The run-it-back season came up just a game shy for the Kansas City Chiefs. After a 14-2 regular season, a first-round bye in the playoffs, and a second straight Super Bowl appearance, the Chiefs ran into a brick wall known as Tom Brady. More accurately, the Tampa Bay Buccaneers defense. Despite losing the big game, the Chiefs can still look back on their 2020 season and see several positives and promising players moving forward.
The Chiefs looked unbeatable for most of the season. Outside of a fluke loss against the Las Vegas Raiders in Week 5, their only other loss came in Week 17 as the Los Angeles Chargers beat their backups. The Chiefs showed no signs of rust after nearly two weeks off. They snuck past the Cleveland Browns in the Divisional Round before giving a beat down to the Buffalo Bills in the AFC Championship. While the Super Bowl loss hurts, it is a hurt that the Chiefs hadn’t felt in a long time.
What Went Right
The offense for the Chiefs was once again a force to be reckoned with. The offense behind Patrick Mahomes‘ arm averaged 29.6 points per game, put up the most offensive yards, and gained the most first downs. Plus, they had one of the most explosive offenses in the National Football League. The Chiefs totaled 79 plays from scrimmage that went 20 yards or more and averaged 6.3 yards per play, good for second in the NFL. While Mahomes didn’t have a 50-touchdown season, the former MVP still put up 4,740 yards, 38 touchdowns, and just six interceptions. Thus, giving him the lowest interception percentage in the league at one percent. Mahomes also led the NFL in yards per game with 316.
Of course, Mahomes wasn’t alone in the success of the offense. Tight end Travis Kelce had one of the best receiving seasons for a tight end in recent memory. The eight-year veteran had career highs in receptions with 105, receiving yards with 1,416, and 11 touchdown catches. Kelce has solidified himself as a top-2 tight end in the NFL after becoming the only tight end in NFL history to total both 1,400 yards and 10 or more touchdowns.
For the most part, the rookie class was also a positive sign for the Chiefs future. Running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire showed promise and will be a reliable safety valve for Mahomes to rely on in the future. Edwards-Helaire averaged 4.4 yards per rush totaling 1,100 yards from scrimmage and averaged 8.3 yards per reception. On the defensive side, defensive back L’Jarius Sneed saw some success at the corner spot. Meanwhile, defensive lineman Tershawn Wharton, due to teammate injuries, also had a surprisingly strong season. Wharton came in as an undrafted free agent.
What Went Wrong
While the offense was great, unfortunately, the defense was once again not as great. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has always been an aggressive blitzer and relies heavily on his pass rush hitting home. Unfortunately, this season the Chiefs totaled just 32 sacks, good for 19th in the NFL. While Tyrann Mathieu had a great season totaling six interceptions, overall, it was not a great year for the Chiefs secondary. According to Pro Football Reference, Veterans Charvarius Ward and Bashaud Breeland struggled in coverage. They allowed a combined 53 percent completion percentage. Ward also allowed a 103.1 passer rating. To top this off, the Chiefs had the worst red zone defense in terms of conversion percentage. They allowed a league-high 76 percent conversion rate. The linebacking group also continued to be a let down in the run game and the passing game.
While most of the offense was positive, injuries decimated the offensive line come Super Bowl weekend. The only projected preseason starter left by the Super Bowl was center Austin Reiter. Guard Laurant Duvernay-Tardif opted out to help serve his community against COVID-19. All-pro right tackle Mitchell Schwartz missed the majority of the season along with free-agent signing Kelechi Osemele. Rookie Lucas Niang didn’t even get to sniff playing time due to a preseason injury. Then to top it off, in the AFC Championship Game, Eric Fisher tore his Achilles against the Bills, ending his season and putting his 2021 season in jeopardy. By combining these injuries with a lack of depth, Mahomes was under constant pressure all season, especially in the Super Bowl.
Team Award Winners
MVP – Patrick Mahomes
Mahomes, by far, is this team’s most valuable player. The third-year starter has shown arm talent that quarterbacks dream about and the leadership styles of some of the greatest quarterbacks we’ve seen—all of this after just four years in the NFL. Mahomes took many big shots this season due to poor offensive line performance. Still, he showed excellent physical and mental toughness playing through a handful of injuries, and worked and progressed on his few bad habits throughout the season. Mahomes constantly stepped up when he needed to most, and while his team came up short in the Super Bowl, they most certainly will be back very soon with Mahomes at the helm.
Offensive Rookie of the Year – Clyde Edwards-Helaire
Edwards-Helaire made the most of what he could this season. The former LSU running back totaled 1,100 yards from scrimmage, with 803 of those coming on the ground. Edwards-Helaire made the most of what he was given. His role in the offense seemed to diminish as the season progressed as 59 percent of his carries came in the first six weeks. However, while he may not have lived up to the first-round hype, he certainly has the toughness and work ethic to progress and grow over the next few seasons.
Defensive Rookie of the Year – L’Jarius Sneed
Sneed started the season at outside cornerback due to Breeland’s suspension, and he certainly did not disappoint. The rookie safety turned cornerback grabbed his first career interception in Week 1 against the Houston Texans. Sneed picked up his second interception a week later. If not for a collarbone injury in Week 3, he likely would have left people asking whether to start him over Breeland. However, he returned in Week 11 and slid into the slot for most of his snaps, fitting the role well. He added another interception before all was said and done.
Biggest Surprise – Tershawn Wharton
Wharton came out of nowhere this season. The undrafted free agent out of Missouri S&T just made the roster coming into the season. He ended up finding playing time in all 16 games for the Chiefs’ regular season. Wharton may be undersized for a defensive tackle. Still, he is an incredible athlete and was even named to PFF’s midseason all-rookie team. The rookie picked up two sacks, five tackles for loss, 27 total tackles, and forced a fumble. Wharton looks like he could wreak havoc alongside Chris Jones and challenge players like Derrick Nnadi for more snaps next season.
Biggest Disappointment – The Linebackers
By far, the weakest link on the defense has been the middle of the field. Running backs and tight ends feasted on their linebackers all season. Pass coverage was a big issue, with Niemann allowing a 140.7 passer rating, Damien Wilson at 110.3, and Anthony Hitchens at 106.7. All three of these numbers are not good enough. Plus, their performance in the run game did not balance it out. Hitchens has been a stronger tackler, but Wilson and Neimann dropped the ball, metaphorically, too many times this season. Nearly half of the yardage that Niemann allowed was after the catch due to a high missed tackle percentage of just over 10 percent. Wilson had a similar story, with 177 of his 239 yards allowed after the catch.
One Burning Question
Offensive Lineman or Linebacker?
The Chiefs have two glaring holes on this roster right now and sit at the 31st pick in the NFL Draft. On the one hand, you need to protect your half-a-billion-dollar quarterback, and on the other, you need to get some reinforcements in the middle of your defense. Missouri linebacker Nick Bolton would be the stud that this defense needs in the middle of their defense. Still, you aren’t going to get him in the late second round. However, after watching the Super Bowl, do you take a player like Creed Humphrey to start sealing up your interior offensive line? This will be a big decision for head coach Andy Reid and his front office to make come draft day.