Granted, Peyton Manning/Aaron Rodgers/Andy Dalton — and we’re talking the Andy Dalton of now, not the Andy Dalton of Januarys past — back to back to back is a pretty salty three weeks for any defense, especially without your most veteran cornerback to help navigate through the first two.
But excuses are like … well, you know.
And this Kansas City Chiefs defense — the thing that was expected to carry the pail when times got tough, the franchise’s alleged bell cow — is running out of them.
Dalton joined the piñata parade Sunday, completing his first nine passes en route to a 17-for-24, 321-yard afternoon at Paul Brown Stadium, a 36-21 Cincinnati victory that dropped the Chiefs to 1-3. Which means that over the last four quarters, opposing quarterbacks have completed 41 of 59 throws against Kansas City for 654 yards, six scores and zero interceptions for a passer rating of a perfect 158.3.
Again, give credit to Rodgers, at the top of his game, and Dalton, who’s opened the campaign by kicking his own form up several notches. To start 2015, the Chiefs drew Brian Hoyer, followed by three Pro Bowlers. The standings don’t lie.
Although it’s the zero-interceptions thing that grates. That and this number: The Chiefs, with Justin Houston off one edge and Tamba Hali or Dee Ford off the other, didn’t sack Dalton once.
Come to think of it, they bothered him only occasionally. In all, the Chiefs have picked up nine takedowns over four games. Their opponents have 19.
Or to put it another way, the Broncos, Packers and Bengals are stealing The Andy Gang’s act — killer pass rush, explosion plays in the run game — and flogging them over the head with it.
One of the prevailing theories doing the Twitter rounds is that after that 9-0 start to open the ’13 season, the opposition has “found” defensive coordinator Bob Sutton out. It’s not an unreasonable charge: Since the midway point of the 2013 season, the Chiefs have faced Peyton Manning, Phillip Rivers, Andrew Luck, Tom Brady, Russell Wilson a combined 15 times in the regular season or the playoffs. They’re 4-11 in those games, 0-1 in the postseason, and the Monday night rout of New England almost exactly a year ago starts to look more like a pleasant aberration than some dominant norm.
Or to put it another way (reprise), Sutton’s defenses are really good at making bad quarterbacks look bad. But the more competent the opposing signal-caller, the more likely the holes/flaws are to get exposed.
It’s a depressing refrain, one of several that the club just can’t seem to shake. At the head of the snake is quarterback Alex Smith, who set a new career high for regular-season passing yards in a game (386) in a contest in which his team failed to score a single touchdown. If that isn’t a backhanded compliment, then what the hell is?
Again, clock management and red-zone execution — which starts with coach Andy Reid — were all over the place. At the 2-minute warning of the first half, the Chiefs, down 14-9, had a first down on the Cincinnati 20. Over the next 1 minute and 51 seconds, they netted all of nine yards, as Carios Santos’ 17-yard field goal was his fourth of the first half. In a contest of field goals versus touchdowns (Cincinnati’s red zone efficiency: 4-for-4; the Chiefs were 0-for-3), touchdowns win every time.
In a game of fine margins, small miscues have the potential to open big wounds. When tight end Travis Kelce coughed the ball up with 23 seconds left in the third, a gift the Bengals returned to the Kansas City 5, that set up the hosts’ fourth touchdown of the afternoon, and the 2-point conversion run pushed the cushion to 29-15. This offense, even with Jeremy Maclin, isn’t really built to chuck and duck in order to save everybody’s collective bacons.
Not while the defense was constructed with the idea that it wasn’t supposed to be a problem. For a good while, it all went according to plan: The Chiefs gave up 30 points or more just twice over 32 regular-season tilts in ’13 and ’14. They’ve now given up 30 or more this season over three straight weeks — the first time that’s happened to a Chiefs defense since October 1987. Which means we’re at the point for the cap-tipping to stop. And the finger-pointing to start.