The Kansas City Chiefs are 10-3 heading into Week 15 and have won six out of the last seven games. They currently hold the No. 2 seed in the AFC playoff picture and could clinch the AFC West for a seventh consecutive year with a win Sunday over the Houston Texans.
All teams have things that they can improve on and be better at. Despite all that the Chiefs have accomplished this year, there are some areas that need advancement down the stretch if they're going to make a legitimate Super Bowl run.
1. Consistent production from wide receivers
The Chiefs currently rank first in total offense with 5,079 total yards. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes leads the NFL in passing with 4,160 yards, and tight end Travis Kelce has surpassed 1,000 receiving yards seven years running. The Chiefs seem to have found an answer at running back in rookie Isiah Pacheco, who has averaged a little under 80 yards in his last five games, during which he has shown the burst, vision and skill needed to have success in the NFL.
Everyone expects Mahomes and Kelce to be great — and Pacheco has been a pleasant surprise to the run game, but for the Chiefs to return to the Super Bowl, they will need more steady production from their wide receiver group.
Mahomes made it known early that the plan was to spread the ball around this season; we have seen a lot of that.
Patrick Mahomes said the the #chiefs offense will be about spreading the football around in 2022. He said that now defenses won’t know where the ball is going or who it’s going to. It’s going to be “more diverse” in his mind.— James Palmer (@JamesPalmerTV) April 18, 2022
However, injuries, drops and an inability to beat one-on-one coverage have hindered the wideouts.
JuJu Smith-Schuster has put together a solid season, with 61 receptions for 762 yards, and he could reach 1,000 yards if he averages 60 a game over the next four games. Before suffering a concussion early against the Jacksonville Jaguars that caused him to miss the matchup against the Los Angeles Chargers, he had a tremendous three-game stretch against the Buffalo Bills, San Francisco 49ers and Tennessee Titans — he caught 22 passes for 325 yards during that span.
In the other nine games, Smith-Schuster has 39 receptions for 437 yards, only an average of 48 yards a game. The Chiefs will need his production to be closer to what it was in that three-game stretch to help take some pressure off Kelce. If his production stays the same, the other receivers must produce.
The next player the Chiefs would like to see step up is Marquez Valdes-Scantling. When you see 34 receptions for 606 yards with an average of 17.8 per reception, it could seem like a solid year. Valdes-Scantling has had some big plays for the Chiefs, turning 27 of his 34 catches into first downs. He also has the longest reception for the Chiefs with a 57-yarder. Valdes-Scantling has always been known for his explosive plays, and that's part of the reason the Chiefs brought him in. Still, it was no mystery that he struggled with drops throughout his career, which has continued to be a problem, as he currently has five drops on the season.
The biggest concern is that Mahomes only has a 55.7 completion percentage whenever he targets Valdes-Scantling. To bring that into perspective, every receiver and tight end besides Justin Watson has a percentage of 64 and above. Some of that is tied to deeper routes being naturally more difficult to connect on, but when you are third on the team in targets, you would like to see the completion percentage at least in the mid-60s.
As mentioned above, injury has played a significant role in the lack of receiver output. The return from injury by Mecole Hardman and Kadarius Toney may be just what the Chiefs need; they both bring speed and agility that the Chiefs lack without them, especially in the red zone.
Getting Hardman and Toney healthy and Smith-Schuster back consistently involved in the offense with slight improvement from Valdes-Scantling may really make this offense even better — and that may be scary for the rest of the league that still has to find some way to stop Kelce.
The Chiefs have a tackling problem.
The defense is ranked seventh in the NFL's missed tackles, with 67 on the year. Only two other teams currently in the playoff picture are in the top 10. In their Week 12 loss to the Bengals, the team combined for 14 missed tackles, according to Pro Football Focus.
The Chiefs' starting safeties, Juan Thornhill and Justin Reid, lead the team with eight missed tackles apiece, followed by linebacker Willie Gay Jr. with seven and rookie cornerbacks Joshua Williams and Jaylen Watson with five apiece. When most of your missed tackles are from your secondary, that usually means you are giving up big plays. While defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo has caught a lot of heat lately — and some of it deserving — he can only put players in the right position to make a play. They still have to make it.
If the Chiefs want to make a push to the Super Bowl, they are going to have to eliminate the big plays, and that starts with better tackling.
3. Limiting turnovers
The Chiefs are sixth in the league with 19 turnovers: 11 interceptions and eight fumbles lost. The Chiefs are negative-5 in turnover differential. That's 29th in the NFL. Only the Los Angeles Rams, New Orleans Saints and Indianapolis Colts are worse.
That makes the Chiefs the only playoff team in the bottom five of this category. They have had at least one turnover in eight straight weeks, and in all three losses this season, they have lost the turnover battle.
The Chiefs still a turnover problem. Came into the day ranking in the bottom five in turnover differential— Cody Tapp (@codybtapp) December 11, 2022
Turnovers are part of the game, but you can't expect to beat good teams if you turn the ball over. If the Chiefs want to make another run to the Super Bowl, they must clean things up here.
The bottom line
As is, the Chiefs are difficult to beat — that's the good news. If they improve in any or all of these areas, you can likely punch their ticket to the "big game."
They have shown flashes of the championship team that fans expect of them. But with four weeks left in the regular season, the Chiefs have been way too inconsistent. The lack of consistent production at wide receiver, the missed tackles and the turnovers are all reasons to be concerned about how deep the Chiefs can go into the playoffs. But these are also things that can be cleaned up over the next four weeks.
Plus, they have Mahomes, and he has shown to be one person that can overcome his own and the team's mistakes to somehow still win. However, the playoffs are not where you want to have to depend on that Mahomes Magic.
In January and February, it takes all 53.