The Seahawks host the 11-3 Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday Night Football, one of the top teams in the AFC and a contender for the conference's No. 1 overall seed. To learn more about the Chiefs, we reached out to Matt Derrick, the publisher and beat writer for ChiefsDigest.com.
Q: Patrick Mahomes was a first-round pick, so obviously expectations were high, but did anyone see this type of season coming in his first year as a starter? And what has allowed him to be so productive, is it just his natural ability? Andy Reid's ability to build an offense that caters to his quarterback's skillset? Both?
Derrick: I don't believe anyone thought Mahomes could be this good this fast, but if anyone did it was Andy Reid. He didn't hesitate on draft night in 2017 of breaking out the gunslinger comparison to Brett Favre, and he signed off on trading away a consistent double-digit wins quarterback in Alex Smith. Reid had a sly smile on his face throughout the offseason and training camp whenever anyone asked about Mahomes being ready or if he was worried about turnovers. Reid knew what he had on his hands.
This might emerge as the most perfect match of quarterback and coach in NFL history. Reid carries a proven track record of getting the most from his quarterbacks, but as a head coach he's never had a talent like this. In every game he plays, Mahomes seems to make at least one throw that I'm not sure any other quarterback in the league can make. Reid has put him in an offense perfectly suited to his big arm. Mahomes can stretch the field vertically and horizontally, and Reid takes advantage of that to stress defenses. General manager Brett Veach also went out and added Sammy Watkins, giving Mahomes perhaps more skill talent around him than he will ever again have in his career.
Q: Seven of Kansas City's 15 turnovers this season have come in a two primetime road losses. How important will ball security be playing in a hostile environment and on a possibly wet evening?
Derrick: Mahomes turned the ball over five times against the Rams, and the Chiefs still managed to score 51 points and only lose by three. Turnovers don't slow the Chiefs offense, but they can prove pivotal. In those two primetime losses, Mahomes threw costly interceptions where he forced the ball in situations that didn't require it. But Mahomes and the Chiefs don't sweat turnovers too much. His teammates and coaches believe in his ability to bounce back and make big plays to overcome mistakes. The hype, the importance and the environment of this game, however, might pose a challenge. Mahomes often looks a bit over amped early in primetime games, and he readily admits to getting too excited for big games. The Chiefs thrives on fast starts, so they need Mahomes to play within himself from the first drive and not need time to settle into the flow of the game.
Q: What is the current status of the running game, and how has the offense changed, if at all, in recent weeks since Kareem Hunt's suspension?
Derrick: The Chiefs averaged 7.05 yards per play through the first 11 games of the season. No NFL team has average more than 7 yards per play since before 1950. The Chiefs have averaged 5.9 yards per play in three games without Hunt. That's the difference between a historically great offense and a slightly above average offense in this era. The Chiefs missed Watkins in those three games, too, so that takes a real bite out of the offense's firepower. But this team misses Hunt most late in the fourth quarter. Hunt was their closer, the back who could get 10 yards in three downs and run out the clock late with a sustained drive. The Chiefs held the ball late in the fourth quarter with a chance to close out both the Ravens and the Chargers and went three-and-out both times. That just didn't happen with Hunt in the backfield. Until the Chiefs find their new closer—and I think that must mean putting the ball in the hands of Mahomes—no single-digit lead in the fourth quarter is safe.
Q: Kansas City's defensive numbers don't look very good on paper, how much of that is the product of playing from ahead a lot, and how much is an actual concern for a team looking to make a deep playoff run?
Derrick: Playing from ahead certainly plays a factor, but it's also been a continuing trend. The Chiefs under defensive coordinator Bob Sutton deploy a bend-but-don't-break philosophy that doesn't sweat giving up yardage—they care about turnovers, sacks and forcing field goals. The biggest concern is the Chiefs rank 29th in red-zone defense. Last year they finished 20th in that category. But remember, the Chiefs played almost all of the past two seasons without safety Eric Berry, who is the unquestioned leader and quarterback of this defense.
Q: Along those lines, what can Eric Berry's return mean for the defense down the stretch, and is he ready to take on a bigger workload this week after being limited in his return last week?
Derrick: The Chiefs defense looked like a different unit in the first half against the Chargers with Berry's return. He's the highest paid safety in the league, and this club built its defense around his ability to support against the run, lock down opposing tight ends and inspire a ball-out mentality forcing turnovers. He played 30 snaps last week, all in the first half, and sounds and looks ready for more work this week. The Chiefs continue hinting at a pitch count, but that likely includes subbing him out a bit more and sprinkling his appearances in throughout the game. The certainly could have used him last week at the end against the Chargers, so expect Berry to be available late this time around. It's hard to see the Chiefs as a Super Bowl team without Berry on the field.
Bonus question: Ketchup on mac n' cheese or nah?
Derrick: I was standing three feet from Patrick Mahomes when he confessed to putting ketchup on his mac n' cheese and I gave him a thumbs up. I'm a ketchup guy all day. I split with Mahomes, however on his new endorsement deal with Hunt's. We're a Heinz family.
The Seahawks and Chiefs will meet for the 52nd time in the regular season this Sunday at CenturyLink Field. Take a look back at photos from past games played between the two teams.