As the Kansas City Chiefs geared up for their key Week 1 matchup against the Cleveland Browns, with future playoff-seeding implications on the line, a few glaring potential weaknesses on the offense lingered. The Chiefs were outwardly committed to improving two facets on that side of the ball this year: a more efficient run game and a more varied passing attack.
Lining up against a fellow AFC contender on the opening day of their season was supposed to provide a great measuring tool to determine just how improved the Chiefs were in these areas. From the opening kickoff to the final whistle, these preseason issues manifested themselves again, but it didn’t matter.
The Chiefs overcame a 22-10 halftime deficit to beat the Browns 33-29 on Sunday, with very little assistance from the running game and virtually zero help through the air from anyone not named Travis Kelce or Tyreek Hill. Yet, they still won. At first glance, it serves as an important reminder of just how dominant the trio of Patrick Mahomes, Kelce, and Hill is. When your offense is one-dimensional, with just two passing options all game, and the defense still can’t keep you under 30 points, you might have something special brewing.
Mahomes remains a demi-god masquerading as an NFL quarterback, while Kelce and Hill are in the prime of their careers and putting together their own resumés for Canton someday. For this game (and most games, quite frankly), those three alone were enough to pull out the victory. The two glaring shortcomings didn’t end up affecting the overall outcome of the game – but are the Chiefs playing with fire?
The simple answer is yes. The reason it’s necessary to improve in these two areas has nothing to do with beating the Browns in Week 1. Cleveland is a fine team, but they don’t possess the defense necessary to force Mahomes to go beyond his No. 1 wide receiver and tight end or find some balance in the running game. Moreover, with it being just the first game of the season, the offense was presumably as healthy as it may be all year, as injuries are an inevitable occurrence in the NFL. At some point, injuries will affect the offensive line and possibly even a few key position players, like Kelce or Hill, so it’s imperative the Chiefs fix these two problems, and soon.
Let’s take a look at each of those issues from Week 1 and also see if there were any indications of improvement ahead.
Lack Of An Efficient Running Game
When general manager Brett Veach overhauled the offensive line following the embarrassment that was the Super Bowl loss in Tampa Bay last year, much of the focus was on protecting Mahomes at all costs. However, the new and improved offensive line also brought with it the hope that Kansas City could finally run the ball effectively again too. The offense will always feature the pass more predominately than the run, as it should. Still, the Chiefs needed to improve their running game, particularly when the defense presented lighter boxes, daring Mahomes to hand the ball off. A bigger offensive line that could maul defenders off the line was supposed to help Clyde Edwards-Helaire, a former first-round pick, by providing better rushing lanes. Sunday did not bear those results, with the LSU product mustering a measly 3.1 yards per rush on 14 carries.
However, the onus here does not fall squarely on the offensive line. They did their part in providing push off the ball and giving Edwards-Helaire room to work.
This run came in the second quarter, and it particularly stands out when you notice the downs and distance to go on this play. 2nd and 10 typically lends itself to a passing play in Andy Reid’s system, but judging by the number of Cleveland players not seen on screen here, it seems reasonable to guess Mahomes may have checked into a more favorable run play given that the Browns had so few defenders at the line of scrimmage. Edwards-Helaire ran right behind his interior line on the play and gained just three yards, when most football minds would suggest this run should have gone for much more if he had simply bounced to the outside.
So while the offensive line is new and still gelling, Edwards-Helaire needs to improve on his reads in order to maximize the skill level of the teammates in front of him.
As for the outlook for improvement, this should be an easy fix. Edwards-Helaire has fantastic coaches in Reid and offensive coordinator Eric Bienemy, both with storied pedigrees developing great running backs. Edwards-Helaire showcased way too much talent and natural instinct in college for those to not translate to the NFL.
The Need For A More Varied Passing Attack
On Sunday, Kelce and Hill combined for 81% of the Chiefs’ receiving yards on just 65% of the team’s targets. While accounting for well over half a team’s targets seems high in itself, it still shouldn’t result in over 80% of their total receiving yards. This alone highlights the lack of meaningful contribution from the rest of the offense.
In fact, you can take it one step further by eliminating the receiving yards from all running backs, leaving the rest of the wide receivers — Mecole Hardman, Demarcus Robinson, and Byron Pringle — accounting for just 34 yards on seven targets, resulting in a rather deflating 4.86 yards per target. Yes, the Chiefs still won without their contributions, but as they face tougher defenses and injuries come into play, it is absolutely necessary that the supporting cast finds a way to make an impact.
Many saw the lack of a productive third receiving option behind Hill and Kelce as a potentially season-altering decision.
On Sunday, that angst nearly boiled over. The main concern is that the two most skilled options to fill that role, veterans Hardman and Robinson, have proven time and time again to lack the ability to take that next step to being a reliable and consistent option for Mahomes. It’s hard to see that changing anytime soon after Sunday’s performance against a rather average defense, let alone the elite units still playing in January and February.
On Sunday in Arrowhead, these two areas of emphasis for the Chiefs’ offense failed spectacularly, yet it didn’t matter — again. However, at some point this season, their dynamic trio will need help, and these weaknesses had better be addressed by then.