Sam Mellinger

This headline about the Chiefs should be the exact same headline as last week

They talked all week about attitude. Toughness. Pride. They needed more of these things, the company line went, and so they would get more of these things. Stopping the run is about effort. They would give effort.

Nothing motivates quite like the fear of failure, and there is no more motivated athlete than a shamed one. So it figured that the Chiefs would — lets not get crazy here — not be embarrassed against the run again Sunday.

Ahem.

The Houston Texans went on drives of 10, 11, 12 and nine plays in the second half, helping limit Patrick Mahomes and the Chiefs to just 16 plays total after halftime. The postgame interviews felt less like analysis and more like the exact same conversations that have happened for a month now.

After the Baltimore Ravens went for 203 rushing yards: We have to be better.

After the Detroit Lions went for 186: We have to execute.

After the Indianapolis Colts dropped 180: Sometimes it’s just about lining up and beating your man.

It’s all the same words, which in some ways is exactly how it should be, because it’s all the same problems. Every. Single. Week.

After the Texans finished with 192:

“A run play against a defense is mano a mano,” Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said. “That’s what it is. Line up, knock you off the ball, somebody’s coming at you. As a defensive guy or players, you have a lot of pride and not wanting to lose in that particular part of the game, and we need to get better at it.”

It made logical sense that a defense that stunk out loud a year ago and then went through an almost complete transformation in personnel and coaching would need some time to get better.

In the Chiefs’ first two games or so, they generally showed signs of a raw group with potential to improve. They held the Jacksonville Jaguars to 13 points before the outcome was all but decided, for instance. They shut out the Oakland Raiders over the last three quarters, limiting what is now a 3-2 team to its season-low point total.

Since then, bupkis.

A group that should be getting better instead got way worse and is now stuck there.

“It’s getting in there, yeah, to the thick of things,” Spagnuolo said of the schedule. “It is.”

Chiefs have plenty of scapegoats

Sometimes it’s tough to tell what’s serious and what’s just a fan blowing off steam, but everyone has a favorite scapegoat:

  • Spagnuolo, the guy who was supposed to upgrade from Bob Sutton, coordinator fired a year too late.
  • Frank Clark, the guy who cost the Chiefs a first- and second-round draft pick as well as $63 million in guarantees.
  • The linebackers, none of whom are making much of a difference.
  • Brett Veach, the general manager who signed, drafted and traded for Clark and those linebackers.
  • Andy Reid, the single most powerful and influential man in the Chiefs’ football operations.
  • Even the offense, because let’s be real here, we don’t expect our dog to cook us dinner, so as much as the defense has struggled the offense has managed just 37 points and four turnovers on 18 possessions the last two weeks.

Here’s some bad news: Spagnuolo and Reid and others keep talking about how the players are showing strong effort, which is nice, but the questions have never been about effort.

Worse news: None of the scapegoats listed above can account for the full scope of the Chiefs’ current problems.

Even worse news: All of it has played a part in where the Chiefs find themselves now, which means we’ve essentially hit on the entire roster except special teams, and that’s only because the Internet has only so much space.

In summation, the Chiefs keep making the same mistakes, then analyzing them with the same words, and then making the same mistakes again. The process repeats, often with Patrick Mahomes’ ankle getting hurt again.

Reid remains the right guy

Perspective is important. The Chiefs remain 4-2 and have a road win over the only other team in the division with a winning record. This franchise was an abject disaster when Andy Reid arrived, and only the New England Patriots and Seattle Seahawks have won more games since.

Reid has pulled the Chiefs into the playoffs from a 1-5 start that included Jamaal Charles’ ACL tear in 2015 and a hide-your-kids run of failure in the middle of the 2017 season.

October is a relatively safe time to slump, and if you’re looking to buy rebound stock you could do worse than the team with the 24-year-old reigning MVP at quarterback, a proven head coach and a roster that — someone please tell Buddy Bell to pipe down — should get healthier.

They’ve earned some trust, is the point.

The roster is talented enough and the history strong enough and the calendar early enough that the freakout level should be at concern, not panic.

But, here’s a thought: What happens if they lose on Thursday to the Broncos?

The Broncos have an absolutely adorable affection for immobile quarterbacks who take snaps under center, but they also have a tough pass rush, one of the league’s most efficient running backs and a two-game win streak that includes nearly 300 yards rushing and just 13 points surrendered.

By circumstance and timing, then, playing a division rival on the road with three days to prepare and a quarterback whose ankle keeps getting landed on by unblocked pass rushers becomes disproportionately important.

Regardless of what happens on Thursday, the Chiefs will have time to fix their flaws.

But without a win on Thursday that time will be filled with (understandable) panic from many fans, and (more importantly) a frustration growing into anger in some parts of the locker room.



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Sam Mellinger is a sports columnist for the Kansas City Star, where he’s worked since 2000. He has won numerous national and regional awards for coverage of the Chiefs, Royals, colleges, and other sports both national and local.
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