Glancing at the box score, it would be easy to assume Kansas City blew Denver out of the water. The Chiefs put up 389 yards of total offense and were forced into only one three-and-out situation in the entire game. While the offense did sometimes stall out at the end of drives, there were still some positives.
The Patrick Mahomes-Travis Kelce connection was fantastic
Should we have expected anything less?
Five days after an ankle injury made even the most hardened Kansas City fans nervous, the Kansas City’s dynamic duo exploded against the Broncos. The team’s superstar tight end had nine receptions for 124 yards on nine targets. "Father Time" received some harsh pushback as Kelce put on a route-running clinic.
Kelce was playing games with the Broncos LB's and secondary. They start out playing the sprint out, but just the glance back from Mahomes once Kelce turned the corner on 49 was enough to pull them away from the middle. Hard to immagine the best TE in the game is this open.. pic.twitter.com/cDvTYdUTnC— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) October 16, 2023
The reigning MVP quarterback was equally sharp, delivering every pass to Kelce on time — and with pinpoint accuracy.
You run out of things to say about these two at some point. Great route and a great ball. I also like the run action and jump sets from the OT's to get hands on quick and latch down the edge rushers. pic.twitter.com/Uzh7Hxn8Vq— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) October 16, 2023
Of Kelce’s 124 yards, just 47 were after the catch — most of them coming on a 40-yard catch-and-run. If the ankle was still bothering Kelce, Mahomes certainly did his part to help him — and football’s best tight end made sure to catch everything that came his way.
The outside running game is getting very good
The Chiefs’ pin-and-pull sweep is a new kind of explosive play the team has added to its offensive arsenal.
KC is getting good at the pin-and-pull toss look. They don't get that good of a pin, but they win the angles game. 74, 65, and 52 all with excellent blocks in space. The timing from 65 is impeccable, and the way he hits the angle on a smaller quicker player is rare. pic.twitter.com/7Ve2oo5GVS— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) October 17, 2023
With offensive linemen who are arguably the league’s best space blockers, Kansas City’s offense is tailor-made to create chunk plays in the perimeter running game. Many have labeled running back Isiah Pacheco as a power runner — but with his explosive speed, these are the kinds of plays where we will most likely see him rip off his longest runs.
Rashee Rice showed up
For the first time all year, it looked like a wide receiver finally stepped up to take the reins.
KC runs a power RPO look. Rice has the slant route. Smith pulls and the LB's start to flow with the run opening up a larger window. An explosive cut into route for Rice and a good job to rack up the YAC. pic.twitter.com/JOGLz3UWKc— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) October 16, 2023
Rice had a career-high four receptions for 72 yards — and showed off his ability to run in the open field. With 55 yards after the catch, he was excellent at catching short routes underneath the defense and burning his way up the field.
Unfortunately, these flashes of good play were mixed in with an equal amount of bad play. For example...
Multiple failures in short-yardage situations
As good as the Chiefs' offensive line and running backs have sometimes looked this season, they have often been hard to watch when only a few yards are needed. Thursday’s game was no different.
This play would have prob ended up being closer than it appeared, but just the surge alone behind the IOL likely would have gotten Pacheco at least a yard. Smith gives up the inside some, but Toney pulls the ball and gets nowhere. pic.twitter.com/xRh2fLj4H9— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) October 17, 2023
This season — when the Chiefs need between two and five yards for a first down — the team is averaging just 2.8 yards per play.
Most wide receivers struggled
Outside of Rice, Kansas City’s wide receivers couldn’t get going. Skyy Moore caught two of his four targets — and a few times, was even open downfield — but it was clear that Mahomes is still uncomfortable about throwing to him.
Kadarius Toney caught three passes and scored the Chiefs' only touchdown — but outside of that, he was stagnant. On reverses and other looks, the defense was ready to stop him.
Neither Marquez Valdes-Scantling or Justin Watson caught a pass — and each of them were targeted just once.
When a team gains almost 400 yards — and scores just 19 points — it’s likely that some ugly stuff happened. And that’s what we saw.
Failures on third down
Heading into the game, the Chiefs were one of the league’s best third-down offenses. Apparently. nobody relayed this information to the Broncos. They held the Kansas City offense to a rancid four conversions on 13 attempts.
The Chiefs' short-yardage problems often became third-down incompetence.
Run action zone look with 24 coming back off of the motion into the flat. The EOL recognizes it and rounds off his rush some before putting himself between 24 & 15. 15 looks for someone in the endzone but elects to scramble instead. Very close to being a highlight... pic.twitter.com/SedVDAv2AK— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) October 17, 2023
On these critical downs, the team just seemed off — and while Denver deserves credit for its effort, it was often a matter of Kansas City failing to make the right play.
I would bet 15 would like to have this one back. He starts to feel pressure from the right, but 65 comes in to clean up the edge. All eyes were on 87, 19, and 10 on the short routes, but 83 ended up being wide open on the corner route. Scramble drill is not pretty either... pic.twitter.com/IJ4Mg7M1bL— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) October 17, 2023
If Mahomes sits in the pocket for just one more tenth of a second on this play, Trey Smith could take care of the pressure coming from the right side — which in turn would give Mahomes a chance to see Noah Gray find the void in the zone. He has plenty of time to scramble — but with Kelce and Toney in the same vicinity, too many defenders are in the area; the passing lanes are closed.
Trick plays didn’t work
Against a woefully bad Broncos defense, I was hoping to see an offense that had yet to fully hit its stride come out and beat an inferior opponent. But as the offense struggled to maintain consistency, it tried running some plays that made it seem like the goal was to put on a show — rather than beat a bad football team.
This play elevated my blood pressure far more than I should have allowed it lol. Ugly all the way around. The Broncos were not phased at all. pic.twitter.com/TYIIrJgPaf— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) October 17, 2023
While it was poorly called and executed, Toney's zone read — in theory — could have been a good idea; the Chiefs have used the concept in the past.
But as we see here, it was horrible from the moment the team broke the huddle. The awkward handoff to Clyde Edwards-Helaire does nothing to faze the defense. The poor timing on the pitch creates further issues, forcing Toney to take his attention away from downfield. The play is entirely too slow to develop, allowing rushers time to get through. And then to cap things off, Toney is nearly intercepted as throws to Jerick McKinnon in double coverage.
The bottom line
Trick plays are for bad teams — or for teams that know they’re good. I’m not going to say the Chiefs are a bad team.
But the Kansas City offense cannot figure out short-yardage situations — despite having the personnel to dominate in those situations. That same offense has multiple starting wide receivers that did not record a single reception on Thursday. And it’s the same offense that was so horrible on third downs that a bad Broncos team was able to stay in the game.
The Chiefs are a good team. But if they think they’re running a good offense, they need to look in the mirror.