Midseason Report Card: Chiefs Turn in High Marks Just Before the Midway Point
Tucker D. Franklin
As we near the midway point of the season, it's time for the Kansas City Chiefs to receive their midterm report card.
When I was in school, I can recall getting my midterm report card a little bit before the midway point in the semester. So I thought I'd carry on the tradition and give the Chiefs there's before we officially hit the midway point of their season.
Arrowhead Report's Mark Van Sickle joined me on today's Roughing the Kicker podcast to hand out grades with me. We covered seven different "subjects" for the Chiefs encompassing all areas of the game.
Here is how I think the Chiefs have done through the first seven games of the season.
Offensive Line: C
The offensive line hasn't had a great start to the season but it also hasn't been as bad as it could be. The unit has faced lots of injuries and are currently without starters Mitchell Schwartz, Kelechi Osemele and Austin Reiter. Despite the absences, backups Mike Remmers, Nick Allegretti and Daniel Kilgore have stepped up and the offensive line is trending upwards. Pass protection is still an issue but the run blocking has greatly improved.
Defensive Line: B-
This is one of, if not the, deepest position groups on the team. We saw a poor performance against the Las Vegas Raiders but the group is beginning to rebound as they head into the weaker part of the schedule. Injuries to Alex Okafor, Taco Charlton, Khalen Saunders and Chris Jones have hindered the line at times but with Saunders back from injury and Derrick Nnadi and Mike Pennel playing well, they earn a B- but are close to dropping to a C+. The run stopping ability is still suspect at times although it has improved.
Passing Game: B
We haven't seen the passing game in all it's glory this season and haven't seen the usual creativity displayed by Eric Beienemy and Andy Reid. Causing that could be the lack of a preseason program and the fact the Chiefs haven't had to use those types of plays yet. Despite that, Kansas City has still make passing plays when it mattered and one of the few things bringing this grade down for me is the inconsistency of the receiving core when it comes to dropped balls. Travis Kelce is having one of the best years of his career while the Chiefs have struggled to take the tops off defenses because of schemes. In all, with the defenses playing the Chiefs how they are, I feel like it's unfair to judge this air-raid attack but as of now, I'm left wanting more.
Running Game: C+
While I recognize the relationship between the rushing attack and the offensive line is crucial, I think the running backs in general have played well. It's been a roller coaster year so far for the rushing game as Clyde Edwards-Helaire started the year off strong but struggled to keep up his Week 1 clip. The Chiefs were able to find their way in Buffalo and continue the trend in Denver with a solid running game. The addition of Le'Veon Bell naturally increases the value of the backfield and we'll see how they finish the year. With the current offensive line configuration benefitting the run, I'd expect to see an improvement in this category.
At one point in the season, this grade was probably an F — minus — but in the recent weeks, the linebacker play has been suitable. While there haven't been any superstar-type performances, Anthony Hitchens and Damien Wilson are both starting to play up to their contracts and have given the Chiefs some good games in the past two weeks. Coupled with increased playing time for Wille Gay Jr., the Chiefs linebackers are trending in the right direction after a poor start to the year. Linebackers continue to miss tackles on the run stopping side of things which is still incredibly frustrating.
Coming into the season, the secondary was probably my biggest worry. With Bashaud Breeland's four-game suspension and inexperience at the corner positions, Week 5 couldn't come quick enough. When Charvarius Ward broke his hand, the rise of L'Jarius Sneed and Rashad Fenton helped the Chiefs weather the storm until Sneed landed on the injured reserve with a broken clavicle. While Kansas City is as close to full strength as they've been all season, the corners seem to be doing just fine other than some weak penalties attributed to them in the past couple of weeks.
The safety play again this year has been superb. Juan Thornhill has returned from his ACL injury and looks to be recovering nicely and getting back to his normal self. Tyrann Mathieu continues to play at a high level and lead the defense. And, yes, Dan Sorensen has put together a couple of good games. Despite coverage breakdowns in the game against the Raiders — which defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo took full blame for — the secondary has been Kansas City's strongest group. The Chiefs pass defense is rated the fifth best according to Football Outsiders DVOA.
Special Teams: D
It's been a rough go for the Chiefs' special team unit this year. Coverage on kickoffs and punts has not looked phenomenal. Kansas City allowed a kickoff return for a touchdown in Week 3's game against the Baltimore Ravens and have allowed other long punt returns in the weeks since. Mecole Hardman has looked skiddish at times when it comes to fielding punts and Harrison Butker has not been at his top form. The Chiefs' kicker has missed five extra points in seven weeks. Despite this, Kansas City was able to have some breakthroughs against the Broncos and Byron Pringle might add the spark on special teams they've been looking for.
There really isn't a ton of surface level things to be upset with when it comes to the Kansas City Chiefs. Despite the Pittsburgh Steelers undefeated record, I still think the Chiefs are the favorites out of the AFC and probably still favorites to win the Super Bowl. Heading into Week 7, Kansas City is 6-1 and there isn't much to complain about when considering this season's circumstances. Through seven games, the Chiefs rank second in overall DVOA, first in offensive DVOA and 13th in defensive DVOA. I'm excited to see how the they address these areas moving forward to close out the season and we could be looking at another deep playoff run in Kansas City.
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