer, I'll ask one big question about the Chiefs' season every week. Before the season starts, I want to talk about defensive tackle Chris Jones's holdout and the effect it has on the team — and particularly, the offense.

How much margin of error does the Chiefs offense have without Chris Jones?

Ever since quarterback Patrick Mahomes took the reigns of the franchise in 2018, there's been nothing but success and excitement around the organization. The Chiefs have made five AFC championship games and appeared in three Super Bowls, winning two over that period. The offense has reached heights that few in NFL history have.

This era of Chiefs' football is just starting, but there seems to be little standing in their way of being the next great dynasty in the NFL.

As someone who covers the team, other people often ask me what makes the Chiefs as good as they are. Most opposing fans have a hint of jealousy in their voice, but there's a desire to learn the secrets of the Chiefs.

Is it as simple as having one of the best quarterbacks ever already? Is it having a Hall of Fame head coach? Is the roster superior to the rest of the league? What makes the Chiefs truly special?

I've always had trouble answering those questions. Winning is never as simple as one thing. Since the NFL is a small-sample sport, there's a lot of noise every season. Variance is a factor in any context - during the game or through the attrition of the season. Unfortunately, we can't simulate one NFL season multiple times, so we must rely on small samples to determine a championship winner. Therefore, a way of measuring a team's quality is by looking at its potential margin for error. How much possible variance can you withstand throughout a season?

In the context of the Kansas City Chiefs, I've always answered the above questions by stating that what makes the Chiefs truly special is their margin of error. Due to having Mahomes and Reid, the Chiefs have a baseline floor that's higher than almost any team ever. They can mold their powers to adjust for any circumstance needed. If Kansas City needs to score 50 points to win? Done. If the Chiefs need to win a game and hide plays from opposing teams, can they still run an efficient offense with a bland game plan? No worries, the Chiefs are still good enough to win regardless.

This margin of error has shown itself the most in the postseason.

Whether it's coming back from down 24 vs. the Houston Texans in 2019, scoring in 13 seconds in 2021 vs. the Buffalo Bills or winning three playoff games with Mahomes on one ankle in 2022, there seems to be little that the Chiefs don't have the margin of error to overcome. As long as they have Reid and Mahomes breathing and not an entire second string of offensive linemen, they'll find a way to win almost any game.

In the regular season, the Chiefs have a margin of error advantage in many ways. They can blend their game plan to adjust for any opponent, but I think they decide to use that advantage in a different way, keeping their cards concealed. The Chiefs know they don't need to bring their best game plan every week to win a game. They can bring a bland game plan with ordinary play concepts and still find a way to win 80% of their games. The Chiefs have shown they can win a minimum of 11-12 games while not putting their best foot forward, saving their best for the postseason.

No other team is afforded that advantage to the extent the Chiefs do. If a wrath of injuries or turnover variance hits most teams, it tanks their season. However, for the Chiefs, those issues seemingly don't matter. That's the biggest credit to Reid and Mahomes; they have a baseline floor so unbelievably high that they don't need to treat every game as do-or-die but raise their games in the most significant moments.

This season, there's a new factor that has never been a concern for the Chiefs: defensive tackle Chris Jones and his holdout. As of right now, it appears Jones's holdout is going to extend into the season. We're unaware of how long his holdout will ensue, but there's no immediate end in sight as of right now.

This throws a wrench in the Chiefs' season. Jones has long been their best defensive player, but he's also been remarkably healthy. Through seven seasons, Jones has missed eight total games (one postseason game). Ever since Jones popped in 2018, he's consistently been one of the most dominant players in the league.

Even if the Chiefs have never had great defenses under Mahomes, Jones is still a game-changer for the team. His pass rush presence makes him priority #1 on any opposing team's offensive game plan. Jones consumes a tremendous amount of gravity, helping free other pass rushers to get pressure on the quarterback.

When the Chiefs traded Tyreek Hill, they did so knowing they had the margin of error to not fall off offensively. With Mahomes, Reid, and Travis Kelce, the Chiefs wouldn't experience a dropoff on offense. They had the margin of error to support a top offense without a unique talent like Hill.

With Jones, those factors don't exist on defense. They don't have Mahomes, Reid or Kelce on that side of the ball. Indeed, the Chiefs defense has talent — I've argued that, with Jones, this is the most talented defense of the Steve Spagnuolo era. However, without him, the foundation of the defense starts to crumble.

In order to keep the Chiefs at the top, they will have to rely on their offense even more to make up the defensive dropoff without Jones. The Chiefs' offense will continue to be elite, but how much can they afford to have stumbles in a game? Do they have to score an inordinate amount of points to win each week?

If the Chiefs now have to operate in full attack mode every game, how does that affect how Reid manages the season? Can he afford to be secretive with his game plans and playcalling? Does he have to show more on film than he desires to win? These factors might seem negligible now, but they've been critical to Reid having his best playcalling performances in the playoffs.

Unfortunately, there's no clear idea of when Jones will be back. Regardless of when that will be, the Chiefs must operate without Jones on the team. The defense will try and pick up the pieces he's left behind, but ultimately, the offense will need to carry more weight. I have zero doubts about their ability to do that, but it certainly will change the way they manage this season. Reid likes to hold on to as many of his best playcalls as possible, but can he manage a game like that without Jones?

Hopefully, Jones is back soon enough not to make this a massive factor for the season.

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