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It was not a pretty win for the Kansas City Chiefs in Week 17. Kansas City’s offense and defense both had their fair share of struggles in this one. Overall, it was a contest that same plenty of momentum swings, allowing plenty of names to stand out in the spotlight. Despite the struggles, Kansas City has a bit of time left to figure some things out entering the playoffs. Are there too many items to sort out, though? How vulnerable are the Chiefs as a top Super Bowl contender? It may just depend on the opponent for that given week, as it did this time against the Denver Broncos.
Each and every week, we will be listing players, position groups or coaches that improved or hurt their respective stock. Who saw their stock rise or fall in Week 17 for the Kansas City Chiefs? Let’s kick it off.
So often, we say that player x is having a career-best season. It happens so much, that it almost waters down the greatness of that player to an overexaggerated extent. But for Chris Jones, the 2022 campaign has truly been one of his best seasons on the Kansas City defense. That is saying something, obviously, given his past production in previous seasons. Jones continues to fire off the line of scrimmage with a wicked first step, eating up the opponent’s leverage almost instantly. He has been able to chase down quarterbacks and running backs from wider angles than we are used to seeing from him.
Against Denver, Jones finished with three tackles, one sack and one quarterback hit. He continues to add impactful pressure when the Chiefs need it most, to boot. According to Chiefs reporter Matt McMullen, Jones now has 11 sacks in his last 11 games. His 13 sacks on the season place him at fifth-most in 2022. That is just 2.5 sacks shy of his single-season career high. Finally, this is the second season in his career in which he has notched a double-digit sack total.
The Rest Of The Chiefs Pass Rush
We had to single out Jones, because he has been on an absolute tear, playing as good as any NFL defensive tackle right now. Fortunately for the Chiefs, the rest of the pass rush continues to produce at a fair rate. Outside of Jones’ sack and quarterback hit, Kansas City registered three more sacks and seven more quarterback hits against the Broncos. Other pressures resulted in occasional off-target throws, an interception for L’Jarius Sneed and key momentum changes.
George Karlaftis continues to get more and more comfortable as the weeks go on. He totaled a sack and a quarterback hit on Sunday. Meanwhile, Khalen Saunders tallied a key sack late, forcing the Broncos into a dire down and distance situation. As much as we continue to say it, it is simply remarkable how smooth Saunders can move for his size. Lastly, names like Carlos Dunlap, Frank Clark and Mike Danna continue to provide incredible instincts as pass rushers, or a rare motor late in games.
Rookie cornerback Trent McDuffie was making necessary stops all over the field on Sunday. In coverage, he displayed a unique nose for the football, with precise timing at the catch point. McDuffie was also able to make plenty of tough tackles in space, preventing additional yards for Denver after the catch. His sense of body positioning in coverage, footwork at the line of scrimmage and change of direction skills cannot be understated when he is covering an opponent one-on-one.
As good as McDuffie was in coverage, he made a pivotal play while the Broncos were deep in Chiefs territory. On a patented Steve Spagnuolo defensive back blitz, McDuffie sliced through Denver’s blocking unit. He went high around the shoulders of Russell Wilson just as the Denver passer was getting ready to release the ball. As a result of his swift chop on the quarterback, Wilson fumbled, and Kansas City took over. This prevented the Broncos from taking a possible lead entering halftime.
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If opposing defenses have shown us anything over the last month or so, it is that you cannot fully account for what Jerick McKinnon can do. Simply put, the veteran running back has become a dangerous problem for defenses. He can offer speed or toughness in the run game. His pass protection in the backfield against incoming blitzers is astounding, given his somewhat smaller size. Furthermore, McKinnon can do just about anything as a pass catcher. His soft hands, route running and ability to make defenders miss after the catch are a unique mix to possess.
Against the Broncos, McKinnon did most of his damage in the passing game. He totaled five catches, 52 receiving yards, 10.4 yards per reception and two receiving touchdowns. According to the aforementioned McMullen, McKinnon leads all running backs in touchdown catches this season (eight). No other running back has more than five touchdown catches this season. Outside of running backs, only six(!!) NFL pass catchers have more receiving touchdowns than McKinnon this season. That includes Davante Adams, Travis Kelce, AJ Brown, Stefon Diggs, Amari Cooper and George Kittle. That is it!
There is no denying that there were some issues with the player’s execution on Sunday. Patrick Mahomes looked off at times in the second half, from a mechanical standpoint. Some pass catchers were not on the same page with the quarterback as well. You could see certain moments in which Kansas City’s skill players got frustrated, when not being able to create constant separation.
However, there were some coaching issues from a game management perspective. We saw Andy Reid struggle with some issues that have haunted him in the past. A lack of balance and a lack of trust in the running game kept giving Denver too many chances late. In essence, you want to put everything on the shoulders of Mahomes. There comes a time when you need to operate the offense in a simpler form, however. Being willing to get cheap yards and easy first downs was nonexistent from Kansas City. Overall, Reid unnecessarily continued to attack the strength of the stingy Denver defense. We know that he can design offenses better than anyone. Though, there comes a time where the Chiefs must simplify the attack to keep things on track.
Kansas City Special Teams Units
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There could be multiple reasons as to why the Chiefs may not win or reach the Super Bowl. However, one of the biggest concerns is the Kansas City special teams units. Those items may seem minimal in the grand scheme of winning NFL games. Yet, the Chiefs are seemingly struggling in nearly every phase on special teams. At this point, it is not a matter of when will the special teams improve, rather than if they can improve.
Against the Broncos, we saw the punt return game gift Denver easy points deep in Kansas City territory. A Kadarius Toney fumble gave considerable momentum to the Broncos. Truly, the punt return game has done little damage this season, while turning the ball over too much.
Elsewhere, the kicking game continues to look ugly. We have seen Harrison Butker endure a recent slump. It was actually other parts of the kicking unit that hindered Butker’s performance on Sunday, though. A botched snap on an extra point led to punter/holder Tommy Townsend having to improvise and run on a broken play, preventing Kansas City from adding another point. The Chiefs also let Denver’s defensive line through with ease on another field goal attempt, as they blocked another one of Butker’s kick attempts.
Be on the lookout for more FPC Chiefs articles and analysis 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.