The only thing that might hold back the Kansas City Chiefs this season is their defense.
That’s because they haven’t been able to hold back anybody.
While the Chiefs have earned plenty of attention for their record-setting offense, led by Patrick Mahomes and several skill-position studs, the defense has struggled six weeks into the season.
The unit is allowing a league-high 468.2 yards and more than 28 points per game.
The latest glaring letdown came last Sunday night in New England, when the Chiefs had just forged a 40-all tie with 3 minutes left on Mahomes’ 75-yard touchdown toss to Tyreek Hill. Their defense proceeded to allow Tom Brady and Co. to march the length of the field, getting within range for Stephen Gostkowski to drill a point-blank field goal and give the Patriots the win.
“When you score 40 points and you lose, you’ve got to look yourself in the mirror,” Chiefs cornerback Orlando Scandrick said. “This team has got great character. It’s one of the best groups of guys I’ve been around in my whole 11-year career. We’ll be fine. I’m not worried about it at all.”
That makes one person.
Among fans in bars and restaurants or call-ins on sports-talk radio, the biggest source of angst this week has been the porous defense. And the biggest point of discussion has been defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, whose group struggled so much last season that some thought he would be fired.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid decided to stick with him, preferring continuity over change, and the result has been — well, a continuation of last season. The defensive line has been pushed around to the tune of 127.8 yards rushing per game, and the secondary is second-to-last in the NFL in yards passing.
“I don’t want to single out anybody for not meeting supposed expectations,” Sutton said Thursday. “I think everybody needs to elevate their game. You don’t make quantum leaps. You make these small improvements individually, and you hope collectively if we all do that we have a chance to move this in the direction we’d all like it to be going.”
Still, the Patriots were particularly successful last weekend.
Sony Michel and James White helped to grind out 173 yards and three touchdowns on the ground, and Brady was 24 of 35 or 340 yards and a score. His favorite target down the stretch was Rob Gronkowski, who had three catches for 97 yards and helped set up the winning field goal.
“They got us on a couple of big plays there,” Reid acknowledged. “Bob goes back and evaluates it, we talk — ‘What can we help the guys with? What can the guys do to help themselves?’ We’re in it just like the players are in it. We’re going to get you in the best position and if you are, then you have to look at technique. But our guys stand up. They tell you, ‘Hey, listen, I messed up.’
“If you have that you get better,” Reid continued. “If there’s a wall, eh, you’re average. But we all take responsibility and that’s what is important.”
Reid is the last to make excuses, but the Chiefs defense has two readily available.
The first is the fact that Kansas City has roared to big leads in many of its games, forcing its opponents to air it out from behind. Many of the yards that the Chargers’ Philip Rivers, the Steelers’ Ben Roethlisberger and the Jaguars’ Blake Bortles put up came in garbage time.
They count toward the stats. They didn’t count much toward the outcome.
The second is injuries, which began hitting the Chiefs defense in training camp and have continued to be a problem. They’re down three safeties in Eric Berry, Daniel Sorensen and Armani Watts — Berry and Sorensen are hopeful of playing this season — along with top pass rusher Justin Houston.
Throw in nagging injuries to Dee Ford and Tanoh Kpassagnon, and the Chiefs were forced last week to sign Frank Zombo, who was cut in training camp, to give them some insurance against more injuries.
“Unfortunately you’re going to have injuries,” Chiefs defensive tackle Chris Jones said, “but people come in and learn the scheme and have to be ready the same week. It’s part of the business.”
Or, as Ford said, “you have to answer the bell at the end of the day.”
“We know that as a defense as a whole, we have to keep rocking and rolling,” he said. “There’s just a bunch of little things that we need to correct.”
Notes: Safety Eric Berry (heel), outside linebacker Justin Houston (hamstring) and C Mitch Morse (concussion) did not practice Thursday. … P Dustin Colquitt is averaging a career-best 48.7 yards per punt, and special teams coach Dave Toub said there’s a couple reasons for it. “We haven’t had a lot of punts,” Toub said, “and it’s still warm. It’s not winter yet. The cold weather hasn’t hit. It’s going to get harder as it gets further on, but he’s off to a really good start.”
Source: The Associated Press