Plugging leaks on defense essential to Chiefs overcoming rough start

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – There is no way to sugarcoat the Chiefs’ three-game losing streak.

The issues are numerous on both sides of the ball, from allowing 19 total sacks on offense to a defense surrendering a league-worst 31.2 points per game on the season.

Oct. 4, 2015; Cincinnati; Bengals running back Jeremy Hill (32) scores a touchdown against the Chiefs at Paul Brown Stadium. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)

Oct. 4, 2015; Cincinnati; Bengals running back Jeremy Hill (32) scores a touchdown against the Chiefs at Paul Brown Stadium. (AP Photo/Gary Landers)

Arguably the biggest surprise, however, focuses on a defense currently ranked at or near the bottom of the NFL in numerous statistical categories.

Notable areas include the Chiefs ranking 29th in yards allowed per game (397); 28th in passing yards allowed per game (295.5); 28th in yards allowed per play (6.1); last in red zone touchdown percentage (81.3 percent); and last in passing touchdowns allowed (11).

The concern is magnified knowing the league rankings come with the same coaching staff and core players intact from a defense that ranked in the top 10 in virtually all those same categories in 2014.

“We’ve played some good offenses, you’ve got to give them credit,” coach Andy Reid said. “Again, there are things that we need to continue to improve on and we’re going to work on those and do that. We obviously know what we’re capable of doing and our guys do, and they’re working hard at getting better.”

The offenses Reid alludes to belonged to the Denver Broncos, Green Bay Packers and Cincinnati Bengals, of course.

Kansas City allowed 30-plus points to each team after not surrendering a 30-point game in 2014, and two 300-yard passing efforts after not allowing one the previous season.

The Bengals, in particular, scored four rushing touchdowns in Week 4. The Chiefs allowed four rushing scores on the entire 2014 season.

Given the carnage of recent weeks, it would be easy for the Chiefs to be shell shocked.

But defensive coordinator Bob Sutton said he liked the attitude of his players as the team worked to fix issues before hosting the Chicago Bears at Arrowhead Stadium.

“We’ve talked about it, we’ve got a good group of guys,” Sutton said. “One of the things you have to do, I think you have to be very careful not to let your emotion, whether it’s good or bad for a game – the highs of winning and the lows of losing affect how you look, speaking as a coach and really as a player.”

Sutton said it is important to be honest when breaking down game film on what went right and wrong with wins or losses because issues need to be addressed in either scenario.

“It doesn’t really matter which way you go,” Sutton said. “So, that’s one of the real challenges I think for coaches and players because we all put a lot into this and we get ramped up to play this game, and when you don’t get what you want it’s really disappointing.

“So, your tendency is, ‘You know how we’re going to fix it? The same way we would’ve fixed it if we won the game.’ It’s easier when you win because you feel good, but sometimes it’s as dangerous because you don’t look as hard as you’d like to look there.”

Sutton’s defense has an opportunity to rebound against the struggling Bears (1-3) after enduring a three-game stretch against teams with a combined 12-0 record.

While Kansas City must contend with quarterback Jay Cutler and running back Matt Forte, the Chiefs pass defense faces a Bears aerial attack ranked 29th in the league and without rookie wide receiver Kevin White.

Chicago could also be missing wide receivers Alshon Jeffery, who did not practice Friday and is listed as questionable with a hamstring injury, and wide receiver Eddie Royal, who is questionable with an ankle injury after not practicing the entire week.

The Chiefs have a chance to exploit the Bears on special teams, as Chicago has allowed two kickoff returns for touchdowns and currently rank last in the league by allowing 38.6 yards per return.

Still, the Bears carry a reputation as a hard-nosed football team and the Chiefs won’t take them lightly regardless of record.

“We know what kind of football team they are,” Reid said. “They’re very physical, they play very hard. Our guys will put in a good week of preparation to get ready to play them.”

Overlooking the opponent also won’t occur from Chicago’s point of view despite the struggles of what many projected as one of the NFL’s strongest defensive units in 2015.

“This defense is a legit, good defense,” Forte said of the Chiefs in a conference call. “So we definitely have to – up front – handle them in the run game as well as in the passing game with their two premiere rushers on the outside and not allow penetration in the run game to disrupt things.”

An opponent continuing to hold the Chiefs defense in high regard even with the recent performances is indicative of the talent that resides within the unit.

And that offers optimism the time spent correcting mistakes in team meetings and on the practice field will ultimately pay off as the Chiefs look to get back on track with 12 games left to play.

“That same group is in those rooms and they’re on the field,” Sutton said of his players. “And I think if we stay the course we’re going to end up just fine.”

TALE OF THE TAPE

OFFENSE

• The Chiefs rank 15th in rushing (108 yards per game) and 13th in passing (249.8 yards per game).
• The Bears rank 11th in rushing (123.5 yards per game) and 29th in passing (190 yards per game).

DEFENSE

• The Chiefs rank 14th against the run (101.5 yards allowed per game) and 28th against the pass (295.5 yards allowed per game).
• The Bears rank 24th against the run (119.3 yards allowed per game) and fourth against the pass (189.8 yards allowed per game).

THE LAST TIME

The Chiefs defeated the Bears, 10-3, at Soldier Field in Week 13 of the 2011 season.

The last time the two teams played at Arrowhead Stadium came in the season finale of the 2003 season. The Chiefs soundly beat the Bears, 31-3, behind running back Priest Holmes, who set a then-single season NFL record with his 27th rushing touchdown of the year.

Week 5’s contest marks the 12th meeting between the Chiefs and Bears, with the Bears holding a 6-5 edge in the all-time series.

CONNENCTIONS

• Chiefs special teams coordinator Dave Toub served in the same capacity with the Bears for eight seasons (2004-12).
• Chiefs offensive line coach Andy Heck played left tackle for the Bears, starting 76 games from 1994-98.
• Chiefs director of football operations Chris Ballard spent 12 seasons in Chicago with the personnel department (2001-12).
• Bears long snapper Thomas Gafford spent seven seasons with the Chiefs, appearing in 105 games (2008-14).
• Bears wide receiver Josh Bellamy spent the 2012 season with the Chiefs an undrafted free agent out of Louisville.

QUOTABLE

Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles on getting 11 carries in two straight games:

“I’m just here to win, man. Whatever coach calls, I’ve got to go with.”

Chiefs wide receiver Jason Avant on the importance of turning things around in the ‘second quarter’ of the season:

“I don’t think we’re panicking, but we realize the urgency is there.”

Chiefs left tackle Donald Stephenson on the team’s three-game losing streak:

“We know that we’re better than what we’ve been playing.”

Chiefs coach Andy Reid during Wednesday’s press conference on areas the team could improve:

“This probably isn’t the place to talk about that. I mean, you’re not going to talk about your strengths and weakness during a press conference.”

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Herbie Teope is the lead Chiefs beat writer for ChiefsDigest.com and The Topeka Capital-Journal. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @HerbieTeope.

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