Yet the Chiefs have dropped two straight and needed two fourth-quarter comebacks to beat the Lions the week before those losses. And as Mahomes’s stats bear out, it has little to do with opposing defenses and everything to do with opposing offenses.
In Sunday’s 31-24 loss to the Texans, Houston held the ball for 39:48 — nearly two-thirds of the game — while Kansas City had a 20:12 time of possession, its lowest mark in a home game since that statistic started being kept in 1977 and lower than the Texans’ time of possession in the second half alone.
The week before, a 19-13 home loss to the Colts, the Chiefs had the ball for only 22:45.
It seems, then, that the secret to beating Mahomes is not to devise some sort of fancy defensive scheme but rather to simply make sure he doesn’t get onto the field.
This has been increasingly easy for the Chiefs’ opponents considering Kansas City’s struggles stopping the run. The Colts ran the ball 45 times for 180 yards, and the Texans had 41 carries for 192 yards. Even the Lions, a team whose rushing attack has been dormant pretty much since Barry Sanders’s retirement, was able to move the ball on the ground: 35 carries, 186 yards, 5.3 yards per attempt.
For the season, the Chiefs are giving up 5.2 yards per carry, only one-tenth of a yard better than the Bengals and their NFL-worst 5.3.
“We haven’t played a perfect game on defense, and we’re not going to play a perfect game, but we need to play a bit better. We need to eliminate the rush. When you eliminate the rush, you can have more fun,” Chiefs defensive end Frank Clark said after Sunday’s loss.
Kansas City’s offseason trade for Clark from the Seahawks was one of a number of moves the Chiefs made to bolster their defense. They also fired defensive coordinator Bob Sutton and replaced him with Steve Spagnuolo, whose bona fides include designing the Giants’ defense that stopped unbeaten New England in Super Bowl XLII. Nothing seems to have worked: Kansas City is allowing 0.2 of a yard more per carry than last year, when it finished 31st in the league in that category. Last season, the Chiefs ranked 26th in time of possession (29:01); this year, they’re 30th (26:41), with only the woeful Redskins and Dolphins behind them.
Part of that has to do with the breakneck speed at which Kansas City’s offense likes to move down the field, but more of it is the result of opposing teams simply chewing up the clock by running the ball all over the place. And with Mahomes now dealing with an ankle injury that’s hobbled him the past two games, the Chiefs need their defense to make some sort of stand now more than ever.
“For the most part, we haven’t shut down an offense this year,” Clark said. “That’s something we have to do in order to win. We can’t keep putting the pressure on our offense to do everything. We have to give them more opportunities. We have to slow the game down.”
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