KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Having two full weeks without a game gave the Kansas City Chiefs some time to reflect on where they’ve been and, more importantly, where they’re headed.
After looking close to invincible the first five games, the Chiefs lost three of four heading into their bye. At 6-3, they still lead the AFC West by two games, but the command they once had of the AFC’s overall standings is gone. The Chiefs are a game behind the New England Patriots and Pittsburgh Steelers.
The challenge for coach Andy Reid and his staff, starting with Sunday’s game against the Giants in New Jersey (1 p.m. ET, CBS), is to reroute the Chiefs back to what they were early in the season. If they can do that, the Chiefs could still be something special.
“I’ve seen it before the last couple games here, where both sides were playing well at the same time,” Reid said. “When we do that, we’re a tough team to stop. We’ve got to continue to do that. If you get beat on a play, it doesn’t matter what side of the ball you’re on or special teams, it doesn’t matter, you step back up, and you challenge again. That’s what you do. We’ve got to get back to doing that better, both sides of the ball. That’s my responsibility, that we do that.
“We’re sitting here at 6-3. We’re in good shape. We didn’t finish up before the bye very well … but I like this team, and I like their work ethic. I like the way they battled through the first nine games. Listen, there’s room for us as coaches and as players to improve. I get kind of fired up about that.”
The schedule is in Kansas City’s favor. The rest of the season, the Chiefs face only one team that entered Week 10 with a winning record. They played four such opponents in their first nine games.
Their schedule also becomes more regular. They faced an array of short and long weeks in the first half of the season, when they played twice on Monday night and twice on Thursday night. But their next four games and six of their last seven will be played on Sundays.
Returning to early-season form is more about correcting the Chiefs’ issues regardless of the opponent or what day of the week they play. Reid generally doesn’t radically alter a plan during a season. In 2015, the Chiefs opened their season 1-5, but Reid stayed the course and was rewarded with a 10-game win streak and the franchise’s first playoff win in 22 years.
That makes any sweeping changes in the coming weeks unlikely. On offense, the priority will be re-establishing rookie running back Kareem Hunt as a threat. Hunt slumped the past four games for a variety of reasons, including injuries that kept offensive linemen Mitch Morse and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif out of the lineup for significant stretches, though each is back now.
The Chiefs handed the ball to Hunt only nine times in their most recent game, a Week 9 loss to the Dallas Cowboys. Assistant head coach Brad Childress said the Chiefs have been guilty recently of giving up on Hunt too early.
“It’s the mentality to keep grinding,” Childress said. “Something’s going to break through. We know that our runner when he gets on the second level is going to wreak havoc, whether it’s with a checkdown in the pass game or whether it’s on a run that you’ve handed it to him out of the shotgun or from the I.
“Stick to your knitting. Do what you’re good with. That allows you to do some play-action, and that allows you to do some of that dropback game and then keep yourself in regular situations. It’s very difficult when you’re second-and-15, second-and-20, third-and-15, third-and-20. Those aren’t real high success-rate plays.”
Fixing what ails the defense is more complicated. The Chiefs weren’t playing well on defense early in the season, even when they were winning. Their defensive problems were masked by better play in the red zone, some timely turnovers and a high-scoring offense.
The Chiefs lost one of their most important defensive pieces, safety Eric Berry, to a torn Achilles tendon in the season opener, and he isn’t coming back this season.
They recently welcomed back cornerback Steven Nelson and linebacker Tamba Hali after each missed the first half of the season with injuries. But their returns might not be enough to make a significant difference.
“Getting [Hali] back in, I thought his energy was great, but again, there’s no easy way of incorporating someone into a game,” Reid said. “They can practice and do that, but where you’re at now in the season, when you’re required to take the pads off [for practice], it’s hard to get that same intensity level. So getting those guys back in and playing, Nelson is just getting back in the swing of things.
“These are all things I look forward to as we get back together and putting on the final stretch here in the season. I know what kind of talent we have. I’m confident of that. I need to make sure offensively, defensively and on special teams that we’re all doing the right things and we’re doing our part from a coaching standpoint [to give] our players the best opportunity to make plays.”