When the 2020 NFL season began, most people had very little expectations. The COVID impacted offseason created a newfound environment for how teams brought along incoming rookies. Elsewhere, new coaching staffs had to study extra hard in order to get their tenures off to a hot start. But what about the Kansas City Chiefs?
As defending Super Bowl champions, the target was now on their back. Gameday became treated as a much more monumental occasion. Under Andy Reid, the Chiefs have preached about creating winning from in-house competition. That was especially true in the leadup to this unprecedented season.
What about the areas where Kansas City were ahead of other teams? In the offseason, the team was able to return a near record level of starters from the previous campaign. As such, the learning curve was not as steep for the Chiefs, as it was for other squads. Meanwhile, the rookie class were given early opportunities to crack the starting lineup. While, the team has had a strong track record of drafting over the last decade, the chance to earn those early reps did not always surface. And finally, the deeper additions of depth to the roster were instilled with more trust than previous Kansas City Chiefs regimes. These new adjustments by the coaching staff, helped the team continue to grow in their life cycle, when they could have stuck to their old guns.
With that in mind, the Chiefs have been a much more diverse team this season, in how they attack opponents. It has led to more confusion and frustration when having to go against Andy Reid’s squad. Today, we will look back at what the offense and defense have accomplished before their bye week and hand out grades for the team report card.
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Kansas City Chiefs Offense
In Coach Reid’s offense, not only is it designed to get everyone involved, but those opportunities are endless. Patrick Mahomes has continued to spread the wealth. However, it has become a lot less forced. Mahomes is taking what the defenses are giving him more than ever. As a result, we have seen the former MVP much more aggressive in testing all three levels of the field. In the past, there has been a slight tendency in favoring the intermediate part of the field. As such, it is obvious that Mahomes has grown into a more complete quarterback.
Despite record breaking numbers in 2018, his current campaign has involved greater efficiency, decision making and of course accuracy. As such, the Kansas City Chiefs offense is top ranked in the league in EPA (expected points added) per play. Mahomes is also throwing passes more on target and catchable than the previous two seasons, per Sports Info Solutions. His current on target percentage (71.4%), is the same number that he finished with after 2018. His on target percentage last year, was 70.5%. Furthermore, his ball placement has seen a slight improvement as well. Sports Info Solutions lists his current catchable pass percentage at 78.7%. His 2018 and 2019 numbers finished at 75.3% and 75.8%, respectively.
And finally, the magnificent touchdown to interception ratio, continues to impress. For a guy that many pundits claimed would be an “interception machine” in the NFL, Sports Info Solutions has shown that his interception percentage has decreased each season. In 2018 it was at 2.1%, 2019 came in at 1%. Now in this current season, Mahomes interception percentage sits at a miniscule 0.3%. This pace could lead to a second MVP for Patrick, but more importantly could set the Chiefs up for another sure chance at the Super Bowl.
The usual heavily discussed playmakers, like Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill are enjoying hot starts to their 2020 campaigns. In fact, Kelce is having a career best start. He is well on pace to set new career highs in receptions, receiving yards and touchdowns. He currently ranks third in the NFL in receiving yards. And that is impressive because he is doing that as a tight end with the most pass happy the NFL has ever been. More to come on him in a different article soon. On the other hand, Hill is also on pace to set new career highs in the same categories. Tyreek is also leading the tight lead for receiving touchdowns around the league (9).
Nonetheless, we have seen the rest of the weapons continue to grow heading into the midpoint of the season. The Kansas City Chiefs were not expected to bring back Demarcus Robinson. But due to the pandemic, his possible free agent offers were hindered. The Chiefs have benefitted by his hard work and improved route running. Consequently, he has received a steady increase in snaps. His blocking prowess also plays into that, which still goes by the wayside nationally.
Rookie Clyde Edwards-Helaire has also started his career off hot. Even on down weeks statistically, the LSU product has started to feel more comfortable in the passing game and in pass protection reps. His rushing ability has caught defenses off guard, with his elusiveness and shifty nature. Edwards-Helaire sits at fourth in the league in rushing yards, and he currently has 4.7 yards per carry.
Areas Of Improvement?
Overall, the Kansas City Chiefs are set up pretty well offensively. The offensive line has been a lot more dominant lately. Seeing the interior blocking move forward and not backward is still a question mark. Concurrently, the short yardage play calling and execution has to improve. Some of that has to do with Kansas City not trusting their own scheme, and using bland play calls.
Overall Offensive Grade: A
Kansas City Chiefs Defense
Cornerbacks Are Now An Asset
Just a couple of years ago, the Chiefs cornerback room was one of the worst in the league. Full of unknowns, little experience and minimal resources plugged into the position, Kansas City was taking a risk. That is something that they have been comfortable with. And for the most part, it has paid off.
Charvarius Ward saw a steady rise during his 2019 campaign. So far in 2020, the Middle Tennessee State product has been up and down. Ward has allowed more passes to be completed against him, with a completion percentage allowed of 65.6%. To boot, his touchdowns allowed and yards per target against are up as well. Where has Ward impressed? His coverage spacing on the field has remained a strength. We have also seen an improvement in man coverage.
The other outside starting cornerback, Bashaud Breeland, has been among the best in the league in pass coverage. His completion percentage allowed (47.6%) is the best on the Kansas City Chiefs defense. His passer rating allowed (24.3), is second best among cornerbacks according to Pro Football Focus.
Finally, rookie L’Jarius Sneed was locking down opponents before going down with a broken collarbone. An incredible start was halted. However, he should be back after the bye week.
Depth Players Answer Bell
Having strong starts from big money guys like Chris Jones, Frank Clark and Tyrann Mathieu is obviously a good thing. Though, the depth has quickly improved or staked their claim. A lot of credit goes to general manager Brett Veach and his scouting staff with prioritizing late round or undrafted guys.
Not very many people in the draft community were talking about Michigan defensive end Mike Danna. He has done well to set the edge and show power and strong hands, against both the run and pass. How about Tershawn Wharton? The rookie UDFA from small school Missouri S&T has carved out a role, by earning it on the field, both in practice and in games. He has accumulated a sack, three hurries and a forced fumble. What’s even more impressive, is that Wharton’s missed tackle percentage is one of the better ones on the Kansas City Chiefs defense (9.1%). According to Pro Football Focus, Wharton is fourth among rookies in pressures (11). The three rookies ahead of him were all first round picks.
Others like Daniel Sorensen, Derrick Nnadi and Willie Gay have become more comfortable as the season goes on. These are players that may not be seen as a priority. But, they do their jobs well and continue to make big stops in limited action.
Areas Of Improvement?
This can be a little tougher to decipher when looking at the defensive side for the Kansas City Chiefs. At times, the run defense has impressed, especially in tough matchups. The problems remain constant there, though. Cutback runs to the weak side have been a game changer, and missed tackles are still a bit too high.
In pass coverage, the Kansas City Chiefs have run less zone this season. Their zone coverage attempts have decreased in part, because teams are besting it more than last year. And, they have not had to rely on that as much either. According to Matt Bowen of ESPN, the Kansas City Chiefs have run the third highest percent of coverage snaps in the league with a 2 deep, man under look (13.3%). And he also has them pegged as the team that has run the most amount of Cover 0 (zero man, blitz man coverage with no safety help), at 9.3%.
Figuring out how to make throwing windows tighter while in zone coverage, could be addressed during the bye week.
Overall Defensive Grade: B+
Be on the lookout for more FPC Kansas City Chiefs articles during the bye week. For more great sports and NFL content, stay tuned to Full Press Coverage.
– Braden Holecek is the Kansas City Chiefs managing editor for Full Press Coverage. He covers the NFL. Like and follow on Follow @ebearcat9//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js Follow @FPC_Chiefs//platform.twitter.com/widgets.js and Facebook.