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An embarrassing loss to Tennessee has the Kansas City Chiefs on their heels in the midseason, struggling in every aspect of their game. Not only does this loss put them under .500 for the third time this year, but the implications for playoff seeding will also work against them every step of the way for the rest of the season.
Without many factors working in their favor this week, the only way to describe this game would be to call it flat-out ugly. It was almost unwatchable. The gruesome hit on Patrick Mahomes in garbage time was a grim reminder that merely losing a game might not be the worst possible outcome of a one-sided beatdown. Kansas City was totally outplayed and out-coached from the opening drive on, and the lopsided 27-3 final score wasn’t indicative of how truly out of hand this game got for the Chiefs.
Here are our four biggest takeaways from this week’s slaughter in Nashville.
Bolton, Gay impressive despite wider defensive struggles
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The weakness of Kansas City’s defense this year was supposed to be the unproven linebacker corps that had the young talent to spare but unimpressive-at-best production in 2020. Despite some early-season setbacks and warranted criticism for their performance, the unit thrived in this game, helping to hold Derrick Henry to just 86 yards on 29 carries without allowing him a rushing touchdown.
Consistency will be key for the linebackers moving forward, and rookie Nick Bolton’s 15-tackle effort against Tennessee should give coaches second thoughts about who wears the communication helmet on Sundays. Bolton was the primary factor for what little went right for Kansas City defensively in this game, with second-year linebacker Willie Gay Jr doing his part as well, securing a pretty interception in the third quarter.
These younger players have a big opportunity to step up and become leaders in the vacuum that has formed amid the defense’s collapse. Both look like candidates to be fixtures on the team for years to come.
Mahomes deepens offensive wounds with turnover frenzy
AP Photo/Mark Zaleski
One thing the Chiefs absolutely cannot afford with a bottom-tier defense is turnovers. Given their inability to stop anybody, the team lives and dies by the production of its offense, and every turnover creates a situation where a lead shrinks or a deficit widens. There is no in-between with this 2021 Kansas City squad.
Given the situation, quarterback Patrick Mahomes has to find a way to make ball security his primary priority in the future. He threw one interception on a play he was trying to do too much and fumbled on a tuck and run scramble that would’ve had his team in great position had he given himself up and slid. His play this season is particularly curious given how much of a premium he’s placed on keeping possession in the past, and has doomed the Chiefs in some games every bit as much as the defense.
They are out of time this season to truly rebuild, so Kansas City has to make do with what it has. With an eye towards playing smarter instead of harder, they might be able to find their footing in the coming weeks.
Kansas City's top paid defensive linemen are complete non-factor
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No defensive lineman has a bigger cap hit this season than Frank Clark, and Chris Jones isn’t far behind. Both have had their moments for Kansas City, but neither is playing particularly well. Their non-sensical lack of production is baffling relative to the amount of money the team has invested in them.
The only sack registered in this game was credited to Ben Niemann, after which ensued a big celebration by Jones for his effort as Kansas City was about to go down by 27 points. Clark and Jones registered a combined three tackles on the day, five times less than the rookie linebacker playing behind them. Something has got to give with this Chiefs team, but don’t count on it being the effort from their defensive stars upfront.
As Chiefs fall from grace, coaching is becoming a primary concern
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Tennessee is a very good football team and deserves all credit for making this game a no-doubter. Former Chief and current Titans head coach Mike Vrabel called a great game on both sides of the ball, clearly having put together an effective and well-thought-out game plan that gave his team the edge in all four quarters. On the other sideline, the Chiefs completely failed to execute any sort of coherent game plan.
For whatever reason, Kansas City has been totally unable to put together a complete and impressive game this season, either collapsing with a small lead late or looking totally outmatched from the get-go. They’ve beat up on enough of the teams they should’ve to still have something to play for at this point, but it certainly hasn’t been pretty, and they haven’t looked impressive since Week 1.
If they actually intend on making another playoff run, Andy Reid and Steve Spagnuolo will need to coach not only for the outcome of this season, but potentially their jobs if things continue to trend so steeply downhill.