KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The Kansas City Chiefs were far from solid defensively in the season’s first five games but within each of those games they had some shining moments. They had some timely three-and-outs, were strong on third downs and forced five turnovers in a game against the Jacksonville Jaguars.
The Chiefs then turned into almost complete pushovers last week against the New England Patriots, who scored on nine of their 11 possessions, not counting a one-play drive when they didn’t try to score at the end of the first half.
“The difference was a great quarterback like Tom Brady,” safety Ron Parker said. “That’s tough on a defense. He’s seen basically every defense you could throw at him. We’ve just got to do a better job of getting off the field and getting the ball back for our offense. We didn’t do that last game.
“We’re challenging ourselves this week to see if we can get off the field on third downs, create turnovers and get back to playing football like we used to play.”
The task won’t be easier Sunday night when the Chiefs face another high-scoring opponent in the Cincinnati Bengals at Arrowhead Stadium. The Bengals are sixth in the league in scoring at 29 points per game and like the Patriots have multiple threats, in this case wide receivers A.J. Green and Tyler Boyd and running back Joe Mixon.
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The Chiefs, who because of injuries played without four defensive starters against New England, will get one of them back against the Bengals. Safety Eric Murray returned to practice this week.
But safety Eric Berry and linebacker Justin Houston are still unlikely to play, and the Chiefs are trying to hold everything together until they return. They were unable to do that against the Patriots, their first game this season without either player in the lineup.
The Chiefs are digging deep into their depth chart. Without four of their top safeties last week, they were forced to give some playing time to recently signed Josh Shaw. He was beaten by Patriots tight end Rob Gronkowski for a 39-yard gain on the winning field goal drive.
The Chiefs are trying not to use injuries as an excuse for what happened in New England.
“I don’t have that luxury of looking at it that way,” defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said. “I’ve always really felt the only approach is, ‘The team on the field is the team.’ It’s real important that everybody have the expectation that the [replacement] player or players is going to perform at a high level.
“Is it challenging? Yeah. You’d always like to have your full complement of players. That doesn’t happen all the time. That’s one of the great challenges of pro football.”
The first job for the Chiefs is stopping the run. It was a particular issue against the Patriots, who ran for 173 yards with 15 of their 31 first downs coming on rushing plays.
“It’s not just two guys,” coach Andy Reid said. “Everybody can do better on that. … We’ve got to do a better job of solidify things there and it’s everybody: The whole front and including the safeties. We had a couple of overloads where we had people in position. You’ve got to make the play. We’ve got to tighten that up a little bit.”
The Chiefs are last in the league in yards allowed but that’s not the best way to gauge their defense. Because they’ve frequently been in the lead during games, they’ve had to defend 270 passes, or 18 more than the next highest team.
“I don’t think yards are really a true indicator of what’s going on,” Sutton said. “If you’re going to give up yards, you’ve got to do some other things really good. You’ve got to be really good on third down. You’ve got to [get] takeaways … and you’ve got to be good in the red zone.”
The Chiefs did those things well at least some of the time in the first five games. They weren’t good at any of them against the Patriots.