Tim Crone: Improving defense improves Chiefs' playoff hopes

Tim Crone
Special to The Examiner
Tim Crone

I would like to congratulate Liberty North High School, which will play in the Class 6 state championship game at 1 p.m. Saturday at Faurot Field in Columbia. They will face a very good CBC team that edged out Lee’s Summit North 28-21 in the other semifinal. Let’s hope a local Kansas City area team can bring home the trophy. 

The Chiefs’ victory over the Cowboys put the team right back into the running to represent the AFC in the Super Bowl. The AFC is so balanced that at least 7-8 teams could get to the big game this year. 

At 7-4 the Chiefs are starting to look like a defending AFC two-time champion. Defensively it has been amazing to watch the turnaround this season. The Chiefs have a bye week this week, which will come at a perfect time in the season. 

When the Chiefs come back, they will have six very winnable games remaining on their schedule. They will have back-to-back home games with divisional rivals Denver and Las Vegas. They then will go on the road to play a key game against the Los Angeles Chargers. They come home to play Pittsburgh. The final two games are on the road against Cincinnati and Denver. 

As tight as the AFC playoff race is, the Chiefs cannot afford to lose to anyone in the West division. As far as tiebreakers go, the Chiefs are in bad shape because their four losses to date have all been to AFC teams. Losing to the Ravens, Chargers, Bills and Titans gives them a back seat in gaining a playoff berth. The Chiefs must win the AFC West in order to make the playoffs. 

The defensive improvement led by defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has been outstanding. Moving All-Pro defensive tackle Chris Jones made a huge difference against the run, but it really shows with the pass rush. The addition of Melvin Ingram has made that move possible and Ingram has been a stud against the run and pass on the outside. Frank Clark has shown life again rushing the passer since Jones has moved to the inside. 

The three linebackers are playing the best we have seen in years at those positions. The young guys, Willie Gay and Nick Bolton, are strong and fast backers who are able to run from sideline to sideline. They also will strike you at the point of attack. A lot of people have criticized Anthony Hitchens, but he is playing the best football since he has been with the Chiefs. He is the defensive leader up front. 

Corners L’Jarius Sneed and Charvarius Ward are getting better every game. Ward’s interception at the end of the first half against the Cowboys and superstar receiver CeeDee Lamb was the best defensive play of the season to this point. The safety position has become a strength with Juan Thornhill taking over for Daniel Sorensen. Tyrann Mathieu is a warrior and a true team leader. The guy plays with no fear. 

The defense will need to continue to play at a high level for the team to make the playoffs. They are trending in the right direction. The offense is finally understanding the concept of take what they give you. 

It is a lot of fun to watch the offense of the last three years perform, but this team is going to have to run the ball and be patient in the short passing game. Patrick Mahomes has learned a lot about himself in the last four games. He is special. 

The offensive line is coming together one game at a time. Left tackle Orlando Brown must play better. He plays at a right tackle level and in the NFL your left tackle cannot be just a little above average. 

The offense really does need that second wide receiver. The Chiefs were nearly unbeatable the last three years when Sammy Watkins was healthy. It was impossible to defend Hill, Kelce, and Watkins all at the same time. Josh Gordon has been a no-show. Mecole Hardman and Bryon Pringle both have had moments but one of them needs to take a big step forward. 

The running back situation is in solid hands if Clyde-Edwards Helaire and Darrel Williams remain steady in the ground game. 

The finish of the 2021 season should be exciting for Chiefs fans. To all those Chiefs ticket holders who sold their tickets to the Dallas Cowboys fans for big money, please stay home the rest of the year. 

• The quote of the week comes from legendary Notre Dame coach Knute Rockne: “The secret of winning football games is working more as a team, less as individuals. I play not my 11 best, but my best 11.” 

Tim Crone, a William Chrisman High School graduate, is a former activities director and coach for Blue Springs High School. He writes a weekly column for The Examiner. Reach him at t.crone@comcast.net.