The Kansas City Chiefs began the season with a tough matchup against the Cleveland Browns, and there was plenty of talk about this matchup in the weeks leading up to it. This game was crucial for multiple reasons. Perhaps most pressing for Kansas City: Would their offensive line be able to protect Mahomes? And would the Browns get revenge for their playoff loss?
However, the story of the day was the Chiefs’ defense without Tyrann Mathieu, Frank Clark, and Willie Gay Jr. This unit was less than perfect through much of the day against Cleveland’s offense and made things difficult for Kansas City’s offense too.
The Chiefs gave up plenty of yardage throughout the game, allowing the Browns to run for 153 yards and four touchdowns while giving up 5.8 yards per carry. Missing Mathieu hurt this defense in the passing game, allowing Baker Mayfield to go 24/28 for 321 yards. While Baker didn’t throw for any touchdowns, he carved up the Chiefs’ secondary, putting the Browns’ running backs in a great position for short-yardage touchdowns.
While the defense gave up 22 points in the first half of a game that looked like a blowout early, the defense couldn’t stop the bleeding, and the Chiefs offense had to take risks to keep them in the game.
It looked as though the Kansas City defense was going to hand-deliver a Week 1 win to Cleveland in the first half, and the Browns haven’t won their opener since 2004. The second half was a different story as Kansas City scraped by for a win. The Jekyll and Hyde performance leaves us wondering what version of the Chiefs defense we can expect to see throughout the year.
Twice in the first half, the Browns converted fourth downs in the red zone to keep drives alive. The Chiefs exhibited an incredibly porous defense in the first half and didn’t entirely make up for their mistakes in the second.
Outside of Nick Chubb fumbling and Browns punter Jamie Gillan mishandling the ball midway through the fourth quarter, the Chiefs consistently gave up plays on the ground and through the air. Of course, it would be easy to attribute these miscues and blown coverage to the lack of Mathieu, Clark, and Gay on the field. While that is true, the first-half performance can’t be entirely explained so easily.
Much of the second-half dominance for the Chiefs defense can be traced to the time of possession. In the third quarter, they outpaced the Browns in time of possession by over 10 minutes (12:57 to the Browns’ 2:03). While the time of possession and the Browns’ shortcomings played a role in the Kansas City comeback victory, the Chiefs’ defense made plays when they had to in order to win this game. As Chris Jones said after the game, “We’ve got a group of guys that can step up when adversity faces us. Especially in critical situations.”
In the third quarter, the Chiefs’ defense forced a fumble from Chubb and intercepted Mayfield to ice the game late in the fourth. Without these two plays, Kansas City likely doesn’t win. Of course, the defense owes the offense for keeping them off the field for much of the third quarter. However, they did what they had to do to get themselves off the field as well.
This Kansas City defense was able to get stops and settle down as the game went on. They will only get better as Mathieu, Clark, and Gay return to the fold in the weeks to come. We can expect to see a Chiefs defense similar to the squad we saw in the second half. As long as the offense can sustain drives to keep the defense off the field, this unit should trend toward the top half in the league this year.