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Chiefs offense dissatisfied through four games despite undefeated record

Defenses have changed the way they are playing the Chiefs in 2020 — and now they realize it’s time to adjust.

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The version of the Kansas City Chiefs that is the reigning, defending Super Bowl champions has never been more evident than this week in Kansas City. The Chiefs defeated the New England Patriots by 16 points on Monday night stemming from defensive efforts — and that has been the offense’s problem with it.

Because of the unfortunate unpredictability of coronavirus, the Chiefs were gifted a Patrick Mahomes-against-Brian Hoyer matchup, but until late in the third quarter, the offense had only scored six points.

“I don’t think we played our best ball this past weekend,” said Chiefs offensive coordinator Eric Bieniemy in his opening statement on Thursday. “Our guys know that, they feel that. One thing that I will say, I’m proud of the fact that our guys are learning how to find ways to win. They’re learning to strain the finish when things are not perfect. One thing I’m not going to do, there’s no excuses for the lack of performance. Our coaching staff has addressed all of the issues, we will continue to address it, we’re going to continue to coach our guys up, and our guys are energized and they’re ready to come out and redeem themselves. But we understand that we’ve got to focus on the details moving forward.”

Without blitzing much at all, the Patriots still put modest pressure on Mahomes throughout the game. On the now infamous Chase Winovich stoppage of forward progress, the Patriots were only rushing three players.

NFL: New England Patriots at Kansas City Chiefs Jay Biggerstaff-USA TODAY Sports

“First off, I thought the offensive line did a good job,” said Mahomes. “There was a couple times I was drifting a little bit, and so I threw better at working within the pocket especially when they’re only rushing three or four pass rushers, I can trust in them and then just getting the ball out of my hands and finding the right reads.”

Mahomes was 16 of 22 for 208 yards when the pocket was kept clean, according to Pro Football Focus. But by loading the field with defensive backs, Patriots coach Bill Belichick was able to stifle the team’s talented pass-catchers.

“There was some guys open and I wasn’t able to find them,” added Mahomes. “I mean, that’s a great defense.”

As working downfield began to feel like less of an option, the Chiefs turned to motion out of the backfield — plays that led to scores for speedy wide receivers Tyreek Hill and Mecole Hardman.

The Chiefs had found a way.

“What you do is you just go back to the things that your guys can just dial up and go and line up and play,” explained Bieniemy. “They can line up and execute a play that we may not have practiced or ran in a while, but those guys know it inside-out. And then at the end of the day, we’ve just got to make sure we’re playing assignment-sound ball, regardless of what we call.”

Still, the offensive coordinator recognized the grand takeaway the Chiefs might garner from from the game film.

NFL: Super Bowl LIV-AFC Champions-Press Conference Kirby Lee-USA TODAY Sports

“We’ve got to learn to be more patient,” he said. “We have to be willing to drive the length of the field. We’ve got to take exactly what is there. On top of that, we’ve just got to make sure that we’re doing all the little things that are necessary to help us to be productive, whether it’s an offensive lineman taking the correct footwork, a back taking the correct footwork in the run game, Pat being disciplined with his eyes and seeing downfield, receivers making sure they’re getting the proper depth.”

This season, the downtick in big-chunk plays has been noticeable for an offense endearingly referred to as The Legion of Zoom. There have been a few deep balls to remember, such as Mecole Hardman’s 49-yard touchdown against the Baltimore Ravens and Tyreek Hill’s 54-yard score against the Los Angeles Chargers — but the consistency in such plays simply hasn’t been there.

The Chiefs offense is still managing 29.3 points per game (ninth-best), but amazingly, no Chiefs receiver has yet to break 100 yards in a single one of them — a note that would be unheard-of in previous Mahomes years.

“I just feel like we’re known as deep threats,” said Tyreek Hill this week. “We’ve got me, we’ve got Cole (Mecole Hardman), we’ve got Sammy (Watkins), obviously who can do it and you’ve got (Travis) Kelce who can even do it. Teams are more aware of us, so we’re not seeing as much man coverage as we usually see. It’s more zone calls trying to slow us down, so that could be a reason why.

“We’re still fast, we still can catch, we still have all of that. But you know, sometimes teams just play to not give up the deep shot.”

Opposing teams might be catching up to an extent, but they have yet to win — and for now, that is all that matters.

It might take a heavy dose of patience and methodology to bring back the LoZ.