The loss added to Patrick Mahomes’ record in Week 10 should come with an asterisk. In his return from a knee injury that kept him out for two games, Mahomes gave the Chiefs three touchdowns, no interceptions, and 446 passing yards. Few quarterbacks have ever put up those kinds of numbers in a loss. Mahomes had no business picking up the seventh loss of his career.
It’s a good example of why quarterback wins are a poor statistic, but the Chiefs have bigger problems.
After focusing on defensive improvement all offseason, Kansas City is still a team that needs heroic performances from Mahomes to win. Sometimes even that’s not enough. The defense is making it hard to trust them as a contender.
The Chiefs defense still can’t stop the run
Kansas City had 530 yards of total offense to the Titans’ 371 yards. On paper, it wasn’t the worst performance by the Chiefs defense, which has kept opponents under 400 yards in four straight games.
The issue is that the Titans picked up 225 yards on the ground on only 26 carries.
On the year, the Chiefs are allowing 4.8 yards per carry and 139.6 rushing yards per game. Those numbers aren’t much different than the Kansas City defense in 2018 when it gave up an average of 132.1 rushing yards per game and 5.0 yards per carry.
That’s a harrowing statistic for a team that spent plenty of resources trying to solve that problem. It drafted safety Juan Thornhill and defensive tackle Khalen Saunders on the second day of the 2019 NFL Draft, and signed safety Tyrann Mathieu and defensive end Alex Okafor in free agency.
The biggest swap was trading Dee Ford to the 49ers and replacing him by trading with the Seahawks for Frank Clark. The Chiefs also traded for defensive end Emmanuel Ogbah and linebacker Darron Lee.
After all those changes on defense, the blueprint for beating the Chiefs is still exactly the same.
Predictably, the Titans handed the ball off to Derrick Henry and got 188 yards and two touchdowns out of it. Quarterback Ryan Tannehill had to come to the rescue with a game-winning drive, but finished the game with just 19 attempts and 181 passing yards. The Titans didn’t pass much, because they didn’t need to.
The Chiefs’ run defense is still a glaring weakness and that could be their demise in the postseason again. A year ago in the AFC Championship, the Patriots ran for 176 yards and scored four rushing touchdowns in a 37-31 win that eliminated Kansas City. There’s not much reason to believe a similar performance could boot the Chiefs in January a second time.
Patrick Mahomes is too good for these kind of losses
Between 2014 and 2016, Drew Brees led the NFL in passing three straight years and couldn’t lead the Saints to a winning record once. That team kept getting dragged down by one of the worst defenses in the NFL.
The Chiefs aren’t quite that team. Kansas City was 12-4 in 2018 and is leading the AFC West again in 2019. The biggest reason for that is easily Mahomes, though.
He consistently pulls off the impossible to give the Chiefs a chance to win — like when he gave Kansas City a 29-20 lead against the Titans by connecting with Mecole Hardman via jump pass.
It wasn’t a perfect performance. Mahomes missed a few throws downfield and put some balls in jeopardy of an interception across the middle of the field. But he made up for that with his usual wizardry.
Mahomes connected with Tyreek Hill 11 times for 156 yards, including this touchdown with a perfect amount of loft for the speedy receiver to run underneath.
Mahomes has 15 touchdowns and just one interception on the year. Even after missing two games, he’s among the top candidates to be named the NFL MVP for the 2019 season. His play should make the Chiefs a Super Bowl favorite, but unfortunately, the Chiefs defense still makes that look like an uphill battle.