KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs have more reason than most to rue the fickle nature of the NFL.
They were the toast of the league through the first five weeks, beating the Patriots and Eagles and everybody else they faced. Dynamic young players such as Tyreek Hill and Kareem Hunt were fantasy football heroes, and quarterback Alex Smith was a 33-year-old breakout star.
They were the Super Bowl favorites a third of the way through the season.
They’ve lost three of their past four since then.
“Families go through things,” running back Charcandrick West said with a shrug. “I feel like we are going to take some time off, get away and come back to get this thing on track.”
It’s hard to decipher exactly what has gone wrong for the Chiefs as they enter their week off, a much-needed chance to rest and recover. Injuries have played a part. So have difficult matchups, mistakes on both sides of the ball and the typical midseason lull that befalls many teams.
But perhaps the biggest difference is this: A dynamic offense the first five weeks has been just a little less dynamic, and that’s made it unable to mask gross deficiencies on defense.
The Chiefs averaged 414.2 yards during their five-game winning streak, piling up a season-best 537 in a road win over New England. They averaged 32.8 points over that stretch, highlighted by a pair of 42-point outbursts against the Patriots and Texans.
In the ensuing four games, they’re averaging 318.8 yards and 22.5 points — drops of nearly 100 yards and 10 points per game from where the offense was early in the season.
“I think we’ve sloughed off here a little bit in the last couple of weeks,” assistant head coach Brad Childress said. “We have really kind of lacked something that we had early on.
“When you have a bye week, you go back and reassess,” he said. “We’re a little bit past the halfway point and you’re able to kind of sit back and look at yourself the way somebody else is looking at you.”
Indeed, defenses have been able to take away Hill’s game-changing speed, and the holes for Hunt have gone from chasms to pinpricks. Smith even threw an interception for the first time all season last week.
The problem for Kansas City over the past four weeks has less to do with the offense backpedalling, though, and more to do with the defense staying just about the same.
They’ve struggled to pressure the quarterback. Been a sieve against the run. And when they’re not creating turnovers or big plays, a bend-but-don’t-break mentality has twisted them inside out.
They allowed 336 yards and 22.2 points during their five-game win streak. They’ve allowed 420 yards and 24.3 points during the four games heading into the bye.
“Play has been up and down. That’s a part of this league,” defensive backs coach Al Harris said. “We have to get better and make more plays and prevent the big play from happening.”
Or the little plays, for that matter. The Chiefs have the fourth-worst defense in the league, and it hasn’t been because of just a few big plays. They give up 4 or 5 yards on just about every running play, and the screens and under-the-cover pass plays have slowly pummeled them into submission.
“We’re putting the guys in the right position to make plays on the ball, and are you making the play? We all take responsibility for that,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “We’re better than that. This time we’ll try to use wisely to get that stuff corrected.”
Not all things are doom-and-gloom, though. The Chiefs wouldn’t have a first-round bye at this point, but they are still 6-3 and have a two-game lead on the Raiders in the AFC West.
It would take a monumental stumble over the final seven games to miss the playoffs.
The Chiefs also have their most difficult games out of the way. They’ve already played the Patriots, Eagles, Cowboys and Redskins, teams that were a combined 23-10 heading into Week 10. Their remaining out-of-division opponents are the Giants, Bills, Jets and Dolphins and were a combined 14-19.
Meanwhile, the AFC West has proven to be far less brutal than many had expected.
“I’ve seen it before the last couple games here where both sides were playing well at the same time. When we do that we’re a tough team to stop,” Reid said.
“We’ve got to continue to do that. If you get beat on a play it doesn’t matter what side of the ball you’re on or special teams, it doesn’t matter, you step back up and you challenge again. That’s what you do. We’ve got to get back to doing that better, both sides of the ball. That’s my responsibility, that we do that.”