The Kansas City Chiefs have won their last four games, especially the defense of the team was able to convince. Why is the unit suddenly playing so hard? And do the Chiefs count among the Super Bowl favorites again?
Four wins from the last four games, at the weekend the Chiefs even defeated the Dallas Cowboys, who were treated as the top team around their MVP candidate Dak Prescott. The shape curve of the franchise clearly points in the right direction in the recent past.
Kansas City is back at the top of their own division, with a 7-4 record the team leads the AFC West, as almost all experts had expected before the season. Even the first place in the AFC and thus a bye week in the first playoff round seems within reach. Only the Ravens and the Titans currently have a better record in the Conference – and they recently lost to the Dolphins and the Texans, so they are anything but unbeatable.
Are the Chiefs the favorites again in an AFC that is ailing at the top? Are they possibly even one of the Super Bowl favorites again?
NFL: The old chiefs aren’t back yet
Caution still seems appropriate before the team around quarterback Patrick Mahomes is again associated with such superlatives. Because even if the results over the last few weeks could hardly be better, the “old” Chiefs are not back yet.
The offense has caught up a little and the absurd turnover figures have been reduced a little, but there is still a lot missing to the offensive dominance of previous years. In the last five games, the Chiefs have only scored more than 20 points once. For comparison: the Jaguars managed to do this just as often in the same period, the Jets and Giants even more often.
However: The Chiefs defense is now clearly playing better than it was at the start of the season. Over the past few weeks, the defense has even presented itself on a higher level than in any of the previous years, including the 2019 Super Bowl season.
During its winning streak, the franchise never allowed more than 17 points. In four games Kansas City took a total of 47 points, less than 12 points per game.
Kansas City Chiefs: Defense as a strength
And the services of the Chiefs Defense go beyond the pure box score statistics. The so-called Advanced Metrics also prove the defensive success of the team in November.
In the meaningful EPA / Play statistics, the Chiefs have been in sixth place in the league since week 8. Only one team is clearly better over this period: the New England Patriots. Kansas City ranks better than the NFL average against both run and pass. A fact that just a few weeks ago seemed almost impossible.
But where does the upswing in the defense of Defensive Coordinator Steve Spagnuolo, which was so scolded at the beginning of the season, come from? One of the explanations for the unit’s recently improving performance is its own staff.
The Chiefs have been particularly dependent on the performance of their top stars for years – probably more than any other team. The focus in putting the squad together was primarily on getting the best possible performers in important positions, who were paid accordingly. The breadth and depth have been neglected in favor of these stars.
This explains both the problems in the offense, in which Mahomes, Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill all went through minor and major form crises, as well as the significant improvement in defense. One player in particular has to be in focus: Chris Jones.
Chiefs: Chris Jones dominates in a new, old role
Jones, one of the best defensive tackles in the NFL for years, was put in a new role at the beginning of this season: The 27-year-old played increasingly as an edge defender, attacking the opposing offensive line and the quarterback from one of the outer positions in the Defensive line, no longer from the inside. The impact that Jones had in this role was, however, significantly less than in previous years.
Over the past few weeks, Jones has been used again as an interior rusher and immediately played stronger again. This was particularly evident against the Cowboys: Jones dominated his direct opponents and usurped the game. He booked 3.5 sacks and 7 pressures, forced and secured a fumble and forged a pass in such a way that it ended up in the hands of teammate L’Jarius Sneed – an absolute monster game!
Over the last four games of the Chiefs, Jones had 4.5 sacks and 8 quarterback hits. Previously, he had only been able to collect four 4 quarterback hits in the entire season. The two-time all-pro not only played in an unfamiliar position in the first half of the season, but also suffered from a wrist injury and missed two games due to heel problems.
Kansas City Chiefs mit beeindruckendem Pass-Rush
The clear increase in Jones’s performance took what had been a toothless pass rush to a new level: The Sacks first set themselves against the Cowboys, but in previous games the Kansas City’s line also exerted significantly more pressure on the opposing quarterback.
Jones plays a central role in this, but is not the sole reason. Three weeks ago, the Chiefs brought Melvin Ingram from Pittsburgh via trade. The 32-year-old has not yet been able to book a sack. However, according to his own coaches, his presence on the line of scrimmage is clearly noticeable.
With Jones, Ingram, Jarran Reed and Frank Clark, the Chiefs can now muster a four-men rush that is more than impressive on paper. The players also benefit from this individually: Clark, who has been largely a disappointment since his signing from Seattle, also made his best game of the season so far against the Cowboys.
Kansas City Chiefs: Much smaller role for Daniel Sorensen
Spagnuolo has also made changes in the secondary over the past few weeks. Probably the most conspicuous and possibly also the most important: Daniel Sorensen, who at the beginning of the season allowed a big play almost every week, now plays significantly less.
For the first five weeks of the season, the defensive back was still used as a classic safety, Sorensen played almost 100 percent of the defensive snaps. Over the past few weeks, however, his role has been significantly reduced. The 31-year-old now mainly plays in dime packages and is therefore on the field for less than half of the defensive plays.
Sorensen’s role in defense was taken by Juan Thornhill. He has been taking on the role of starting safety alongside tyrant Mathieu since week 6 and allowed significantly fewer plays than Sorensen, who even in his limited role still attracted negative attention in touchdown throws by Jordan Love and Daniel Jones.
Chiefs benefit from a pleasant game plan
The names of Love and Jones, however, point to another reason for the recent soaring of the Chiefs Defense, which should not be neglected: The game plan over the last four weeks has been quite pleasant for a defense.
The Giants are one of the worst offenses in the league, the Packers had to play without Aaron Rodgers and with Jordan Love in his NFL debut. The Raiders, on the other hand, have not been able to score more than 16 points in any game since October.
Was at least the appearance against the cowboys in the previous week a real statement? Yes and no. Prescott played and was confronted with major problems by Kansas City’s defense, but Dallas also had to do without Tyron Smith and Amari Cooper offensively, and CeeDee Lamb was also out of the game due to a concussion. It can be argued that the Cowboys were missing three of their four most important offensive players.
NFL: There is no more dominant defense
The comment that the Chiefs recently also benefited from a pleasant game plan and numerous problems in opposing offenses should not reduce the performance at all. What applies to the chiefs now applies to all teams in the league. Defenses are increasingly dependent on who they are facing.
The NFL in 2021 is and will continue to be a league that is primarily controlled by offenses. That still applies, even if several highly acclaimed offenses – and especially their quarterbacks – have struggled over the past few weeks. The fact that individual matchups seem to become more important week by week only further underscores this trend.
There are enough examples of this development: According to EPA / Play, the Cardinals are the strongest defense in the NFL this season, but they have received 33 points from the Vikings. The Bills, on the other hand, received 41 points from the Colts the previous week and already allowed 34 points from the Titans. The Patriots recently dominated the Panthers, Browns and Falcons, but were also overrun by the Cowboys in October.
A defense that can practically dominate week after week, like the Steelers or the Jaguars for example in recent years, simply does not exist this season. New England currently seems closest to such a status, but will also face the Titans, the Colts and twice the Bills in the next four games. It is doubtful that the Patriots will be able to maintain their dominance of the last few weeks over this period.
NFL: Are the Chiefs getting hot at just the right time?
What does this mean for the chiefs? Her defense cannot and will not take her to the title this season. But that’s not a problem either.
The offense has always been the team’s strength since Mahomes’ arrival. Andy Reid and Co. must return to this status. And the tendency is in the right direction: During their winning streak, the Chiefs at least again made an above-average offense. The big plays have become rarer, but the absurd turnovers have also been scaled back a little. Against the Broncos, Raiders, Chargers and Steelers – none of which are bad defenses – the team will now have to confirm this tendency.
If Mahomes, Kelce and Hill find their way back on track in time for the playoffs to start, Kansas City, combined with the improved defense, can be dangerous this season as well. The defense does not have to dominate, but it must not have to be carried to victory by one’s own offense. Such a formula might actually be enough for the Super Bowl at the end of the season. Because no other team in the NFL is really dominant at the moment.
“It doesn’t matter how you start. It matters how you end the season,” says Jones too. “It’s a marathon, not a sprint. You will go through difficult times. We did that. Now that everyone is getting fit again, we are rebuilding our chemistry.”
Kansas City may actually be hot at just the right time of the season.