After a very disappointing loss to the Indianapolis Colts, the Kansas City Chiefs' 2022 record fell to 2-1. In context, the loss feels even worse, knowing just how winnable that game was for the Chiefs.
If I had told you the Chiefs' record was 2-1 through the first three games back in March, you might be fairly satisfied. The problem is how they arrived at that record. While there were indeed some questions about the Chiefs' offense after Week 2, nobody was all that surprised that they struggled against a top-tier defense such as the Los Angeles Chargers. After another disappointing offensive performance, it's time to admit it: the Chiefs are not a great offensive team right now.
After a dominant performance against the Arizona Cardinals in Week 1, everything seemed on track for another year of dominant offense. But since that game, the offense has looked sluggish and reliant on tightened Travis Kelce to have any sort of success.
The offensive line has struggled, wide receivers are not getting open against man coverage, and the run game has been widely inconsistent. It feels like this offense is missing a true No. 1 receiver — someone who can get open in the red zone and a player who can break open a game strictly on yards after the catch. If only the Chiefs could add a player to their roster that commanded all that attention to a singular player.
And there we are — it's OK to admit this Chiefs offense misses Tyreek Hill.
After adding several offensive weapons through the draft and free agency, this narrative seemed to fade in Kansas City. We started to believe that the depth of the wide receiving corps would be better. We began to think that Mecole Hardman would take the next step with greater opportunity. We wanted to believe that this offense would finally use big-bodied wideouts that could win contested catches. We thought this offensive line could dominate the run game to set up play-action passing.
Of course, it's only three games in, but thus far, none of this has come to fruition.
Trading Hill was a move that had to be made for this roster's future. The trade made the 2022 Chiefs worse, but it improved the fate of the 2023 roster and beyond. Sure, the Chiefs have seen their struggles on offense with Hill, and many will point to just last season, as the Chiefs struggled in October and November.
The 2022 offense needed to be better than it was in the 2021 AFC championship. Taking away Hill was a massive step back for the floor of this offense. Sure, one can squint and see a situation where they were as good as last year offensively. But being better than 2021 (fourth in overall offense) seems less than likely.
The problem with the analysis of Hill is many analysts look at the Chiefs without him and think they've lost the ability to stretch teams vertically. But the addition of Marquez Valdes-Scantling will continue to force teams to respect the deep threat. Even Hardman commands respect from coverage based upon his speed alone.
In reality, Hill had become limited vertically over the years, his average depth target dropped year after year, and the deep connection wasn't there. The difference with Hill was how quick and twitchy he was in the intermediate area of the field. Sure, Valdes-Scantling and Hardman are fast, but nobody in the league is as quick as Hill. This offense desperately misses a simple short pass that he turns into an 11-yard run after the catch.
An underrated aspect of Hill's game was his ability to separate quickly. Part of what is causing the offensive line to struggle is the Chiefs don't have players winning off release. It's a lot easier to get the ball out quickly when Hill already has three steps on a corner in three seconds. Now it feels like Patrick Mahomes is constantly waiting on players to get open or forcing balls to players who are covered.
The hard part about losing Hill is his impact went far beyond his speed. He was a great option in the red zone — a place where the Chiefs have struggled mightily this season. Right now, the red zone feels reliant upon Kelce or a shovel pass, and that's it.
It's understandable that many are tired of hearing the narrative about Hill being gone and how it will define the 2022 Chiefs. And frankly, it's lazy analysis just to say the team will regress because of his absence. But I think the Chiefs win against the Colts if they had Hill on the roster.
That being said, there are many reasons to be optimistic about the Chiefs this season and beyond. The youthful defense is playing well despite missing two starters (Willie Gay and Trent McDuffie), they still have one of the best head coach-quarterback combinations in the NFL, and of course, it's way early. There is still plenty of time for Mahomes to build rapport with his receivers.
Going forward, the Chiefs will need to find their new identity as a team and as an offense. Since Mahomes took over, the Chiefs have always relied upon offensive dominance. That might not be the case in 2022 — and that's OK.
The Chiefs roster is in a much different place right now than the other AFC contenders (the Buffalo Bills, Cincinnati Bengals, Baltimore Ravens and Miami Dolphins). At this point, the greatest need for Kansas City is to find its footing offensively and continue to let its youth play.
In trading Hill, the Chiefs made the right move for the long haul. But it’s OK to admit that right now, this team misses him.