Chiefs lean on defense to bail out offense during 7-2 start

Dolphins quarterback Tua Tagovailoa attempts to evade a tackle by Chiefs defensive end George Karlaftis during Sunday’s game in Frankfurt, Germany. (Associated Press)

KANSAS CITY -- The Kansas City Chiefs underscored in Sunday’s victory against the Miami Dolphins three facts that became readily apparent through the first nine weeks of the season: They have one of the league’s best defenses, their once high-powered offense has fizzled and yet they remain one of the league’s best teams.

The Chiefs (7-2) followed a humbling loss in Denver, where Patrick Mahomes had one of his worst games and they failed to reach the end zone at all, with a 21-14 win against a fellow Super Bowl contender in Frankfurt, Germany.

But the victory against the Dolphins was owed largely to the work of the Kansas City defense, which produced a TD of its own that proved to be the margin of victory, and a fourth-down stop in the final minutes that kept the game from going to overtime.

“It’s got to be the top defense in the NFL,” said Mahomes, who was held to just 185 yards passing and two touchdowns by the Dolphins. “That’s a great offense (in Miami). To hold them to 14 points where I fumbled in our own area for seven of those points -- that’s a tremendous job. I think they’re going to continue to get better because they’re young and they love it.”

Truth is, the defense can’t get a whole lot better. The Chiefs have not allowed anyone to score more than 24 points in a game this season, and their only two losses came when their own offense failed to score more than 20.

In fact, the Chiefs have failed to score more than 20 points on four occasions, a significant departure from their high-flying ways that have produced two Super Bowl titles in the past four seasons. They’ve been done in by penalties, turnovers and, more than anything else, the inability of their wide receivers to get open down the field.

“I think if the offense gets to where it needs to be,” Mahomes said, “we’ll be a tough team to beat.”

The Chiefs have the benefit of a late bye to work out some of the problems. Then they return to face the Philadelphia Eagles in a Super Bowl rematch Monday, Nov. 20, which should further energize Mahomes & Co. to turn things around.

“We have to take care of the penalties. That’s the obvious. We’ll get that worked out as we go here,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said after the win over Miami. “Listen, we came out of this with things we can work on to get better, and we’ll do that.”

• What’s working: The Chiefs have quietly turned into one of the best in the NFL at pressuring the quarterback. Tua Tagovailoa had been sacked only 11 times all season before Kansas City dropped him three times Sunday. Each came from a different level of the defense, too, underscoring the versatility their pass rush has shown all season.

• What needs help: The entire Chiefs offense, which didn’t score in the second half Sunday and largely has failed to produce all season. But what needs help the most is Patrick Mahomes, who needs some pass-catchers to get open. They found space on the game’s opening drive against Miami and it resulted in a touchdown, but such drives have been rare through nine weeks.

• Stock up: CB Trent McDuffie continues to play at an All-Pro level. The second-year standout had a game-high 10 tackles and forced a fumble that Bryan Cook returned for a touchdown against Miami. He also was a big reason the Chiefs were able to shut down Tyreek Hill and Jaylen Waddle. Hill had eight catches for just 62 yards and Waddle finished with three for 42 yards.

• Stock down: DT Chris Jones had a quarterback hit and assisted on a single tackle and that was the extent of his production Sunday -- aside from a personal foul penalty when the Chiefs had held the Dolphins to a field goal late in the game. With a fresh set of downs, Miami scored on the very next play. Jones came out of a holdout that lasted into the regular season to have at least one sack in each of his first five games. He has five tackles and no sacks total the past three.

• Injuries: CB L’Jarius Sneed was evaluated for a concussion in the second quarter but was allowed to return to the game.

• Key number: 14 -- The total yardage tight end Travis Kelce had on a meager three catches against Miami. But it was enough by a single yard to push him past Hall of Famer Tony Gonzalez and into first place in franchise history with 10,941 yards receiving.

• Up next: The Chiefs face the Eagles in a Super Bowl rematch Monday, Nov. 20, at Arrowhead Stadium.