Primetime NFL games involving your team are the best. You get all day to relax, make fun of all the stupid coaching decisions in the other games, run some errands, do some yard work, and then settle in your pre-indented couch spot you don’t let the kids sit in to watch your boys do battle.
Primetime NFL games your team pisses away are the worst.
The Chiefs lost on Sunday Night Football last night the only way the Chiefs can lose a game: a gut-wrenching, end-of-the-game kick in the nuts. The Chiefs dominated the score for a little over three quarters, but somehow never really felt like they were in control.
The Baltimore Ravens deployed the 1990s college football running game against the Chiefs front 7 to which the Chiefs had no answers.
Getting bulldozed by another team’s 4th and 5th string running backs and a quarterback would seem to be near impossible for a defense that’s spent most of its resources on stopping running attacks just like that one, but here we are. They didn’t, at all, and the video game-like yards per run they allowed should be embarrassing for even the least self-aware.
The analytics nerds will tell you running backs and running games don’t matter. They’ll tell you time of possession doesn’t matter. They’re wrong. Everything matters. Team sports are games of weaknesses just as much as they are of strengths. Your team’s weakness can’t deviate too far from average or else the weakness can be exposed too much that no amount of strength can overcome – at least not every time.
A run defense that devoid of toughness and tackling as the Chiefs displayed last night will make every game a nail biter. Because of Patrick Mahomes the Chiefs will still win more games than they’ll lose by season’s end but creating scenarios in which the team’s weaknesses force Mahomes to be great every game, is not a recipe for success.
The Chiefs weakness on defense stopping the run is matched by the Chiefs weakness on offense of being able to run. Running backs do matter – a running game isn’t solely predicated on an offensive line’s ability to create running lanes – a running back must have the juice and pure speed to find holes where they aren’t, and outrun backside safeties to the edge when there’s nothing but green space in front of them.
That’s what happened on this play from last night that’s indicative of the running game the Chiefs are deploying with Clyde Edwards-Helaire:
Oh sorry, wrong video. It’s this one.
Edwards-Helaire just doesn’t appear to have the type of speed necessary to be even an average back in the NFL. Running lanes quickly disappear, defenders constantly outrun him to an angle, and there’s nary a threat of a long gain when he has the ball in his hands. For an offense built on speed and creating chunk plays, Edwards-Helaire is the big-sister hand-me-down horse trailer toy your toddler son doesn’t want to play with among the race cars, jets, and trains.
Late last season the Chiefs went away from their jet sweep game, using the speed of Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman to get to the edges on defense to hit big plays. It would make sense for them to reincorporate some of those concepts, especially now if opponents deploy the same strategy the Ravens did last night doubling Hill wherever he went down the field. Bad running attacks matter and the Chiefs need to try and find a way to get more out of theirs.
No matter what the Chiefs do moving forward it’s obvious the weaknesses are drastic, and they need to be fixed. It’s hard to do what the Chiefs have done the last three seasons, playing all the extra games they’ve played, and still continue to win primetime games on the road.
But without some soul-searching after allowing 251 yards on the ground to Lamar Jackson and a collection of street free-agent running backs, it’s tough to see how every game won’t be dependent on Mahomes’ greatness in order for the Chiefs to win.
That being said: We’re on to the Chargers.