Analysis

The Chiefs Have A Lot To Build Off Of

Here are your reasons for optimism as the Chiefs look to build off the success of the 2021 season heading into this offseason.

Just three days removed from the disappointing loss to the Cincinnati Bengals in the AFC Championship and the abrupt end of the 2021 season, it’s time to start looking forward towards 2022. The Chiefs have a lot they should be proud of from this season and plenty to build off to make a run at Super Bowl LVII.

Kansas City Weathered The Storm Of A Rocky Start To The 2021 Season

Nobody could have predicted the Chiefs got off to such a lackluster start to their 2021 campaign, dropping four of their first seven games and looking rather unimpressive even during their wins. It would’ve been easy for this Kansas City team to pack it in and concede the season after starting 3-4 and having back-to-back trips to the Super Bowl in their last two previous seasons to hang their hat on. Instead, we saw the Chiefs claw their way back into contention and into first place of the AFC West, winning nine of their last ten games to close out the regular season.

Kansas City displayed a willingness and drive to improve themselves throughout the season to once again become a legitimate threat in the AFC, in a season where it looked doubtful at times. Starting the season under .500 through the first seven weeks of the season and hosting a fourth straight AFC Championship is no small feat and should not be looked upon as such.

Progression Of Patrick Mahomes

2021 was the first time we’ve seen a slump from Mahomes that lasted any longer than a week, and for a first in his young career, we saw Patrick Mahomes struggle.

We watched teams all season utilize a lot of double high safety sets (Cover 2) against the Chiefs to try and take away the big-play ability of Kansas City’s offense and force them into playing small ball. For weeks Mahomes and company refused to adjust and give up their high-flying explosive offense for something more rudimentary and, as a result, repeatedly struggled to put up points, scoring 20 or fewer points four times through Weeks Seven through 11.

As the season progressed, Mahomes learned to take what defenses were willing to give him, not relying on the deep ball and quick-strike scores to succeed, and the Chiefs’ offense greatly benefited as a result.

2021 may have been Patrick’s ugliest season yet (it was still fantastic), but it was also the most paramount season yet for Mahomes. Patrick not only learned how to play small ball, but he learned the ability to be able to adjust and conform his play based on what defenses are showing him.

Offense Is More Efficient Through Running Back By Committee Approach

The Chiefs selected Clyde Edwards-Helaire with their first-round pick in the 2020 NFL Draft and have been waiting on him to produce like such for two seasons now, but it looks as if the Chiefs may have learned a valuable lesson this season when it comes to the running back room.

In Week five, Helaire sustained an injury that would sideline him for well over a month. In his absence, we watched Darrel Williams thrive as the Chiefs’ primary back, being just as productive, if not more productive, than Helaire. Kansas City utilized Jerick McKinnon heavily with Helaire as a side dish out of the backfield in the playoffs, creating mismatches on the field while keeping both backs fresh.

Using the running back by committee approach based on who has the hot hand served the Chiefs well all three games of the postseason and looks to be the best bet for the direction the Chiefs will take with the running back room in 2022.

Learning Pass Rush Is Key

The Chiefs’ defense was up and down all season, starting abysmal, played great for two months, and then fell back to below average in the playoffs. The reason for Kansas City’s rise in play in the middle of the season? Easy answer — the acquisition of pass rusher Melvin Ingram.

Acquiring Ingram from the Steelers allowed Kansas City to move Chris Jones back in his dominant spot at defensive tackle, where he once again was able to thrive as a force to be reckoned with up the middle. With a defensive line consisting of a healthy Frank Clark, Chris Jones, and Melvin Ingram, the Chiefs saw their pass rush not only strengthen, but the play of their secondary and entire defense vastly improve.

Unfortunately, we saw the Chiefs pass rush fade again in the playoffs, as Kansas City’s defense reverted to being sub-par. In the AFC Championship, the Chiefs managed only one sack on Joe Burrow the entire game, a week after Burrow was sacked NINE times by the Tennessee Titans. Most of the season’s lack of a pass rush greatly hindered the ceiling of Kansas City’s defense and was a crucial part in the Chiefs finding themselves unable to return to the Super Bowl.

2021 Rookie Class

Brett Veach and Andy Reid hit a home-run with the 2021 draft class, with Nick Bolton, Creed Humphrey, and Trey Smith all contributing and being vital factors in the team’s success this season. Humphrey and Smith won the starting jobs at center and right guard early in training camp, carrying the load all the way through the season, each becoming stalwarts at their positions and doing an excellent job of providing Mahomes with stellar pass protection.

Bolton didn’t receive quite as much playing time as his fellow two draft mates, but he certainly took advantage of the playing time he did see. As a rookie with limited playing time, Bolton was able to rack up (22) tackles for loss and no-gain, good for the most in the entire NFL. — Bolton gives the Chiefs a presence in the middle of the field they’ve been lacking since the departure of Derrick Johnson.

Summary

Although this season didn’t end the way any of us had hoped for, the Chiefs have much to be proud of and much to learn from looking back on this year.

Sometimes the only way to reach the mountain’s peak again is to re-learn and re-evaluate the process of the climb as the conditions are never the same, and that’s what the Chiefs will look to do as they learn from the 2021 season and turn the corner to 2022.


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