The Chiefs were in the midst of a three-game losing streak at home when the Vikings came to town. You wouldn’t have guessed it was a home game by some of the fans and chants that appeared during the game, but nonetheless, the Chiefs needed to win. True, they had injuries; true, it wasn’t an AFC opponent; and true, it would have no impact on their own aspirations of winning the AFC West, but for team morale and confidence, this was an extremely important game. That being said, they played the Vikings tough, found a way to pull this game out, and moved to 6-3 on the season.
Matt Moore started another game for Patrick Mahomes. He continued to play better than you would expect from a backup quarterback and found ways to get the ball to his playmakers. He didn’t quite play as he did against the Packers, largely due to the pressure the Vikings got and the fact that they are a better defense overall than the Packers, but he still gave the Chiefs a chance to win, and here are some incredible stats from PFF that may surprise you.
That was for the last two days that Moore started. Andy Reid should be given some credit for Moore’s success, but in both games (especially against the Vikings), the playmakers around him came through for the team all day long. They were consistently able to get open, and even helped on some of the throws that Moore missed on.
The three biggest playmakers for the Chiefs were Sammy Watkins, Travis Kelce, and Tyreek Hill; they combined for 20 catches resulting in 265 yards. Moore threw for just 275 yards on the day, so it’s pretty safe to say they were the passing offense. To get the festivities started, we will take a look at Hill, who started off the scoring with an amazingly athletic play and helped Moore in the process.
With the Vikings playing zone coverage, Waynes allows Hill to release to the inside to the safety help over top. Hill knows that the safety has responsibility deep and that the right corner will be open. He slows down slightly at what would be the top of his route to make the corner think he’s going to break off. Then he accelerates out of his cut and pulls away from Waynes, knowing Smith doesn’t have the speed to catch him. Moore leads Hill just a bit too far, but that doesn’t stop him from stretching out for the ball and getting his feet underneath him enough to lunge into the endzone for the touchdown.
Hill has been making plays weekly since he returned to the lineup against the Texans, re-inserting himself squarely into the discussion for one of the best receivers in the NFL. His skill set is so unique that I would argue that he is “the” best in the NFL, with his improved ability to make contested catches. Adjusting in the air is something Hill has always been athletically gifted at, and now he can consistently go up and make plays on the ball, which is something every number one receiver in the league should be able to do.
This was a great adjustment by Hill on a throw where Moore stands in the pocket, knowing he is going to get leveled, and does everything he can to get the ball in the direction of Hill. Waynes recognizes that Hill is going to try to get vertical, so he turns and starts to sprint downfield. But the ball is thrown a little behind them. Waynes is in front just slightly, and this allows Hill to locate the ball and jump to make the catch as Waynes attempts to backtrack. Hill comes down with it and puts the Chiefs in position to tie the game with a field goal.
Hill has been working on his catching and route running incessantly since he came into the league, and it has paid off in spades. He’s an explosive play waiting to happen and has shown it every week. He’s incredibly hard to gameplan for and is impossible to play press-man defense on because of his quick releases. He’s more than just speed, and the Chiefs were able to sign him to an extension in the offseason–they should work to keep him in Kansas City as long as they can. He is exceptional.
This group in Kansas City doesn’t get nearly enough credit in the NFL or national media. Kelce has been here the longest and has had sustained excellence in this offense for a number of years. He’s only had one 100-yard game this season but has been a steady and consistent presence on the offense. It feels like he is always open and has been catching just about everything thrown to him this year.
The Vikings safeties were very weary of Kelce getting free and had their eyes on him a lot in this game. Of course, it didn’t help them much. Kelce runs a drag route across the formation, and as soon as Moore looks his way, the safety breaks to where Kelce is. He is hit as soon as the ball arrives but hangs on for the first down. He was able to make multiple plays such as this throughout the game and was a safety net for Moore all game long.
Kelce is still on pace to have a great season and I’m sure that he is going to have a 100-yard game sooner rather than later but for now, being a chain-mover with a backup quarterback is a huge boost for this team and helped the offense sustain drives.
Another consistent presence on the offense has been Sammy Watkins the last two weeks to help Moore get comfortable. This week, he added some rather spectacular catches that moved the chains as well.
I have long been on the Watkins train, even with the injury issues he’s dealt with. But there is no question that he improves this offense when he is on the field. His strong hands are what help him to be such a productive player, and he put them on display here. Moore stands in the pocket long enough to deliver this ball to where only Watkins can get it. Damien Williams does just enough to slow up Anthony Barr on his blitz to allow Moore to throw this. Watkins reaches out with one hand and snatches the ball and is still able to bring it down with the defender hanging on behind him.
This was a great play from a great player, and Watkins has been exactly that this year (for the most part). Yes, he’s missed a few games, but when Mahomes went down, he knew that he was going to have to come back and contribute to this offense. But I didn’t expect him to dump out the whole bag of tricks in this game. In case you didn’t know, Sammy Watkins is a magician with this circus catch.
I know Watkins is good, but I never thought he could make a play like this. It’s not much of a route or throw, just a simple 5-yard out, and Moore throws him the ball with the defender draped all over him. Watkins tips it to himself with his outstretched hand, locates it with his eyes, and then brings his other hand around. Then we see him going to the ground and have the smarts to not only secure the catch, but shift his hand down underneath it so that it stays as a catch on the field. All the while, the corner is hanging on the back of Watkins, and he acts like he doesn’t even notice.
That is the level of concentration you need to have to play in this league. These athletes are all incredibly talented, and being locked-in on simple plays like this is what separates them from everyone else. Watkins contributed nicely this time around, and with Mahomes likely back on Sunday against the Titans, I think he could be ready for another huge game. The receivers were great in this game, but the longest and best play of the day didn’t come from the passing game–instead, we look to the run game, where the Chiefs have struggled this season.
The Vikings have one of the better run defenses in the NFL, and it showed for the majority of the afternoon, but the Chiefs did find a little bit of success on a stretch play they ran a few times and wanted to break a big run off of. The Chiefs ran a few different variations of this play, but every time a linebacker was able to scrape across the formation and find his way back to the running back. Not this time though.
The offensive line is all blocking down to the left and moving in that direction, even Schwartz, who ends up blocking down due to the angle the defensive end takes, which works out well for the Chiefs. Kelce is just going to run to the flat, taking his defender with him, and Bell is pulling back around the other side for a “wham” block on the linebacker than comes down to the line of scrimmage. When Williams takes the handoff, the left side isn’t opening up yet, but this massive cut-back lane does; that’s something I noticed earlier in the game, and the Chiefs must have, too. Williams takes the cut-back and then is in space with two guys to beat. He avoids Smith and is on his way to Harris when he jukes him and buckles Harris’ knees in the process. Then it’s daylight for speedster, only to be shown up by Hill on the play.
Williams may not have amassed a huge amount of yards on the ground outside of that run, but if you look at what he had to work with, he made the most of it more often than not. Earlier in the season, he didn’t show the burst or short-area quickness we saw at the end of last year, but in the last six quarters, he has flashed some of that “make you miss” ability, as well as running with a bit more of an edge and finishing his runs (something LeSean McCoy has struggled with recently). It wouldn’t surprise me to see Williams continue to out-touch McCoy going forward if he keeps this up.
The major contributor to the Chiefs struggle in the run game this year is the offensive line, and I know, we keep coming back to it, but it’s a problem that needs to be solved. Hopefully, getting Fisher back soon will help in that regard, but as a unit, the line is not getting the movement upfront they need to sustain decent gains. Here are a few examples from the game on Sunday.
Here we see Cam Erving whiff on the Griffen block, and he gets in the backfield immediately to prevent this run from ever getting going. To compound the problem, Reiter is unable to reach the DT properly, and he just moves with Williams to the hole so that play was going nowhere fast. Then we see Wylie, who is coming back from an injury, at right guard, a position he held down well last season in the LDT absence. He gets stood up from the defensive tackle on contact and is unable to recover then is pushed back. Simultaneously, the tackle is able to do that while locating McCoy and making the tackle for little gain.
There is no consistency with the run game, and that comes back, in large part, to the offensive line that can’t seem to get push upfront. There always seems to be a defender making a play at or near the line of scrimmage, and unless that changes going forward, the offense will rely on the arm of the quarterback. An offensive line wants to run block and assert their dominance, and I have yet to truly see that out of this group.
Many thought that the Chiefs should have lost this game to the Vikings because of all of their injuries. And realistically, that does make sense. But this team showed resilience and fight to come back in this game and win on the foot of Harrison Butker. They rallied around Matt Moore and the defense, and even though the game was almost lost due to near fumbles at the end of the game, the Chiefs found a way. In the face of yet another Zero blitz the Vikings were showing to Moore (who nearly fumbled twice in previous drives because of said blitz), he adjusted. Watch Moore and Hill on this audible.
This is a great read by Moore, obviously knowing the Vikings are going to do everything they can to get to him and that he needs to get the ball out as quickly as possible. The signal to Hill comes in, and he repeats it to Moore to let him know that he understands. Then the snap and throw, complete to Hill who was open due to the blitz. It’s an obvious audible and read because the Vikings had to get to him, but it’s a winning effort. Moore was the guy at the end to get the job done and help the Chiefs go on to win this game. He was far from perfect down the stretch, but made big throws and reads to put this team in a position to win and they did.
The most underappreciated aspect of this win was Butker, who nailed a 54-yard field goal in unpredictable and windy conditions, and he was four for four on the day, including the game-winner that was tipped a bit and still had enough leg to get through the uprights. This was a true team win and guys at all levels contributed. But this guy was absolutely CLUTCH on Sunday, so I leave you with his best kick on the day.