The NFL Has Finally Caught Up to the Chiefs

Photo credit: George Walker IV (The Tennessean)

It finally happened. The day every Kansas City Chiefs fan hoped would never come. The NFL has figured out quarterback Patrick Mahomes and the offense head coach Andy Reid has perfected since 2018. Three entire seasons of record-setting performances provided Kansas City its most prolific era in franchise history. However, it’s safe to say that that iteration of the Chiefs’ offense is over, at least at this moment.

That’s not to say the Chiefs won’t turn things around and climb back into the playoff picture, but it likely won’t be in the same fashion that fans have grown accustomed to. Gone are the days of Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce roaming freely downfield or perfectly executed jet sweeps every other drive to gain easy yards. No, NFL defenses have finally found Kansas City’s kryptonite, and the Chiefs have failed to adjust, perhaps struggling to come to terms with the fact they can’t continue to play as they have through seven weeks.

Every opponent Kansas City has played this season has mirrored their defensive approach to the Chiefs’ offense. Mahomes and Co. have been faced with extremely light presence from the opposition at the line of scrimmage, coupled with two high safeties over the top. They have dared the Chiefs to beat them consistently with the running game and quick-hit passes, and the offense hasn’t found a way to do so.

They desperately need to adjust, and it starts with the two men credited the most with creating this newest version of the Greatest Show on Turf.

Patrick Mahomes

Mahomes is the undisputed leader of the Chiefs, and he will need to start leading by example for the offense to outpace their porous defense. That transformation starts with two parts of Mahomes’ game: turnovers and pocket presence.

After tossing only 11 total interceptions the past two seasons, Mahomes is already at nine picks through seven games. Following a string of turnovers through a couple of losses early in the season, most analysts pointed towards his stellar turnover rate in his first three seasons. His nearly 5:1 touchdown-to-turnover ratio was tops in the league. Surely his early-season struggles were only a blip on the radar, right?

Fast forward a few weeks, and Mahomes’ alarming turnover rate continues, even in games they’ve won. In the past four games, the Chiefs have gone 2-2 despite Mahomes coughing the ball up eight times. How he is turning the ball over is also alarming. In past seasons, Mahomes was rarely picked off because of poor decision making, but rather due to game situations, such as needing to push the ball for late-game drives or tossing the ball up on third-and-long, resulting in long arm punts. No, Mahomes has seemed mortal lately, throwing the type of interceptions usually reserved for the Matt Cassels or Tyler Palkos of the world. (If you need to pause and take a couple deep breaths after reading those two names, I understand.)

Mahomes needs to prioritize protecting the football, mostly because the offense is performing at a very high level right now when turnovers don’t cost them.

As Bed Baldwin of The Athletic depicts in his graph, Kansas City is still out-performing every other team with well over 80% of their fresh sets of downs resulting in either another first down or a score. The offense can still move the ball up the field with league-leading efficiency. It’s that ominous dark purple “turnover” section that is holding this unit back from returning to greatness. They need to get their turnover rate back to their normal standards. While not every turnover has been on Mahomes, it starts with him leading by example.

Mahomes also finds himself slipping back into an old habit, one that has routinely popped up from time to time since his college days. The young gunslinger has a tendency to drift too far back in the pocket, sometimes 12-plus yards deep, making it impossible for his offensive tackles to properly protect him. If he can get back to being comfortable playing from the pocket, he can stop rushing throws and allow more time for his receivers to get open.

Mahomes was sacked 17 and 22 times in the past two seasons, respectively. So far, he is on pace to be sacked 34 times. Sure, the offensive line has struggled at times, but Mahomes could drastically help his teammates by not regressing to some old habits.

Andy Reid

Big Red had waited his whole career for a quarterback with the talent of Mahomes to pair along with Hall of Fame talents in Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill. It was an offensive coach’s dream. Once he secured his jackpot ticket, he cashed it in for an incredible three-year run. However, just as with every revolutionary offensive system, the rest of the NFL has spent years dissecting its weaknesses and adjusted accordingly. A change in offensive philosophy was evident at some point.

That time has come. As Reid has become more and more pass happy, defenses have adjusted by selling out to defend the pass, and the Chiefs have obliged. No team this season has been blitzed at a lower rate than the Chiefs. Per Next Gen Stats, the Chiefs have been blitzed on 10.7% of plays, a full seven percentage points below the Buffalo Bills. And yet, Kansas City continues to throw the ball at a rate that ranks in the top five of the league.

Reid is not doing his quarterback or offensive line any favors by continuing his attempts to fit a square peg into a round hole. He needs to give his star quarterback some breathing room with easy chunk plays in the running game, rather than shouldering all the responsibility on his struggling signal caller.

Opposing defenses are attempting to force Kansas City into long, arduous drives down the field. The Chiefs have responded by playing directly into their hands, leading to the uncharacteristically high turnover rate. If Reid can find a way to adjust his offense into a more patient one, he may have a shot at turning the ship around.

Every phenomenal team or offensive system eventually sees an end to their run. The gunslinging Buffalo Bills of the 1990s were finally solved, as was the Greatest Show on Turf. It’s time for the Chiefs’ two primary leaders to look themselves in the mirror and realize it’s their turn now.

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Photo credit: George Walker IV (The Tennessean)

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