As the old sports cliche says, defense wins championships. The logic behind the saying is simple: while your offense might struggle on a given day, you’ll always have a chance if you can keep your opponent from scoring. Over the past season and a half, however, the Kansas City Chiefs have been putting that idea to the test.
Despite their potent, Patrick Mahomes-driven offense, the Chiefs can’t seem to get a stop on defense. That was especially apparent on Sunday when the Tennessee Titans ran all over them, en route to a 35-32 defeat. But why is Kansas City’s defensive unit so bad?
The Kansas City Chiefs’ defensive struggles
For the past several seasons, the Kansas City Chiefs could do one thing well at a time. When they had an elite defense, the offense was inept. Now that Patrick Mahomes is leading the offense, the defense can’t get off the field.
The Chiefs tried to solve the problem during the offseason by overhauling their roster. Eric Berry, Justin Houston, and Dee Ford were all deemed expendable; Frank Clark, Tyrann Mathieu, and Alex Okafor all came to town, along with new defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo.
Despite those changes, the Chiefs’ defense doesn’t look markedly different. While there have been some bright spots, like a strong performance against the Minnesota Vikings, the unit just can’t get a stop in a big moment. Kansas City currently has the 22nd ranked defense in the league, but they’re especially bad at stopping the run. The Chiefs allow an average of 148 rushing yards per game, allowing their opposition to chew up the clock and keep Patrick Mahomes off the field.
The Tennesse Titans run riot
The Chiefs’ defensive issues took center stage on Sunday in their loss to the Tennessee Titans. While Kansas City controlled the game, they were unable to keep Derrick Henry and Ryan Tannehill quiet; the pair combined for 225 rushing yards and two touchdowns on the ground.
In the third quarter, Henry broke off a 68-yard touchdown run; that play summed up all of the Chiefs defensive problems. Even though Kansas City had eight men in the box, they still couldn’t stop the run. Reggie Ragland (number 59 above) ran across the field towards the ball, giving Henry room for a cutback; once he was in the secondary, Juan Thornhill missed his tackle, letting the running back run free.
There’s no way a professional defense should be letting that happen. At this point, there has to be a larger issue than a simple lack of execution.
Can the Chiefs’ defense keep it simple?
Despite the roster turnover and coordinator change, the Chiefs defense is still struggling. The unit seems to take one step forward and two steps back, unable to build any momentum.
While it’s always tough to move beyond what happens on the field and look at more intangible things, the Kansas City defense could have an issue with their mentality. Frank Clark even alluded to it after the game, saying the group was “soft” on the game’s final drive.
Between those comments and the over-pursuit we see on the massive Henry run, the Chiefs seem to be trying to do everything at once, whether than means abandoning their positions to make a tackle or sitting back more passively. At this point, they just need to settle down and keep things simple. If you’re going to pack the box, everyone has to stay at home and do their job; when your run defense is this bad, no one can afford to be soft or miss a tackle.
The Chiefs’ defense has an extra day to prepare before Monday Night Football next week. While it’s tempting to delve into new schemes and potential tactical shifts, their best bet would be keeping things simple. No one is expecting Kanas City to turn into the 1985 Chicago Bears; if they play tough and focus on the fundamentals, that should be good enough for Patrick Mahomes to do the rest.