NFL Playoffs 2022: Kansas City Chiefs’ 3 issues that scare you
The Kansas City Chiefs closed out their regular season with a convincing 31-13 victory over their longtime division rival, the Las Vegas Raiders. The Chiefs finished their season with a 14-3 record, finishing in the No. 1 in the playoffs and a first-round bye.
The Chiefs played one of their most complete games against the Raiders and seemed to finally be clicking in all three phases of the game. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes looked comfortable on offense, taking field goals and punts when there were none. The offense showed a balance between the run and the pass, with 26 rushing attempts and 26 passing attempts. 20 of those rushing attempts went to running backs, and three of the four touchdowns scored were rushing touchdowns. Eight players have caught passes, with tight end Travis Kelce leading the way with six.
The most important status of the game is that the offense did not change at all.
The Chiefs defense played very well. In 70 defensive snaps, they totaled 29 pressures. Those pressured included 6.0 sacks, seven quarterback hits and 16 hurries — according to Pro Football Focus. Most encouragingly, five of the sacks came from defensive linemen. The Chiefs held the Raiders to just 279 yards of total offense and forced two turnovers in the process.
Special teams turned in a good day, with punter Tommy Townsend continuing his Pro Bowl season, landing three of his four punts inside the 20-yard line. Quarterback Harrison Butker’s inconsistent season ended with him connecting on all four of his extra points and his only 44-yard field goal attempt. The Chiefs had just one punt return, but good news there too: no muffs or fumbles.
The Raiders aren’t a playoff team and they’ve had their share of struggles this year, but if the Chiefs can play close to a complete game — like they did against the Raiders — they have a very good chance to returned to the Super Bowl. The concerns that arise are that we haven’t seen the Chiefs play complete games consistently this season – and because of those inconsistencies, the Chiefs could lose quickly in the playoffs.
Let’s take a look at three things that could lead the Chiefs to an early playoff exit:
1. Lack of football management
Mahomes is arguably the best quarterback in the NFL and up for his second MVP award. However, bosses are difficult to defeat when they have a more balanced attack in their attack. Of the 14 games the leaders won this season, seven of them were by 10 points or more.
Beating a two-score team in the NFL should be considered a good win. When the Chiefs won by 10 or more, the running game was a consistent part of those efforts.
Six of the seven times the Chiefs won by double digits, at least one run had 10 or more carries. Five of the seven times the Chiefs won by double digits, the offense had over 100 yards rushing as a team, excluding runs by Mahomes. In the other 10 games in which the Chiefs went 7-3, all were decided by six points or less.
In seven of those 10 one-score games, the Chiefs (with the exception of Mahomes rushing) didn’t have over 100 yards as a team, and in six of those 10 games, the Chiefs didn’t have a running back with over 10 carries.
When the Chiefs offense is balanced, it keeps opposing defenses unstable. Running backs Isiah Pacheco and Jerick McKinnon need to be a steady part of the Chiefs offense to make a deep playoff run. Their absence as an actual force could lead to a closer game – or even worse, a loss.
2. Circulation defect
The Chiefs finished the season with a negative-3 turnover margin. There is no bigger thing that can cost you a game in the NFL than turnovers. Mom The Dolphins are the only playoff team with a worse turnover margin than the Chiefs – and the Dolphins only made the playoffs because of a loss to the New England Patriots in Week 18.
Turnovers have haunted the Chiefs all year.
Out of 17 games played this season, the Chiefs have five games in which they had one turnover – and seven games where they turned the ball over two or more times. It’s not the norm for a team to turn the ball over as much as the Chiefs have and finish with the record they have.
Turnovers are another reason the Chiefs played so many close games this season. Back-to-back games against the Los Angeles Chargers and Las Vegas Raiders early in the season were the only one-score games the Chiefs played in which they didn’t have a turnover. Mahomes’ late-game excellence helped the Chiefs overcome many of their turnovers, but that’s not what you want to rely on in the playoffs.
Teams can’t constantly turn the ball over and expect to beat good teams. Clean plays by the Chiefs could result in another Super Bowl appearance, while if they continue to lose the turnover battle, the dream could be dashed.
3. Special teams mismatch
Special teams coordinator Dave Toub has a remarkable track record.
2022 is just the second time the Chiefs have finished outside the top 10 in DVOA in the Toub era. Our own Rocky Magana recently wrote about how Toub acknowledged the unit’s struggles this season but remains optimistic about the playoffs.
The main efforts have come in the punt and return game.
Butker suffered a significant ankle injury in the first game of the season and never seemed to fully regain the confidence and stride he had last year. He finished the season 18 of 24 on field goals. Four of Butker’s misses came on punts of 50 yards or more, where he has normally been very reliable. He has also missed five extra points this season.
Before the season started, Toub named rookie receiver Skyy Moore as the starting running back, even though that was something Moore had never done in his college career. The experiment was a total failure, as Moore had trouble with the shots. Moore alone added to the Chiefs’ turnover issues with three missed tackles.
As mentioned above, Butker had a solid Week 18, shooting the ball despite being questionable with back spasms. You can’t leave points on the board in the playoffs, so every shot counts. Wide receiver Kadarius Toney has taken over as the primary punt returner, and despite having a concussion in Week 17 against the Denver Broncos, he should clear that position.
The Chiefs also have Mecole Hardman returning from injury if they need a reliable back there.
The Chiefs are a good football team – their 14-3 record proves it. They have the coaches and players in place to make a deep playoff run and potentially win another Super Bowl.
The Chiefs lost to the Cincinnati Bengals, Indianapolis Colts and Buffalo Bills this year. The Bengals and Colts were three-point losses, and the Chiefs lost to the Bills by four points. The Chiefs had multiple turnovers and a missed field goal in each of those games. Against the Colts and Bills, they also fell short of totaling 100 yards rushing, without double-digit carries for a running back.
If the Chiefs make the same mistakes in the playoffs, an early exit can be expected. But then again, when you have the greatest footballer in the world at centre-back, he might be able to overcome and erase those mistakes.
It’s playoff time – win or go home.