The Kansas City Chiefs may still be the best team in football. They probably are.
But it has been fascinating to watch them evolve from the offense that burst on the scene with Patrick Mahomes in 2018, to the present. They have gone from unknowns to historically significant in the most rapid of timeframes, and, as such, created an entire ecosystem in the defensive coaching ranks about how to slow them down.
No matter what you do, they are probably going to roll up 30-plus points on you. And with teams increasingly wanting to sit back in a two or three deep (safety) shell and dare Andy Reid to run the ball, and for Mahomes to throw short passes, it's fair to suggest that this altered approach to stop this offense is here to stay for at least the rest of this season.
Would I rather die from repeated bombs, or bleed slowly for four quarters as the Chiefs dink and dunk and run the ball down the field? Either way, after four quarters, I am probably dead. But maybe we can keep it close and make them earn it.
The Chargers kept the Chiefs bottled up for most of regulation (and still lost), and the Patriots did the same (and still lost). The Raiders managed to shut down the Chiefs offense in the second half to beat them and last weekend, the Broncos defense more than held its own against Mahomes and the passing game (but still got crushed because of special teams and Drew Lock's turnovers).
One thing has become clear -- the Chiefs aren't concerned with style points or shattering the record books or compiling stats. It's just win baby (which, again, didn't work against the Raiders and the ghost of Al Davis a few weeks back). Perhaps the Chiefs needed that setback, after winning so many games in so many ways for so long. Though I will admit, they seem a little less invincible to me now than they did by the middle of last season, and while they are as deep and healthy in the passing game as they have been in a long time (injury to all-world right tackle Mitchell Schwartz aside), the recent transformation of the offense does give me just a hint of pause.
Of course, the defense looks like it is on a continual upswing that began around this time a year ago, and the special teams under master coordinator Dave Taub are second to none, and this formula could remain plenty effective. It does, however, make me go back and rewatch some of that 2018 Chiefs offense and pine over what was and what we may never see again.
Mahomes has been elite this season, again, but not run-away-with-the-MVP-trophy-and-obliterate-every-record-in-sight, elite. He is having another marvelous season; just not arguably the greatest season in the history of the sport. This, again, with the evolution of the team, is fine, but it does make me wonder if we truly appreciated that 2018 campaign enough in realtime. Because I'm not sure that type of perfection is ever coming back.
At this point in the season in 2018, Mahomes was 163/251 for 2,223 yards with 22 touchdowns(!) and five picks. He was averaging over three TDs a game and 317 yards passing. Here are his passing touchdown totals, again, from that season: 4,6,3,1,0,4,4,4,3,2,6,4,2,2,3,2. Yeah, that happened.
This year has been pedestrian by comparison (and, yes, this is an extreme comparison): 3,2,4,2,2,2,1. The Broncos kept him largely under wraps, the Chiefs were not finishing drives with their relative ease. Yes, this is a division opponent with a stout defense that knows them well ... But the Raiders are not anything close to a stout defense, and even they did the job a few weeks ago.
With Le'Veon Bell in the fold, Reid has fortified his depth and explosiveness at running back, which indicates to me he expects to be moving forward taking what the defenses give them and adopting a bit more of a bruising offensive mentality. And with Schwartz out, limiting some of the dropbacks surely makes sense. And Reid is nothing short of an offensive genius. In the long run, it's probably good for the Chiefs that the points are becoming a little harder to come by, on offense at least, but it's more than a little odd to me, at least, to see them stand only eighth in the NFL in offensive points scored per game, and tied with the Browns and Bills for fourth in the league in touchdown passes per game.
In a league of constant adjustments, it will be fascinating to see how that offensive identity continues to morph in the second half of the season.
Two trade targets for the Seahawks
(Editor's note: It looks like Seattle actually took Jason's advice and pounced on trading for one of these top targets just shortly after the publication of this column.)
A week ago in this space, I wrote a column about trade chatter and team needs and had the Seahawks leaping ahead of the Ravens to land Yannick Ngakoue. Well, Baltimore in fact did pounce, and Seattle's deep deficiencies rushing the passer -- or containing him for that matter -- were further exposed by Kyler Murray on Sunday night.
This team is always aggressive and is trying to win it all right now and general manager John Scheider has never shied away from making trades. Yeah, their hands are tied from a cap standpoint, but I could see them taking a flier on a few edge players who wouldn't cost a whole lot in terms of draft capital. The Washington Football Guys have never really given former second-round pick Ryan Anderson a shot to play regularly, but he displayed serious athleticism at Alabama and sources say is available in trade. One of Schneider's close friends and former coworker, Scott McCloughan, drafted Anderson in Washington and the kid has potential and is highly motivated in the final year of his deal.
Fresh legs. In game shape. Young. Motivated. Looks like a good scheme fit, too. Of course, teams have been sniffing around Anderson for a while, with Washington drafting edge rushers in the first round two straight years, so there would be competition. And at the other end of the spectrum, Carlos Dunlap has been angling to get out of Cincy for a long time, that tenure is coming to an end and he will be pumped to finally play for a contender again, and he too will have financial motivation.
I'd roll the dice on both.
HUB Football ahead of the game
Pretty cool player development stuff going on at HUB Football, especially in a pandemic. They held their first "street free agent camp," on Oct. 3, with another scheduled for Nov. 14, with more and more NFL teams taking note.
The issues of onboarding outside players during the pandemic have been very real for NFL clubs, and adding practice squad players has led to outbreaks in some facilities. The idea of flying guys in and out and negotiating the protocols has been a challenge. HUB Football, founded by longtime NFL agent Don Yee, is holding camps for precisely the kind of talent that teams would be looking at for practice squad and back-end-of-the-roster spots, providing camps that are open to scouts and can be scouted virtually by clubs as well, run by former NFL players and coaches.
Over 50 players attended the October camp, which was invitation-only, and rather than working out for a single time in a limited timeframe as they would on a Tuesday at a team facility, these players are exposed to multiple teams at once. HUB continues to add coaches and more NFL and CFL are scheduled to attend the upcoming event, I'm told. With the 2021 offseason very much in doubt in terms of how much in-facility work will be allowed, and teams eager to get a jump on lining up talent for 2021 futures contracts, this is an idea that I could see really catching on and growing.