Entering Sunday’s game the Kansas City Chiefs’ bend but don’t break style defense had led the team to a 7-2 record, despite suffering many critical injuries.
But against the Buccaneers the Chiefs could not overcome the injuries to Marcus Peters and Dee Ford as Kansas City struggled both with the pass rush and pass coverage.
The Chiefs finished the day without six of their starting level players, in Peters, Ford, Josh Mauga, Justin March-Lillard, Allen Bailey and Jaye Howard. Derrick Johnson (hamstring) and Dontari Poe (knee) did play after limited practice during the week, but neither were at full strength.
The one name that will no longer be listed on the injury report is outside linebacker Justin Houston. The pass rusher played in his first game of the 2016 campaign, finishing with two tackles and one for a loss.
Depth is important in the NFL as every team suffers injuries, but it’s how the reserves step up and how the coaches can scheme around the expected deficiencies that make the difference between good and bad teams.
Coordinator Bob Sutton has been one of the best at adjusting his defenses week to week, as well as in game. After the loss, Sutton’s defense is still best in the NFL in the second half, allowing just 6.4 points a game after the half.
On Sunday, the Chiefs were unable to make the necessary adjustments to overcome the injuries, as the Chiefs allowed more points in the second half than in the first for the first time this year. One of the biggest reasons the Bucs maintained success for the whole game was an incredible third down conversion rate.
Tampa Bay broke the spirits of Chiefs’ fans at Arrowhead with 11 third down conversions out of 16 attempts. Just when the crowd would get loud for a potential stop, the Bucs would convert. Tampa Bay punted just twice on the day.
A degree of difficulty could have been expected, as the Bucs offense came into the game boasting the 10th best third-down conversion rate in the NFL, compared to the Chiefs’ defense which sits at 29th best. Still, the Chiefs’ inability to get off the field wore down the defense, limited Kansas City’s offensive opportunities and silenced the Arrowhead faithful.
The Chiefs also struggled on third down against the Panthers, giving up conversions on six of 14 plays.
The Bucs finished with 35 minutes and 18 seconds’ worth of time of possession, compared to Kansas City’s 24 minutes and 42 seconds.
The Chiefs did force a fumble on the opening possession but that would be all Kansas City could muster for the remainder of the game.
With the offense struggling, the number one turnover-forcing team in the NFL could not provide the key late turnover like they did against Carolina the previous week.
The turnover did occur on the opening drive, as Kansas City slowly improves their defense at the start of games. Through 10 weeks, the Chiefs have allowed three touchdowns and one field goal on their first possessions, but zero points in the last four weeks.
Starting strong on defense has been a key under Reid, as he is 107-34 in his career when his team scores first. The fumble was KC’s seventh turnover when defending inside their own 25-yard line.
The defense does deserve credit for keeping the Chiefs in the game, as Tampa Bay finished only 1-5 in the red zone. The Chiefs struggled to break up Jameis Winston passes all game, but the red zone defense proved to be just enough to keep the game close.
The Bucs’ go-to weapon, Mike Evans, was a tough matchup for a young and banged up Chiefs secondary. The 5-foot 11-inch Steven Nelson often marked up with the 6-foot 5-inch Evans who leads the NFL in targets and third down receptions.
Evans finished the game with 105 yards on six catches, while Winston totaled 331 yards and a touchdown on 24 of 39 passing. This is Evans’ third game of 100 or more yards and sixth game of 89 yards or more.
Ramik Wilson led the Chiefs in tackles, followed by Steven Nelson and Derrick Johnson who sat one behind. No player had a standout performance as the Chiefs’ lone sack was a team sack in which Winston gave himself up.
After a phenomenal performance in Carolina that led to AFC Defensive Player of the Week honors, safety Eric Berry was very quiet with just three tackles.
Young linemen Chris Jones and Rakeem Nunez-Roches at times flashed through the line but failed to wrap up when the Chiefs needed a big play.
The inability to wrap up in the run game, the lack of pressure from both sides and failure to stop third down conversions all led to one of the defensive’s worst performances of the year in a season of successes.
The Chiefs live and die by turnovers and one was not enough on Sunday with the offense was struggling as much as it did.
Kansas City will have a week to get healthy and address the pass rush and third-down issues before traveling to Denver.
Kickoff against the 7-3 Broncos on Sunday Night Football is set for 7:30 p.m.
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