The Kansas City Chiefs' defense put up its second decent defensive performance in three games on Monday night, holding the New York Giants to 300 total yards of offense. While that isn't an insane feat, a few big plays make that figure even higher than it needed to be. New York scored just 17 points on the night, including a lone touchdown in the second half.
It's been a long journey for Steve Spagnuolo's defense, a unit that's ranked at or near the bottom of the NFL in just about every statistical category this season. Against two struggling NFC East offensive attacks — Washington and New York — things have looked better, though. Unfortunately, a blowout loss to the Tennessee Titans was sandwiched in between those contests. Things looked bleak at times during Monday's outing, but defensive lineman Chris Jones said he and his teammates never got down on themselves.
"I don’t feel like it was a low moment," Jones said. "I felt like it was going to be a challenge the whole game. We knew that going into this week. It's a marathon in this league. No win is given to you, so you have to take that approach. It's a battle. Every drive and every play, you have to execute at a high level to beat the best out of your opponent.”
The Chiefs have quite possibly used the word "execute" more this year than in any season before. It's largely because most of the core from 2019's championship-winning defense remains, yet players aren't replicating anything close to that level of success. Whether it be a combination of injuries, a lack of preparation or even miscommunications, things haven't gone smoothly whatsoever. Jones knows that, and he also knows that the easiest path to continuous improvement is the Chiefs simply getting out of their own way.
“We have to stop beating ourselves," Jones said. "I had two penalties myself, a holding and an offsides. Those are mental mistakes that I can correct. I think if we correct those mental mistakes, on our behalf, we can eliminate the big plays and big drives that teams are able to push downfield on us. Those are self-inflicted wounds. We can fix that. Those are fixable things.”
Eight games into a 17-game NFL season, teams that haven't found their identity are starting to run out of time to do so. Cleaning things up is a valid and tangible goal to set early in the season but as trends get more and more rooted in consistency, they embed themselves in teams' DNA. For almost half of a full slate of games, the Chiefs haven't been able to stop tripping over themselves.
That's a problem, but they showed flashes of being able to solve it against the Giants. An upcoming Sunday showdown with the Green Bay Packers will be a much more accurate test. In what is one of the most grueling races in all of sports, Jones and company are treating it as a marathon rather than a sprint. At this point, that's the only way to look at it.