Even after a two-game losing streak, the Chiefs are still Super Bowl contenders.
Just two short weeks ago, the Kansas City Chiefs were the lone undefeated team in the NFL at 5-0 and considered the best team in the league. After two straight heartbreaking losses to Pittsburgh and Oakland, they aren’t even the top seed in the AFC playoff picture.
Their defensive struggles have been especially troubling because that was considered one of their strengths. During the two-game losing streak, they have given up 472 yards per game, which would rank worst in the NFL by a wide margin.
The breaches on defense have come in a variety of ways. In their loss to the Steelers, they allowed Le’Veon Bell to rush for 179 yards. Then against the Raiders, they gave up 417 yards to Derek Carr, capped off with an 85-yard game winning drive in one of the wildest finishes in NFL history.
The Chiefs have never been a dominant rushing defense. Last year, in a season they went 12-4, they allowed 124.1 rushing YPG, which was 27th in the league. This year, they have been slightly worse at 124.6 rushing YPG, but this shouldn’t be a concern going forward because they have proven they can win this way.
However, there should be some concern in regards to their pass defense. They are 28th in the NFL in passing yards allowed per game at 271.7. Last year they ranked 17th, so there is a clear sign of regression. Adam Stites of SB Nation went further into a possible explanation for their recent problems.
The absence of Eric Berry is taking its toll…
The five-time Pro Bowl safety shut down Rob Gronkowski in Week 1, but suffered a ruptured Achilles late in the win over the Patriots. Daniel Sorensen has been the starter in Berry’s place for the last six games and has been a significant downgrade.
According to Pro Football Focus, Sorensen has been targeted in coverage 23 times and has given up 17 receptions for 238 yards with two touchdowns and no interceptions. That’s a 135.8 passer rating for quarterbacks targeting Sorensen.
Sorensen’s stats were good for a 38.3 PFF grade, which is third worst among qualified safeties. This is an issue that may not be resolvable for the Chiefs in the short term because they have no other options without Berry, but with their offense playing so well it might not matter.
Alex Smith has played the best football of his career this season. His PFF grade is the highest it has ever been. He has the highest aDOT (average depth of target) of his career, so he is throwing the ball down the field, which has been one of his biggest criticisms. Smith has as many 300 yard games this year (three) as he has had in the entire rest of his Kansas City Chiefs career during the regular season. Combine this great QB play with the production from running back Kareem Hunt, the rookie of the year frontrunner who leads the league in rushing, you get what is currently the second best total offense in the NFL.
PFF) October 18, 2017
Even if the defense continues to struggle, the offense should be able to keep their season afloat. A schedule that was ranked as the second most difficult going into the season suddenly looks much easier. They play Denver at home this week, who after being shut out by Los Angeles looks like a favorable matchup for the Chiefs. A win would give them a two game lead in the loss column against every team in the division. With home games against Los Angeles and Oakland down the stretch, the Chiefs are in prime position to maintain control of this division.
Games at the Giants and against the Dolphins at home, who both rank in the bottom 10 of the NFL in total offense, will give the defense a chance to get on track. With KC’s schedule, it’s tough to envision a scenario where they don’t end up with double-digit wins.
This means Kansas City is going to be in the playoffs with a home playoff game, and in the most wide-open AFC race in recent memory, the Chiefs’ Super Bowl aspirations are still very much alive.
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