The playoffs are the last concern for the Chiefs right now. They have to get back to playing well. They can do that and still have the season everyone wants, a Super Bowl Championship, but there are several things that need to change. This loss to the Texans brought the Chiefs back to the pack among playoff contenders in the AFC and gives the Los Angeles Chargers life in the division.
The Chiefs aren’t going anywhere without eliminating penalties and improving the play on the offensive line. Sure, improving the defense would be nice but just eliminating the penalties and giving Patrick Mahomes time to pick apart the defense would go a long way. You can’t fix everything overnight so let’s start there.
The penalties can stop immediately. The play of the offensive line can be helped with improved play calling by Andy Reid. The Chiefs want to make big plays down the field but first they have to eliminate the pressure on Mahomes. Quick passes will loosen the defense and eventually give Mahomes the time he needs to go down field.
This loss hurts only because of how it happened and that it happened at home after the Chiefs lost last week at home to the Indianapolis Colts. On its own this isn’t a back breaker. In context of the rest of the season it really hurts right now and gives fans a reason to be concerned. The concern is not that the Chiefs will be a good team or even that they will have a winning record or make the playoffs. This was expected to be a Super Bowl season. That’s why fans are so freaked out. They have good reason to feel that way because we are seeing a lot of the same problems we saw last season.
The facts are in. Contrary to most reports Patrick Mahomes is in fact human. It was a rough game for Patrick Mahomes. Yes, he was pressured due to awful play by the offensive line. And yes, he was playing on what appeared to be a hurt ankle that was really bothering him and limiting his mobility. But there were passes he made that were just off, again. I’m convinced that his poor throws, of which there weren’t a lot, are primarily because of the current state of his ankle and offensive line. However, most would agree that he is the best quarterback in the NFL, and if so, he should be able to overcome some of these problems. I would argue that he overcame a lot today and played as well as any quarterback in his situation could play. The bottom line is that I would still take Patrick Mahomes over any quarterback in the league. If you are even entertaining the idea that part of the problem is Patrick Mahomes you are wrong.
The Chiefs had stopped the Houston Texans in what appeared to be their last drive in the first half, but even the defensive stops turn bad on the Chiefs right now. On fourth-and-1 on the Chiefs 40 yard line with just 39 seconds remaining in the first half, the Texans decided to take a shot at the end zone. Chiefs safety Juan Thornhill intercepted the ball to stop the drive. But it was fourth down! Thornhill should have knocked the ball down. Since he took the interception the Chiefs got the ball at the 20 yard line instead of the 40. That would prove critical since the very next play saw Patrick Mahomes fumble when the Texans go to his arm before Mahomes could pass it. The Texans recovered the ball at the three yard line and scored a touchdown on the very next play. If Thornhill would have knocked the ball down and the same events had happened the Texans would have had the ball at the 23 instead of the three. That doesn’t mean the Texans wouldn’t have scored a touchdown but it certainly would have been harder (theoretically).
DE Frank Clark stripped RB Carlos Hyde and recovered the fumble on the Texans’ first play from scrimmage. A lot of people want to bury Clark because he hasn’t had the success they envisioned. Is it a Frank Clark problem? Is he not in shape? Did he not work hard in the offseason? Is it the defense he is playing with this season? I don’t have the answer yet but he certainly hasn’t had the impact we expected. However, Clark made a terrific job to cause a turnover on the Texans’ first play from scrimmage in this game and give the Chiefs a lift.
WR Tyreek Hill returned from injury this week and had five receptions for 80 yards and two touchdowns. His first touchdown was vintage Tyreek Hill. On third and 21 from the Houston 46, Patrick Mahomes threw a long pass up for grabs just shy of the end zone. Tyreek Hill had two defenders around him, one in front and one behind him. Hill went up over the defender in front of him, caught the ball, and then muscled his way into the end zone while the other defender was trying to tackle him. We’ll see what the Chiefs say this week about how he is feeling, but Tyreek Hill looked as good as ever in this game.
CB Charvarious Ward has a lot of difficulty on defense but he did come up with a huge interception in the end zone against Deandre Hopkins in the second half. With the Chiefs ahead 24-23 and the Texans driving down the field, Deshaun Watson tried to hit Deandre Hopkins in the end zone but Ward played great defense on Hopkins and made a one-arm interception to bail out the Chiefs defense. Ward had eight tackles in the game.
S Tyrann Mathieu led the team with 10 tackles. Mathieu is not a problem on this defense. He makes some mistakes but every player in the NFL makes mistakes. I would take Mathieu on my defense any day. He’s a smart player and is usually in the right spot and makes the play.
Room for Improvement:
Penalties! The Chiefs had 11 penalties in this game for 79 yards. This continues to be a problem. It’s not just the defense having a problem with penalties. The offense is making things difficult on themselves by moving the ball back with penalties. Patrick Mahomes can usually make up for these mistakes but not right now.
Tackling! When the defense does get to the ball carrier they miss a lot of tackles. LB Darron Lee really struggled with this today. He wants to tackle up around the head and at least twice the Texans player ducked and easily escaped the tackle.
S Juan Thornhill should have just knocked down the ball instead of intercepting it near the end of the first half. Thornhill did some good things in this game. In this situation, being in position to make the play was great, but he needs to understand the situation and know that if he knocks the ball down he gains 20 yards for the offense.
Andy Reid has to change his play calls to help both Patrick Mahomes and the offensive line. Quick passes are needed with an occasional deep pass mixed in. Reid did a little of this in the second half but why isn’t he able to make this switch at any time? We saw this last week against the Colts as well. Until the offensive line is fixed, Reid needs to enter the game with the idea that Mahomes needs to make short, quick passes to loosen up the defense and mix in the longer throws.
CB Bashaud Breeland couldn’t find the ball on what should have been a touchdown pass to Will Fuller. Fuller dropped two perfectly thrown passes by Deshaun Watson in this game. In one situation there was a great shot of Breeland turning his head around late. We saw the ball pass by him when he was turning his head. He never saw the ball! If he doesn’t see the ball he doesn’t know when to put his hands up to knock down the pass. He was on Fuller and did likely help force the incompletion, but most of the time that is a catch and it could have been prevented.
K Harrison Butker is a concern for me. He’s not the automatic point maker he was until late last season. He missed a 50 yard field goal in this game. That’s a long field goal but Butker has the leg to make it. There is also more of an emphasis on his kicks right now because the team is struggling. I still like Butker being the kicker for this team and would take him over most in the league. The view of Butker right now is a product of his success last season. He set high expectations last season and now it’s hurting him a little right now.
Andy Reid chose to challenge a pass interference call against the Texans on Travis Kelce at the start of the fourth quarter. Coaches are still trying to figure out this new rule but we are at the point where this should only be done with the game on the line late in the game. The league is allowing teams to challenge pass interference but they are not reversing calls so don’t lose your challenge on this.
Andy Reid changed up the offense a little in the second half by throwing more short, quick passes. He also did this in the game against Jacksonville after Patrick Mahomes injured his ankle. This is how the Chiefs need to attack defenses from the beginning of the game until the offensive line gets things figured out which will likely not happen until Eric Fisher returns.
The Chiefs play Thursday at Denver in what is a more important game than anyone would have thought just three weeks ago. The Chiefs need a win in the worst way to stop their slide.