It wasn’t surprising to see the Kansas City Chiefs offense find success Saturday. Patrick Mahomes and Co. finished No. 1 in points scored and yards gained during the 2018 regular season.
What was shocking in the Chiefs’ 31-13 win over the Indianapolis Colts was the lockdown performance of a Kansas City defense that never looked anywhere near that good during a 12-4 season.
Only the Cincinnati Bengals allowed more yards this year than the Chiefs, who gave up an average of 405.5 per game. It was the-10th most a team has ever allowed over the course of a season. On Saturday, though, the Colts managed just 263 yards. Much of that yardage came on a pair of drives to end each half against a Chiefs defense that was playing soft to prevent a big play.
Kansas City didn’t allow a single third down to be converted all game, and didn’t even give up a first down at all until less than two minutes were left in the second quarter. It was a shockingly dominant performance by a defense that was supposed to be the Achilles heel for the AFC’s top-seeded team.
Now Arrowhead Stadium is set to be the stage for an AFC Championship between the Chiefs and the winner of a Sunday matchup between the Los Angeles Chargers and New England Patriots. And if the Kansas City defense plays the same way it did Saturday, the Chiefs will be a shoo-in for a trip to the Super Bowl.
The Chiefs defense hasn’t been good at stopping anybody
There were several bright spots on the Chiefs defense, despite their rough year. Chris Jones was an unblockable nightmare in the middle of the defensive line, Dee Ford had a breakout year as an edge rusher, and Justin Houston started looking like his former self late in the season.
The team still allowed 5.0 yards per rushing attempt, and the second-most passing yards in the NFL. Every game essentially needed to be a shootout win for the Chiefs — which is at least easier to do when Mahomes is your quarterback — because the defense couldn’t do much to slow opponents down.
There was hope that when five-time Pro Bowl safety Eric Berry returned from a nagging heel injury that it’d give the defense enough of a boost to slow teams down in the playoffs. But Berry only returned in a limited role late in the year, and suffered another setback. He sat out the game Saturday, but that didn’t matter.
Colts receiver Dontrelle Inman was the only offensive player for Indianapolis who managed to do much of anything until it was too late. He finished with 55 receiving yards and needed to make several contested catches to even get to that total.
T.Y. Hilton narrowly topped him for the team lead with 60 receiving yards, and caught one touchdown. But that too was tight coverage, and forced Hilton to make a Willie Mays-esque catch to get the Colts some points.
There wasn’t much reason to expect the Chiefs secondary to suddenly lock down every Colts receiver. But Kansas City’s ability to force negative plays Saturday wasn’t as shocking.
If there’s one thing the Chiefs defense does well, it creates some havoc
The least surprising thing about the defensive performance of the Chiefs was the fact that Andrew Luck was sacked three times and fumbled once.
For as bad as Kansas City was on defense in 2018, it finished with 27 takeaways and a league-leading 52 sacks. No team allowed fewer sacks than the Colts in 2018, and the Texans couldn’t bring down Luck once a week ago.
Even if the Chiefs defense reverts to the mean in the AFC Championship, the pass rushing trio of Houston, Ford, and Chris Jones will still probably create problems. Earlier this season, Tom Brady was sacked twice when the Patriots faced the Chiefs, and Philip Rivers was sacked five times in Kansas City’s last meeting with the Chargers.
The time of possession win helped the defense
Mahomes and the Kansas City offense has had better days than Saturday. Still, possessing the ball for about 40 of the game’s 60 minutes made life easier on the Chiefs defense.
The defense did itself favors by forcing Indianapolis to punt with stops on every third down, but the Chiefs also ran the ball down the Colts’ throat. Damian Williams had 129 rushing yards on 25 attempts, and the Chiefs finished with 29 first downs.
Mahomes still passed the ball 41 times against the Colts, but if the Chiefs run the ball as effectively as they did Saturday, they can control the pace and give some extra help to the defense.
The Chiefs were one of the best teams in the NFL all year. Then they opened the playoff looking like an even better version of the team that dominated most of their opponents. Good luck beating the Chiefs if they play like that next week in the AFC Championship.