The Chiefs are tied with the winless Jacksonville Jaguars for the most turnovers in the league (11), and no defense is giving up more points per game than Kansas City (32.6). It all adds up to a 2-3 record — last in the AFC West — with plenty of blame to go around, starting with quarterback Patrick Mahomes.
Through five games, Mahomes has thrown six interceptions, which is tied for third-most in the NFL behind rookie quarterbacks Zach Wilson and Trevor Lawrence. He’s on pace for 20 interceptions, almost double the 11 he threw over the past two seasons combined.
“It starts with me,” Mahomes told reporters after the loss to Buffalo. “It’s something I’ve not usually done in my career, but I have to reevaluate where I’m at, what decisions I’m making.
“I’ve been a crazier player as far as scrambling and making throws,” Mahomes continued. “But in my career I’ve never been someone who throws a lot of interceptions. I have to look at it now, reevaluate what I’m doing, and I have to cut it out.”
Ball security isn’t just a problem with Mahomes. Tyreek Hill has fumbled this year and dropped two passes against the Bills. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire has fumbled twice. Kick returner Byron Pringle has fumbled in each of the last two games.
The offense will have to make up for some injuries, too. Hill suffered “a minor knee injury” on Sunday and although the team does not expect him to miss time, it’s unclear whether the injury will hamper his production. Edwards-Helaire, on the other hand, suffered a sprained MCL against the Bills and will miss a few weeks on the injured reserve list.
The defense will also have to improve while navigating injuries over the next few weeks if Kansas City is to assert itself once more as a contender. The defensive front, projected to be below-average in 2021 by Pro Football Focus, has unfortunately lived up to that billing. The Chiefs’ pressure rate is in the bottom half of the league, with a league-low seven sacks to show for it. Chris Jones is a highly rated defensive tackle, with the fourth-best pass-rush win rate per the game charters at Pro Football Focus, but a wrist injury kept him on the sidelines against Buffalo. The next highest-rated pass rushers on the team are edge rusher Frank Clark at No. 88 and defensive tackle Tershawn Wharton at No. 93 out of 114 edge rushers, interior linemen and linebackers playing at least half their team’s pass-rush snaps.
Cornerback Charvarius Ward was also out on Sunday, putting extra stress on the secondary. Good health is likely needed to start moving this defense in the right direction.
Now for the good news.
Take the muffed kick returns out of the equation and Kansas City has had horrendous fumble luck, recovering just two of 12 this season. Forcing fumbles and recovering fumbles is largely random, so any time a team excels or struggles in this facet of the game, you can expect a reversal at some point. At the very least, it is not truly indicative of a team or player’s weakness.
Furthermore, according to Football Outsiders’ Defense-adjusted Value Over Average — which measures a team’s efficiency by comparing success on every play to a league average based on situation and opponent — the Chiefs have played the hardest schedule in the NFL this season. Three of their opponents — Buffalo (No. 1 in DVOA), Cleveland (No. 6) and Baltimore (No. 8) — are in the top 10 overall for that metric, while the Chargers are just outside that mark at No. 11. Kansas City’s defense is playing poorly, but it has faced the second-toughest offensive schedule to date.
In addition, the Chiefs offense is ranked No. 1 in DVOA despite facing the fourth-toughest set of opposing defenses. ESPN’s Football Power Index, which represents how many points above or below average a team has been, is also bullish. In fact, it has Kansas City as the fourth-best team in the NFL heading into Week 6, with the second-most efficient offense . In other words, once the schedule starts to get easier, Kansas City should drift back up toward the other Super Bowl contenders.
The rest of the Chiefs’ schedule is estimated to be much easier, with their average opponent resembling a below-.500 team. First up Sunday is the Washington Football Team, which has defensive challenges of its own. Washington is allowing 31 points per game, while opponents are converting on third down 56 percent of the time; both figures are among the worst in the league. Washington is also allowing a passer rating of 107.8 in coverage. That balloons to 111.1 when an opposing quarterback targets a wideout. They’re among the bottom 10 teams in both categories.
Next, the Chiefs will take on the Tennessee Titans. The Titans have similar issues covering wide receivers (a 111.4 passer rating against) which leads to teams scoring six more points per game against the Titans than expected based on the down, distance and field position of each play, whether running or passing.
Yes, the overall outlook for the Chiefs has dimmed, and their championship chances have dropped from 12 to 4 percent per FiveThirtyEight’s projections. But thanks to a powerful offense and that weak schedule, they are still expected to win 10 games this season, and with a little luck could find themselves back among the top teams in the league.