Former Dallas Cowboys head coach Jimmy Johnson knows a thing or two about great offenses and solid defenses. The coach-turned-analyst won three Super Bowls in the early ’90s with opportunistic defenses on one side and Troy Aikman, Michael Irvin, and Emmitt Smith on the other.
So, when Johnson says that one of the Kansas City Chiefs units is unfixable this season, it definitely carries some weight.
The Kansas City Chiefs are struggling in both expected and unexpected ways
The Kansas City Chiefs made it to the last two Super Bowls on the strength of an all-time offense and a defense that was good enough when it needed to be.
This season, neither unit is living up to either of those expectations.
The defense wasn’t expected to be the ’85 Bears, but it was expected to contribute on at least a league-average level. That’s just not the case so far in 2021. The defense is 27th in points against (203), 23rd in yards allowed (2,832), 26th in takeaways (seven), and dead last in yards per play (6.6).
Offensively, Patrick Mahomes, Tyreek Hill, and Travis Kelce haven’t been all that much better. The unit that has dominated the NFL for the past three seasons is still putting up yards and points at a solid clip, but the turnovers are the problem. The team’s 17 turnovers (nine interceptions, eight fumbles) lead the league.
The issue is that opponents are playing back in a cover 2 shell (two deep safeties) against Mahomes. This gives him dink-and-dunk passes all day but limits his big-play shots to Hill and Kelce.
Holding the ball to wait for deep plays to develop or throwing into double coverage is the primary cause of these fumbles and interceptions.
If the Chiefs hope to dig out of their current hole at last place in the AFC West, something has to get better. According to FOX’s Jimmy Johnson, though, at least one of these problems is a lost cause for the rest of 2021.
Jimmy Johnson says the Chiefs offense is fixable, but the defense is not
Although the Kansas City Chiefs aren’t back in action until Monday night against the New York Giants, the FOX NFL Sunday pregame show took some time to discuss the surprisingly 3-4 team.
Host Curt Menefee asked the Hall of Fame coach if the Chiefs’ problems were “fixable.” Johnson answered:
I think defense, no. I think offensively, it is fixable. It’s almost like they got carried away with just how talented they were. You look at them offensively: Mahomes sacked 14 times, nine interceptions, now he’s got — as a team — eight fumbles, they’re turning the ball over, they’re making a lot of mistakes, and their defense is just not good enough to carry them.Jimmy Johnson on the Kansas City Chiefs
If the defense is not fixable, that represents a major problem for the Chiefs. As former All-Pro Howie Long noted later in the discussion, Mahomes and the Chiefs offense “is a Ferrari offense that wants to go 110 miles per hour.”
The more yards and points the D gives up (combined with the takeaways the unit isn’t getting), the more that impulse to score six on every play will permeate the offense. This is antithetical to the slow, methodical plays the Chiefs need to make (that defenses are giving them) in order to have success.
The good news is that there is a way for KC to fix its defense, despite what Johnson says.
The bad news is that the team’s front office now has less than 24 hours to do it.
The only way to fix the Kansas City defense is with a move at the NFL trade deadline
Jimmy Johnson is right. As currently constituted, the Kansas City Chiefs defense cannot get markedly better. With the trade deadline looming, though, there is an opportunity to add pieces that will help get pressure on the QB, lock down receivers, or create more turnovers.
The big-ticket item (although not a perfect scheme fit) for the Chiefs is already off the market with former Denver Broncos pass-rusher Von Miller heading to the Los Angeles Rams. However, bringing in a different pass-rusher or a cornerback could go a long way to helping the Chiefs’ defensive struggles.
A defensive end would move Chris Jones back inside, where he’s excelled for most of his career. If the player could put more pressure on the QB, that could help with the team’s massive turnover deficiency.
While there is no game-changing pass-rusher available outside of Miller, players like Detroit Lions DE Charles Harris or Philadelphia Eagles DEs Derek Barnett or Ryan Kerrigan would make sense.
On the outside of the defense, CB L’Jarius Sneed has struggled in his second season, and Charvarius Ward has been terrible (and injured). Third-year DB Rashad Fenton has shown promise, but, overall, an upgrade at corner would be welcome.
If the Denver Broncos’ firesale continues, Kyle Fuller could be an option, although John Elway might not want to trade him inside the division. The Chiefs could also look to Miami Dolphins CB Noah Igbinoghene for reinforcement.
Whoever the Chiefs go after, they need to do it by Tuesday or face an unfixable problem for the rest of the 2021 season.
All stats courtesy of Pro Football Reference