In order to get an idea of what we’re in for, I reached out to Pete Sweeney of Arrowhead Pride to get a few questions answered about the Chiefs ahead of the Colts road match-up in Kansas City on Sunday Night Football. Here’s what Pete had to say.
Last week against the Lions Patrick Mahomes had what passes for a bad game if you’re him. What led to that, and how did the team work around it?
Last Sunday in Detroit was the first time in a long time that Patrick Mahomes looked… well, human. The last game I can recall he struggled that badly dates back to Week 5 of last year when he was 22 for 38 for 313 yards, no touchdowns and two interceptions against the Jacksonville Jaguars (thanks to the defense, the Chiefs still won 30-14).
I think that for all quarterbacks, including Patrick Mahomes, off-days just happen.
“There were times where either I missed the throws or the receivers didn’t run necessarily the perfect route or a mixture of everything like the offensive line didn’t block for a certain amount of time,” he said this week. “That’s just stuff we have to get better at as a team. We can’t just miss something here or there when we get those opportunities against a good defense like Detroit, you have to take advantage of those.”
A wild 100-yard fumble return on a play that most Lions thought was blown dead and Mahomes’ last-minute heroics to drive down the field and take the lead bailed the Chiefs out of a poorly-played day overall.
The Chiefs’ defense has given up 26-plus points in 3 of their first 4 games and has struggled against the run. How do you expect them to game plan against this Colts offense that has enjoyed success on the ground?
Asked about struggles in the run game this week, Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo noted “the explosive run plays.”
“We do a win-loss for every play,” Spagnuolo said. “By that, I mean, win or lose the down based on the situation, so first-and-10, you got to hold them under four or less, so we’ve had a number of run plays in there when we’re winning. In the second half of this game, we were actually 61 percent win-loss in the second half, but you wouldn’t know that because five of them led to 68 yards, so to me, it’s the explosive plays.
“If we could limit those, I’d think we’d be in much better shape.”
So whether it is Marlon Mack or somebody else running the football, the Chiefs need to set the edge and plug the middle with linebacker blitzes if necessary. Get to the runner early in the play so that he can’t burst into the secondary. The Chiefs need to do a better job defending the runs to the right side of the offense, in particular.
If you were to sit down with Colts defensive coordinator Matt Eberflus and give him some advice on how to slow this offense, who is the weapon you’d tell him to game plan for most in order to do so and how would you go about trying to take them away?
Even though Tyreek Hill is practicing with the limited designation this week, I anticipate the Chiefs will ultimately give him another game off. That leaves tight end Travis Kelce.
Defending Kelce should start with your biggest, most athletic body who will be physical with Kelce at the line of scrimmage. Assuming the defender can’t keep up with Kelce, he will require safety or cornerback help as soon as Kelce catches the football. Even still, Kelce is going to occasionally win, so it’s just maintaining him throughout the game.
The problem when it comes to the Chiefs is — by design — extra help is tough to come by. If you devote that attention to Kelce, that means more room for Sammy Watkins, Demarcus Robinson or Mecole Hardman, who have all already had big games for the Chiefs this season. We’re not even mentioning the ground game, which includes a returning Damien Williams and LeSean McCoy.
Stemming from Kelce, you can understand how even without Hill, the Chiefs offense gives defensive coordinators fits.
Who are some guys whose names we might not yet know that are making an impact for this Chiefs team so far in 2019?
On offense, the one player I didn’t mention above is RB Darrel Williams, who has emerged for the Chiefs and has had the opportunity due to an injury to Damien Williams that has kept him out the past two games.
Darrel was a 2018 undrafted free agent out of LSU that did not do much as a rookie but was kept on the team for 2019. During his final season at LSU in 2017, Darrel shared the backfield with Derrius Guice, who carried the ball almost 100 more times than him. The interesting stat is that Williams finished with a better yards-per-carry average—Williams at 5.7 and Guice at 5.3.
In 76 offensive snaps this season, Darrel has 17 rushes for 75 yards and two touchdowns on the ground, as well as eight catches for 90 yards. Of his 12 career targets he has 11 catches.
On defense, I like linebacker Damien Wilson, who has played as one of the two nickel linebackers next to Anthony Hitchens. Wilson is third on the team in tackles and has shown a knack for creating turnovers. He’s already forced a fumble this season.
Justin Houston and Dee Ford left in the offseason with Houston landing in Indy. Has the Chiefs’ pass rush found its footing without those two guys who accounted for 22 sacks last season?
The Chiefs traded for and paid Frank Clark in order to replace what Dee Ford and Justin Houston offered when it came to rushing the passer, but Clark is having to deal with much more offensive line attention and protection than ever before.
That is leading to opportunities for other players — like Emmanuel Ogbah, who has 2.5 sacks — but Clark has struggled to get home with limited one-on-one looks. He has just 1.0 of the Chiefs’ 11 sacks on the year.
I don’t really feel like an opposing quarterback has been truly uncomfortable against the Chiefs front seven all year.