Coming off of an atrocious performance in Week 6, the Kansas City Chiefs offense needed a rebound game against the Los Angeles Chargers. Not only did they rebound, but they blew the Chargers' defense out of the water and silenced the critics.
Mahomes to Kelce
Two weeks ago, it seemed like Kelce might possibly be out for several weeks or even longer. Since then, he has been on a tear. With a massive 13-reception, 179-yard receiving day, Kelce was responsible for nine first downs, including three on third downs.
9 of Travis Kelce's 12 receptions were for first downs yesterday. The Chargers drop men to defend the line to gain, but Kelce sneaks in behind them. Mahomes keeps the play alive and manipulates the defenders with his eyes. Drops it into Kelce for the first and then some. pic.twitter.com/NZ1nR7W1JZ— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) October 23, 2023
Kelce even created some explosive plays, and for the first time this season, the Chiefs used their vaunted 13 personnel to gash the Chargers for some chunk plays.
Kelce hasn't run a ton of routes out of 13 personnel so far this year, but in the last two weeks, we have seen a few flashes of what we saw last year when the Chiefs were in that grouping. pic.twitter.com/Fltltiy8sm— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) October 24, 2023
The Chiefs have had this look for most of the season, and in a highly-contested divisional matchup against the Chargers, they chose to break it out.
Three of Travis Kelce's receptions were from 13 personnel. Gray continues vertically on the go route, but Kelce breaks to the inside on a crossing route. The defender lays out to go after the ball but misses. Father time is going to need a rain check. pic.twitter.com/izuNpGVBwZ— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) October 24, 2023
The Chargers came into the game intending to stop the run and were ready to match the heavy formation from Kansas City by putting eight players in the box to match numbers.
The run action from Mahomes draws in the linebackers for just a second. Meanwhile, Kelce and Noah Gray sprint upfield side by side. Gray keeps running vertically at close to 10 yards of depth, but Kelce breaks inside and starts to create separation.
This modified dagger concept took advantage of the Chargers' man-to-man look and them only putting one safety back deep in coverage. Mahomes fired a laser to Kelce, who caught it in stride and rumbled just short of the endzone.
Rashee Rice as a viable second option
The Chiefs' receiving core has struggled to make an impact for much of the season, but one player has started to stand out among the group. Rookie receiver Rashee Rice turned in another solid performance and was second on the team in receptions: five for 60 yards receiving and one touchdown.
Although he is still working through some kinks as a route runner — much like all young players — he is excelling after the catch.
A quick look at the receiving yards and YAC for Rashee Rice through the first seven games.— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) October 23, 2023
His explosive and physical running style has already allowed him to make an impact on the offense. As he develops as a route runner it will only strengthen his game. pic.twitter.com/GlhOk12RC2
47 of Rice's 60 receiving yards came after the catch, and he was a good second option for Mahomes once Kelce was covered.
Rice in the slot here working a crossing look. The defense swarms to Kelce who had the underneath route. Mahomes looks to Kelce but quickly fires to Rice who has room to rumble. Explosive YAC capabilities. pic.twitter.com/itFEOjs9yA— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) October 24, 2023
This "levels" passing concept is designed to pressure the secondary quickly, forcing them to choose a man. Kelce was in the middle of an all-time day, so he was the easy pick.
Once Rice enters his route, he comes open and catches the bullet from Mahomes. One burst of speed later, and it was a 37-yard rip. The Chiefs' playcalling has made it an emphasis to put the ball in Rice's hands, either in a route or by design.
Rice motions in and on the snap gets ready for the screen. Thuney gets out in space quickly and delivers enough of a hit to knock the LB off balance. Rice delivers some punishment on the safety who steps up to make the play. pic.twitter.com/SiOcInyfF3— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) October 24, 2023
As Rice motions around the formation, it tips off the Chiefs that the Chargers are in man coverage. It also tells Joe Thuney which player he needs to attack upon being released from the line of scrimmage.
Thuney gets out in space, and Rice gives a nice hesitation move look to allow the big man to connect on his block. As Rice picks up momentum, he faces a choice as the safety steps up to fill: go around him or through him.
Rice lowers his shoulder, delivering a bone-crushing hit and sending a message to the defense.
Rice has been described by many as a "power slot" type, but his speed and explosion make him a little harder to categorize. It is early on in his career, but it looks like the team has every intention of continuing to feed him the ball and help him grow as a player.
Perhaps one of the most criticized Chiefs through the early portion of the season has been Marquez Valdes-Scantling. After recording zero receptions in Week 6 — and only seven through the first five weeks — he was in need of a big day.
The struggles for Valdes-Scantling have been an issue, but his quarterback still had trust in him. Mahomes has struggled to get on the same page with his wideouts multiple times this season, but he showed on Sunday that his best connection when improvising is when Valdes-Scantling is on the other end.
Mahomes doesn't like what he sees initially and extends the play. MVS darts across the field on an angle to the open space. Mahomes hooks the pass over Derwin James and MVS does a balancing act to stay on his feet and score. pic.twitter.com/QqBRriJnEU— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) October 23, 2023
Scantling initially is running in route, but Mahomes does not like what he sees from any route runners and decides to work to his right. Valdes-Scantling finds himself in space just before the scramble and is able to unlock his long speed as he heads to the sideline.
Mahomes finds him in stride, and Valdes-Scantling walks the tightrope for six. The same comfort while making decisions on the fly would be on display later in the game as well.
Mahomes connected with MVS on a few long improvised plays. Nothing there initially so he scrambles. MVS redirects his route and Mahomes fires back across his body on a rope. pic.twitter.com/faoLtSkm16— Caleb James (@CJScoobs) October 24, 2023
Mahomes has a clean pocket to operate in but does not like what he sees downfield. He starts to scramble left and keys in on Valdes-Scantling. Feeling Mahomes starting to look his way, Valdes-Scantling gets behind the defenders and turns toward the sideline to create more separation.
Mahomes fires an across-the-body pass, and Valdes-Scantling does a good job of looking the ball in and hauling in the pass.
Although the pair have not had many connections this season, it is clear after this performance that Mahomes still has faith in Valdes-Scantling. The connection the two showed is genuine, and hopefully, for the Chiefs, it will jump-start Valdes-Scantling to being a bigger factor in the offense on a week-to-week basis.
His long speed and ability to keep running with Mahomes while he scrambles should hopefully add another layer to the Chiefs passing attack.
The bottom line
When this offense is at its best, no team in the NFL can beat them. Mahomes and Kelce have surpassed the greatest quarterback-tight end duo of all time conversation and have wholly entered into being the greatest duo of all time.
The monstrous 424-yard and four-touchdown from Mahomes silenced any question about whether he was having an off-year and once more put him at the forefront of a budding MVP conversation.