NFL

Kansas City Chiefs: Depth & flexibility key for deposed champions if Mahomes is to recapture Lombardi

By Sports Desk March 01, 2021

Even in the wake of a devastating blowout loss on the biggest stage in football, there remains utmost confidence in the Kansas City Chiefs.

The 31-9 loss to the Tampa Bay Buccaneers in Super Bowl LV has not shaken faith in Patrick Mahomes, Andy Reid and company.

Indeed, you would be hard-pressed to find many doubting their ability to get back to the same stage next season.

Their humbling defeat came as a combination of especially poorly timed bad luck on the injury front and the sheer dominance of a stacked Tampa Bay defense.

Being overwhelmed to that degree is not something the Chiefs have dealt with regularly.

But that does not mean they can ignore the lessons from their failure to repeat as Super Bowl champions.

Kansas City's 2020 campaign was another in which they frequently produced the spectacular, yet their tumble at the final hurdle has left the Chiefs with some obvious holes to address in the offseason.

Offense

The more things change, the more they stay the same.

That certainly was the case for Kansas City's explosive passing offense in 2020, the Chiefs continuing to shred teams through the air amid a backdrop of mostly empty stadiums.

Mahomes led the NFL in passing yards per game with 316.0, well clear of Deshaun Watson (301.4) in second.

Watson's Houston Texans were the only team in the league to produce more passing plays of 20 yards or more (70 to 69) and more touchdown throws of at least 20 yards (16 to 15).

Their efforts through the air were backed up by underrated production on the ground.

The Chiefs ranked 12th in rushing yards per attempt (4.46), but were in the top 10 for rushes of 10 yards or more with 57.

However, just 21 of those came from rookie first-round running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire.

Edwards-Helaire did not quite live up to his billing, averaging only 1.7 yards after contact with a defender per attempt.

Evading defenders and attempted tackles was an area in which he was expected to excel.

Yet the fact the Chiefs still finished fifth in offensive scoring efficiency despite his underwhelming efforts in that regard suggests Kansas City has scope to be even more potent if he makes the leap in his second season.

Defense

Going into Super Bowl week, there was plenty of chatter about Chiefs defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo putting together a gameplan to stop Tom Brady, as he did twice for the New York Giants to help capture the Lombardi with wins over the New England Patriots.

Any plan Spagnuolo had did not bear fruits, with a talented and opportunistic defense failing to slow down a well-balanced Buccaneers' attack.

The fact Kansas City did not succeed in slowing down Tampa Bay is not entirely surprising.

Though they were tied-10th in takeaways with 22 and ranked ninth in opponent scoring efficiency, the Chiefs were often generous to opposing offenses in the regular season.

Kansas City's finished the year 18th in yards per play allowed with 5.61, that average inflated by their vulnerability against the run.

The Chiefs gave up 122.1 yards per game on the ground, putting them 21st in the NFL. Excluding kneeldowns, Kansas City stopped 19 run plays for negative yardage, the fewest in the league.

Reid's team does not appear to put too much emphasis on defending the run, treating giving up yardage on the ground as an occupational hazard of focusing on the pass.

But the flaws of that strategy were laid bare in the Super Bowl as they gave up 145 rushing yards, with Leonard Fournette's 27-yard touchdown scamper in the third quarter the back-breaking play of the game.

Kansas City boasts talent on the defensive front and in the secondary but, for a team with few limitations, it may be prudent for those running the show to focus on minimising the factors that have held the Chiefs back in terms of shutting down the ground game.

Offseason

The elephant that made its presence in the room felt during the Super Bowl was the offensive line, which arguably stands as Kansas City's most pressing need going into the offseason.

Those looking to counter that suggestion will point to the absence of starting tackles Mitchell Schwartz and Eric Fisher against the Bucs and the Chiefs' insistence on sticking with five-man protection, the lack of help provided to the O-Line from running backs and tight ends helping doom them to a heavy defeat as Mahomes was left to try to evade 33 pressures.

There is a case to be made, therefore, that in 2021 a more flexible approach from the coaching staff is the key rather than personnel reinforcements up front.

But the interior of the line was just as much of a problem as the tackles in the Super Bowl and, with center Austin Reiter and guard Kelechi Osemele each set for unrestricted free agency, replacements may need to be found.

And, in a year where the Chiefs are scheduled to be $18million over the salary cap at the most optimistic estimate, those replacements may have to come in the draft rather than free agency, though the return of Laurent Duvernay-Tardif from a year out fighting the pandemic in his native Canada will help fill the void.

Receivers Sammy Watkins and Demarcus Robinson look unlikely to be re-signed, meaning younger weapons to supplement Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce may be on the way.

Linebacker Damien Wilson and strong safety Daniel Sorensen are also free agents, and the events of Super Bowl may lead to the Chiefs letting them go and attempting to find faster replacements who are less exploitable in coverage and whose speed can aid Kansas City's cause in run defense.

Whether it's improving the pass protection or adding more thump against the run, the offseason of one of the NFL's most expansive teams may be defined by them adding players who can restrict the space for their opponents.

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