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Is the book out on how to curb the Chiefs offense?

Was Sunday’s offensive output a warning flag of things to come or simply an outlier

Kansas City Chiefs v Detroit Lions Photo by Rey Del Rio/Getty Images

The Kansas City Chiefs are coming off a hard-fought victory against the Detroit Lions, in which it took a two-minute drive to come away victorious. It was a phenomenal win for the Chiefs, who were tested on the road by a high-quality defense that is getting coaching near the level they will see in the AFC playoffs. It was also somewhat disappointing to many fans, as the offense appeared to struggle like it’s never before under Patrick Mahomes.

Mahomes was 0 for 9 throwing downfield, the first time in his career he was unable to connect at all on such throws. The Chiefs were out of sync, with countless passes falling on the turf with no receiver nearby or free rushers pushing Mahomes out of the pocket immediately.

The question needs to be asked.

Was it a random fluke occurrence, or is the book out on how to curb the Chiefs offense?

Chiefs’ offensive struggles against the Lions

Let’s make something clear: the Kansas City Chiefs ended this game with 438 total yards.

While a dip down from their average in the other three games — 487 yards per game — that number would still rank them second in the NFL in terms of yards per game. They also scored 34 points, which is technically above their season average and would lead the NFL. Even if we remove the defensive touchdown, the Chiefs would have scored 28, which would still rank seventh in the NFL in terms of points per game—not too bad for an off performance by the offense.

OK. The raw numbers still look pretty good, but what about efficiency?

The Chiefs rank a comfortable first on the year in terms of yards per play with 7.4. That number dropped to 6.5 against the Lions. That would still rank fourth in the NFL in terms of yards per play.

So maybe the issue was getting bopped off the field frequently on third down?

The Chiefs are sitting at 52.38% on the season — good enough for third in the league — while Sunday, they had just a 44% third-down conversion rate. That number would still place them in the top 10 in the NFL in terms of third-down conversion percentage.

I’ll always say that I prefer looking at the process over the results—I want to see how a player or team achieved what they did rather than focus on the end result. The stats are telling — from the yardage to the efficiency to the final score — but does that line up with what we witnessed with our eyes?

To find that answer, let’s head down to the laboratory and look at the tape:

Starting at the top

This was not Patrick Mahomes best game playing quarterback for the Kansas City Chiefs or even particularly close to it.

There were more struggles than just Mahomes against the Lions, but there were still plays he left on the field. The way the Lions were bringing delayed pressure or stacking the box, then dropping players out seemed to keep Mahomes on edge all game long. On more than one occasion, a play like above occurred in which Mahomes felt he had to flee from a well-blocked pocket and ultimately caused his own pressure.

A simple slide to his left would have given him more than enough room to step into and make any throw, but he rolled all the way out, bringing extra pressure on himself.

Just under half of Mahomes’ misses on those nine deep passes were on over type routes like this one.

The Lions played them very well by constantly undercutting any sign of an in-breaking route, forcing Mahomes to try and loft the ball up and over the trailing defender. Most weeks, this sounds like a massive mistake for an opposing defense, as it gives the wide receiver all the room to run, but Mahomes simply wasn’t hitting them.

More than one of the errant throws appeared to be his fault, whether he did not set his platform correctly or even attempt a pseudo no-look pass like above.

I understand the idea of holding the safety in the middle of the field, but on this particular play, an accurate pass should outweigh holding the safety completely out of the play.

Finally missing Tyreek Hill

Outside of the quarterback being the most important position on the field and the most important “issue” on the offense, the wide receivers’ inability to consistently beat one-on-one coverage was a massive problem. This is a problem that hadn’t really crept up so far in 2019 but one that certainly came crashing down this past week.

Sammy Watkins drew the most difficult matchup against Justin Coleman, who is a very good cornerback. Despite that, Watkins had his fair share of wins but also was bested more than once at the catch point. The expectation from Watkins — given his price tag — would be to find more success than that against Coleman.

Unfortunately for the Chiefs, Watkins was still the most effective wide receiver in terms of creating separation.

Demarcus Robinson was coming off of back-to-back top-tier performances and looked like he might be on the verge to taking a major step. The Chiefs even agreed with that sentiment, as they dialed up a few isolation, shot plays for him that he simply couldn’t cash in on. Robinson especially struggled with his hand fighting at the stem of his routes, as he has the footwork to beat any cornerback in the NFL, but when defenders got physical with their hands, he struggled to maintain his speed through his entire route.

Mecole Hardman had trouble from the same general issue in that physicality really held him both at his stem but also off the line of scrimmage. Hardman has a tendency to rely on his speed or an occasional stutter release to beat his defender, and when those two moves were working, there wasn’t much left in the tank.

Hardman’s rare speed did allow him to get free on a couple crossing routes but they didn’t pair with the snaps in which the offensive line provided enough time for Mahomes to find him.

Inconsistent protection

As I’ve explained throughout this piece, the offensive line wasn’t blocking at an extremely high level for this game.

The Lions made it difficult on the line by mixing up who was coming after the quarterback and who was dropping, but that isn’t an excuse for some of the quick pressure. The offensive tackles, in particular, were beaten both around the edge and on inside moves more often than Chiefs fans are used to seeing. Even more worrisome is the trend of the interior offensive line not only surrendering pressures but also allowing teams to crush the middle of the pocket.

The bottom line

All the stats tell you that the Chiefs offense was still a top-three unit this past Sunday when beating the Lions. But there are some dynamics of the offense that look like it can be targeted and exploited by upcoming defenses.

As always, the truth lies somewhere in the middle.

The Chiefs offense certainly wasn’t in perfect rhythm between missing a few key members, untimely turnovers and Mahomes’ least accurate downfield passing game of his career. That’s true. The catch is that the offense is still so good that even under those circumstances, it is still capable of beating any other team in the NFL.

The concern comes when they face a more dynamic offense than the Detroit Lions.

This Chiefs team is designed around being an offensive powerhouse and while having a flawed offense that still executes at a top-10 level is good enough to beat some teams, it won’t always be enough to be high-end offenses.

Luckily for the Chiefs, most of their issues on offense are easily fixed by simply waiting. Tyreek Hill should return soon, making one-on-one man coverage a dangerous gamble. Eric Fisher shouldn’t be too far behind helping sure up the left edge of the offensive line, and Mahomes isn’t likely to won’t have another game that erratic with his downfield passing.

If this is the Chiefs’ — or even just one of the Chiefs’ — worst offensive performances of the year, there is simply nothing to worry about...


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