Heading into week three, there are quite a few question marks around Kansas City’s 2021 squad. None are bigger, however, than the ones surrounding the defense–specifically against the run.
The Kansas City Chiefs were looking to go 20-0 this season, but that idea was quickly stomped out by Baltimore during their week two matchup thanks to Lamar Jackson’s 239 passing yards, 107 rushing yards, and three total TDs.
After a week’s worth of analysis and nights spent rewatching the game, it was glaringly obvious that it wasn’t just Jackson that lifted the Ravens to their first win against KC since Romeo Crennel was coach (Week 5, 2012). No, it was also the Chiefs’ defense that helped boost Baltimore to 1-1 instead of pushing them into a 0-2 corner.
What makes it worse is the fact that the Ravens were missing their starting left tackle, all three of their projected running backs from three weeks ago, and two of their premier cornerbacks in Chris Westry (3rd year out of Kentucky) and Marcus Peters (7 INTs as a Raven).
So why couldn’t the Chiefs close the deal like they have the last three times they met Lamar?
Simple, the Chiefs’ defense and their flaws were exposed and they were put in their place by Jackson and Baltimore’s rushing game, especially on third down (54.5% success) and in the red zone (100% success).
In fact, the Chiefs red zone defense has been abysmal for most of the last 18 regular-season games, finishing 32nd last season in red zone TD% (76.6%), but this year it seems like it has gotten even worse.
Why though? The Chiefs spend 25% of this season’s cap on the defensive line–the highest percentage in the league–and yet they have allowed the most rushing yards (404) and most rushing TDs (7) so far this season, and it’s not even close.
The Seattle Seahawks (325) and Chiefs’ week three opponent, the LA Chargers (324), were the only other teams to allow over 300 rushing yards during the first two weeks. Meanwhile, eight other teams finished second to KC in rushing TDs allowed with three TDs..four less than Kansas City.
“Well, they were playing the two toughest rushing attacks in the league!“
While that is true that isn’t an excuse for why the Chiefs have not been able to stop a single series in the redzone (100% RZ TD%) whether it be against the pass or the rush.
Now let’s put the rushing defense aside for a second…when you look at the pass rush of Kansas City it really isn’t anything to write home about either, at least so far.
The Chiefs look like they’re doing everything they can to get to the opposing quarterbacks but in the end, they haven’t been able to “get home” nearly as much as expected.
According to NextGenStats, the Chiefs have blitzed the QB almost 37% of the time (5th-most in the NFL) yet they have only applied pressure to the QB 19.3% of the time (2nd-worst in the NFL) and have only accrued three sacks (3rd-worst).
Could it be to the slow speed of players like Dan Sorensen or Ben Niemann? Or maybe the inexperience of rookie LB Nick Bolton who has been thrust into starting roles? Could it be the defensive rush of KC simply not being stronger than the offensive lines of two of the best teams in the AFC? Or could it be that Spagnuolo’s defense has been figured out and exposed too often in the past year to be effective?
Either way, the defense needs to play better. They have likely heard the chatter throughout Kansas City and the rest of the sports world over the past week. Hopefully, all the criticism fuels the fire that has risen under the bottoms of the Chiefs’ defense.
So far that doesn’t look feasible Sunday against the Chargers as Frank Clark, who has only played against Baltimore so far this season, is listed as doubtful due to another hamstring injury. Not only is Clark hurt but CB Charvarius Ward (quad) and DE Chris Jones (wrist) are both listed as questionable for the first AFC West matchup.
This news is agonizing to #ChiefsKingdom because it means that two of the highest-paid Chiefs might not be on the field in their respective roles on the defensive line, meaning that this defense could look just as mortal and just as lackluster as it has for much of the past year.
Hopefully, the defense can do enough to keep 2nd-year sensation Justin Herbert in a panic but in the end, it seems like the high-powered offense is going to be leaned on heavily for the moment.