The Kansas City Chiefs’ dream of a dynasty is quickly falling apart.
On Sunday night in Arrowhead, the defending AFC Champions were embarrassed by the visiting Buffalo Bills, falling 38-20 and officially closing any gap the Chiefs may have had between themselves and what many believe to be their biggest threat in the AFC this season.
Their biggest weakness is evident right now, with the defense off to a horrific start. It’s more than just bad. Frankly, it’s historic. Through five weeks, the defense is surrendering 7.1 yards per play, which is the highest-ever number allowed by an NFL team, according to Pro Football Reference.
But wait, it gets better. The best offense of the past 20 years is undoubtedly the 2007 New England Patriots, who averaged 3.3 points per drive — the exact same amount of points per drive the Chiefs’ defense is allowing through five weeks. Simply put, this years’ defense is turning opposing offenses into the greatest offense our generation has ever seen every week.
Will they maintain this historic pace of ineptitude? Unlikely, but that’s not to say it will markedly improve, not with the results Chiefs fans have endured so far.
However, even with Pro Bowlers across the defense, the blame for this disastrous production does not lie solely with the players. The complete collapse on the defensive side falls squarely on the shoulders of the front office and coaching staff. The countless off-season miscues, paired with a puzzling deployment of players on defense, are the biggest reasons the Chiefs might find themselves wasting a season of prime Patrick Mahomes.
Over the past two summers, the front office, led by general manager Brett Veach, has doomed this year’s defense by compounding poor draft and free agency decisions. The Mahomes-led offense is so good that they’ve been able to overcome these shortcomings the past couple of seasons. However, constant mistakes from the front office have finally reached a level their otherworldly abilities can no longer sustain.
Let’s take it back two years. Following their Super Bowl win in 2019, the Chiefs found themselves in a cap-crunched world. They weren’t alone; many other teams in the NFL during a tumultuous off-season with numerous unknowns surrounding COVID-19 and its impact on the 2020 season.
Frank Clark was brought in via trade the summer before and was set to have his cap hit jump from $6.5 million to $19.3 million. Linebacker Anthony Hitchens’ contract was also ready to spike from just $5.2 million to $12.7 million. Both players would need to step up and produce on a more consistent basis than they did last year. Neither player performed at the level the Chiefs needed, with Clark tallying just six sacks and Hitchens collecting a measly 78 tackles while continuing to be a liability in coverage.
The draft that summer didn’t help either. The Chiefs selected Clyde Edwards-Helaire, who has become a replacement-level running back, with their first-round pick when taking a defensive player would have been more prudent. The lack of talent on one side of the ball was evident, yet the Chiefs were still somehow able to overcome those obstacles and returned to the Super Bowl for the second year in a row.
While the defense may not have been the driving factor in their Super Bowl loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, the front office knew they still needed to generate more pressure up front while also finding depth at cornerback. Veach and head coach Andy Reid expressed a need to get younger and more athletic on defense in the off-season.
In the 2021 draft, the Chiefs selected of LB Nick Bolton out of the University of Missouri in the second round. The one knock on Bolton in college was his athleticism — not a great start. The Chiefs were in desperate need of more speed in the middle of their defense to pair with Willie Gay Jr., and their top selection in the draft was used on an Anthony Hitchens clone. So much for the faster part of getting “younger and faster.” Bolton has been okay at times in the run game but has been a major liability when asked to range from side to side, a trait they desperately needed.
The only other pick in the draft allocated towards defense was in the fourth round, and defensive end Joshua Kaindoh was seen more as a project than an instant producer. The Chiefs left yet another draft with few resources spent on impact players for the defense.
Not only did they fail to address the pass rush or the secondary depth in the draft, the free-agency period was no better. Proven cornerback Bashaud Breeland signed with the Minnesota Vikings; in fact, the Chiefs essentially swapped cornerbacks with Minnesota when later in the summer they acquired former first-rounder Mike Hughes for pennies on the dollar. Breeland had been a contributing factor for Steve Spagnuoulo’s defense over the past couple seasons, while Hughes found himself quickly out of favor in Minnesota due to his injury history and poor performance. The results have been predictable, with Hughes finding himself abused by opposing quarterbacks all season.
However, Veach did find himself a Pro Bowl-caliber defensive tackle in free agency. Jarran Reed was released by the Seattle Seahawks and later signed with the Chiefs on a one-year prove-it deal. Last year, Reed proved disruptive up the middle, leading Seattle with 6.5 sacks and earning his first Pro Bowl selection. Alas, Reed has been a disaster in Kansas City this season, totaling just six tackles and only two QB hurries. Yet another free-agent whiff from Veach and the front office.
The string of misses by the front office has greatly affected the defense this season. But to make matters worse, the coaching staff’s deployment of its resources has been puzzling. While Dan Sorensen has been perhaps the worst safety in football so far this season, it’s not his fault that the coaching staff has repeatedly asked the aging vet to cover athletic tight ends and wide receivers. It’s even more perplexing when young, athletic options like Juan Thornhill remain on the bench.
Thornhill was drafted in the second round in 2019 as a perfect complement to Tyrann Mathieu. However, the coaches have been repeatedly trying to fit a square peg into a round hole by placing Sorensen at the deep safety position, and it showed time and time again on national television Sunday. Sorensen was at fault for two touchdowns allowed and still played 100% of the defensive snaps.
On top of the secondary struggling to cover opposing teams, the defensive front remains a mystery when one considers the amount of money that’s been allocated to the front seven. In training camp, Spagnuolo announced All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones would be sliding out to defensive end this season. While few doubted Jones’ ability to remain a disruptive force on the outside, many questioned whether it made sense to move a player from his most dominant position. The early results of the 2021 campaign are starting to suggest it was a bad idea. Jones has been okay on the outside, but his true value remains as a dominate interior rusher.
GMs and coaches are human, and they are allowed to make mistakes. For most of the past couple seasons, Mahomes and the offense have been great enough to overshadow them. But the front office miscues and downright confusing coaching decisions are piling up, one on top of the other.
The truth is, the margin for error in Kansas City is no longer thin. It’s non-existent.