The Kansas City Chiefs scratched and clawed to earn themselves a victory in Week One of the 2021 NFL season. Their opponent, the Cleveland Browns, played a nearly perfect game. Baker Mayfield and the offense charged out to a 22-10 lead at halftime. Yet, the teams had to be perfect in the final moments. And the Chiefs frustrated an opponent once again, scoring in bunches during the second half and getting costly defensive stops.
There were many points that stuck out from a Kansas City perspective, both good and bad. What did we learn about the players on the field, or off of it? Are the Chiefs still the clear top team in the AFC? Plus, we will hand out report cards to Week One winners and losers for the guys in red and gold. Let’s get it started with our game rewind.
Five Major Things We Learned
The Wide Receiver Depth Is Still A Question Mark
It was only one game. There are still sixteen contests left on the regular season schedule. However, we did not learn anything from the wide receivers behind Tyreek Hill. Demarcus Robinson still did too much dancing in the open field after securing a catch. And yet, he still out snapped Mecole Hardman and saw more significant targets. Hardman is still being used in the same fashion as he was during his rookie season. Finally, Byron Pringle saw an early catch. He only garnered 11 total offensive snaps, though.
In order for this passing offense to ascend further, this wide receiver room has to simply get better. Hardman left yards out there on quick touches. A touch pass for example, saw him cut out of bounds too early with minimal effort. It put the Chiefs in a 3rd and 1 situation. Meanwhile, Robinson has had another glaring issue besides dancing in the open field. The Florida product appears to freelance a bit, as he will not reach certain spots that are possibly open before the ball is thrown. This includes the chains or certain creases towards the middle of the field. I would not rule out the possibility of the Chiefs adding a wide receiver after the trade deadline or via free agency.
Get Tyrann Mathieu’s Contract Extension Done ASAP
Despite being activated from the COVID list, safety Tyrann Mathieu was held out of this contest against the Browns. And his absence was felt early and often. I will say that Juan Thornhill made some crucial plays near the end of this game.
But, there were early issues from the defensive backs. The communication was not consistent across the board. To boot, the coverage was leaky over the middle and Mayfield picked up on it. Missing Mathieu’s intensity and leadership was clearly another major factor that pushed the secondary near the brink. Tyrann is one of the best safeties in the NFL, if not the top dog. Kansas City already knew it. Though, they need to back up the brinks truck for the Honey Badger before it is too late.
The Offensive Line Held Their Own
For their first full game together, the new look Chiefs offensive line fared pretty well. Patrick Mahomes looked comfortable in the pocket. When he did feel pressure, it was usually only one guy coming after him. His scrambling ability led to a 75 yard touchdown pass to Hill, as well as a rushing score for the quarterback himself.
Elsewhere, the offensive line was creating massive gaps or smooth creases in the running game. This was a massive turning point early in the second half. Kansas City ushered in more running plays, and kept their defense fresh while eating around 13 minutes of game clock.
Mahomes was only sacked twice. On one of those, the quarterback waited too long and took a deep drop back. He mentioned that he is still working on that as a passer. Myles Garrett got to Mahomes late in the game. Many may blame Orlando Brown Jr. on that particular snap. The get off was too perfect and it left Brown Jr. in no position to get a hand on Garrett. Other than that, it was a clean game from the blocking unit.
Run Defense Needs Tone Setters To Succeed
Besides the absence of Mathieu, the Chiefs defense were without some other key members. This includes Willie Gay and Frank Clark. Rookie linebacker Nick Bolton had an extremely impressive showing. Nonetheless, you lose the speed, range and instincts at the second level without having Gay. Clark is also just as good of a run defender at this point, if not better than he is a pass rusher. Without his leverage and patience of holding his edge, it left guys like Mike Danna and others chasing and leaving their area too early.
This defense has not been able to consistently stop the run for a while now. Kansas City almost looked like the same defensive group that was run under Bob Sutton’s tutelage, or lack thereof. Without the tone setters, the Chiefs did not win or reset the line of scrimmage. They failed to fill gaps quickly on a consistent basis. Consequently, the missed tackles against the run were occurring too often.
Red Zone Issues Remain
We do not have to harp too much more on the defensive side of the ball for this issue. The Browns had little to no issues when handing it off in the red zone. Most of the time, Kansas City did not get a hand on the ball carrier until they were already six yards or further into the carry.
Ep 161: Lions Dissapoint; NFL MVP; Week 12 Discussion
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Offensively, there were questionable moments within the red zone. It becomes more challenging for a spread offense to space out defenders down inside the opponent’s 20 yard line. But still, there were a few questionable play calls. The running game could have received more opportunities, especially behind a more powerful offensive line.
The passing attack eventually figured it out. Early on though, longer routes took too long to develop and the pass catchers failed to create separation. Three out of five red zone trips resulted in a touchdown. Those two times that the Chiefs settled for field goals were somewhat deflating, and it could have cost them even more.
Hill proved once again why he’s one of the best receivers in the league. His ability to separate and create space for himself is unmatched. It is even more impressive when you see the minimal openings that he had at first in the open field. His ability to adjust to the pass when it is in the air and more fluid route running continues to evolve and get better.
It felt like a ho-hum, easy effort to generate nearly 200 receiving yards on Sunday. In fact, Hill believed he even left some extra yards out there.
No matter how good Travis Kelce has been in the past, he continues to make noticeable adjustments. He attacks defenses with quick reads and possesses plenty of counter moves while running his routes. When Mahomes and him are in sync, it is nearly impossible to slow them down over the middle of the field. Furthermore, Kelce’s versatility allows him to receive plenty of different personnel matchups.
The Chiefs present a plethora of different looks with both their wide receivers and tight ends. As long as Andy Reid continues to be creative, Kelce will continue to be the standard bearer at tight end. His six receptions, 76 receiving yards and two receiving touchdowns gives him a nice jumpstart to the new campaign.
Coach Reid mentioned after the game that he thought Chris Jones had one of the best second half performances of any defensive lineman he has coached. The tide and momentum started to shift for the defense right before halftime. Jones’ sack took Cleveland out of field goal range and kept them off of the scoreboard.
Later on, Jones was winning battles with quick get offs and power. His sack in the fourth quarter gave the team ease. Meanwhile, the defender was quick to say that he stopped playing the run on play action attempts. Running to where he knew Mayfield would be, left Jones uncovered for a free shot. This appeared to surprise the Browns quarterback, who faltered in the final drives.
Thrust into action with Gay’s injury, Bolton answered the bell. He was flying around and did not appear to get lost in space. Most of all, the moment was not too big for him. That was vital for the Chiefs defense going up against a dominant Cleveland offensive rushing attack.
Bolton finished the day with seven tackles, including one for a loss. He did not miss a tackle either. This allowed Bolton to finish with the top tackling grade among the Kansas City defenders on Sunday. Expect more extended snaps for him moving forward.
When mentioning the run defense above, we hinted at this looking like a Bob Sutton run defense. Players were overcompensating, leaving their gaps too early or exposed. The backside cuts were also there for the taking for Nick Chubb and Kareem Hunt. In particular, it was a rather disappointing day for guys like Anthony Hitchens or Derrick Nnadi. The Chiefs are counting on these two and others for a bounce back performance in this area next week.
Wide Receivers Behind Hill
Daurice Fountain was a healthy scratch. On the other hand, Marcus Kemp did not receive any significant targets. The trio of Hardman, Pringle and Robinson combined for a measly five receptions and 32 receiving yards. That group also managed just 7.1 yards per reception as a whole. As good as Hill and Kelce are, one would like to see development from this wide receiver corps. If not, Kansas City’s offense could become stressed when it matters most.
The Chiefs defensive line had an extremely difficult matchup on their hands. However, this group failed to meet the intensity that the Browns showed throughout most of the day. Resetting the line of scrimmage was incapable of happening for Kansas City. To boot, this group was left confused about where the ball was going before it was too late. Misdirection runs and play action pass attempts gave the Browns playmakers more space than there should have been. They will get another stiff test next week in Baltimore.
- Mahomes continues to break records among NFL quarterbacks. On Sunday, he surpassed two more greats in certain categories. He passed Dan Marino (116) for most passing touchdowns through a player’s first 50 NFL starts. Mahomes now sits at 117. The Texas Tech product also passed Kurt Warner (14,372) for most passing yards through a player’s first 50 NFL starts. Mahomes now has 14,489. He reset both of these marks in just 47 games played.
- Kansas City’s comeback victory from this 12 point deficit that they faced is the largest during the regular season in the Mahomes Era. Only the Wild Card win over Houston in January 2020 was larger, overall.
- Coach Reid is now just five wins away from passing Curly Lambeau for fifth most on the NFL’s All-Time Wins List among head coaches.
- The Browns are now 0-16-1 in their last 17 Week 1 games following Sunday’s loss
Be on the lookout for more FPC Chiefs articles throughout this 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.
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