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Fact or Fiction: 7 narratives about the Chiefs’ 2023 offense

Is Kansas City’s offense completely broken? Let’s see.

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos Photo by Justin Tafoya/Getty Images

Well, that wasn’t fun!

On Sunday, the Kansas City Chiefs turned in a 24-9 loss to the Denver Broncos — the team’s first loss to the Broncos in 2,965 days. At that time, I was a 13-year-old seventh-grader.

After this defeat, there’s been a lot of consternation about the Kansas City offense — and rightfully so. The Chiefs committed five turnovers, averaged 4.8 yards per play and were 3/10 on third down. In expected points added (EPA) per drive, it was the worst performance of Patrick Mahomes’ career.

Now that we’re halfway into this season — and Kansas City is coming off such a bad offensive performance — there are a number of overarching narratives being formed about the Chiefs’ offense. So instead of writing about the film from Sunday’s game — which was wretched — I decided to evaluate seven of these narratives, determining which ones are “Fact” and which ones are “Fiction.”

Let’s get started.

1. The Chiefs need to run the ball more

Since the passing offense is struggling, there are naturally going to be calls for Kansas City to run the football more often. While running back Isiah Pacheco has had a strong year (averaging 4.3 yards per carry), advanced stats tell a different story: the Chiefs have struggled to run the football. They now rank 25th in EPA per rushing play and 31st in success rate on running plays.

Kansas City simply isn’t getting enough out of running the ball to make it a feature of the offense. While the running game absolutely needs to be improved, it can’t be the foundation of the offense.

Verdict: Fiction

2. The Chiefs need running back depth

Behind Pacheco, Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Jerick McKinnon are both struggling. Edwards-Helaire is averaging 3.3 yards per carry, while McKinnon is averaging 1.9. Both have a success rate of 36.4%, which ranks 72nd among 89 running backs with at least 10 carries. That’s only the 17th percentile! Neither has made an impact as a receiver — particularly McKinnon, who had 56 catches for 512 yards and nine touchdowns in 2022. This season, he’s on pace for only 32 catches, 268 yards and four touchdowns.

When he plays every snap, we can’t expect Pacheco to stay healthy; the Chiefs need McKinnon and Edwards-Helaire to shoulder some of the load. Unfortunately, neither is producing enough to justify that. Kansas City could benefit from having another option at running back — just like the two-headed rushing attack they had with Pacheco and McKinnon in 2022

Verdict: Fact

3. The Chiefs have been bad from 13 personnel

Last year, the Chiefs were excellent from 13 personnel: one running back and three tight ends. They used that personnel grouping on 10% of their plays, averaging 0.35 EPA per play. Part of this was from opponents daring Kansas City to run the ball, so the team put heavier bodies on the field. But the Chiefs also thrived while throwing from 13 personnel. They passed on 59% of their snaps in that alignment, shredding teams with deep crossing routes and play-action.

This year, however, defenses have been prepared. The Chiefs still using 13 personnel on 9% of their plays — passing on 47% of those snaps — but are averaging minus 0.03 EPA per play. Teams have built counters to Kansas City’s most successful personnel grouping from 2022 — and the Chiefs haven’t yet figured out how to beat those counters.

Verdict: Fact

4. Skyy Moore is a bust

It hasn’t been a good second year for Moore. He’s currently on pace for 30 catches, 357 yards and two touchdowns. That would barely exceed his rookie stat line. Before the season began, I wrote about how Moore’s potential growth was critical to the floor of the wide receiver group. Now, his lack of development has led to the floor... well... falling out. Until further notice, Moore was a bad draft pick.

Verdict: Fact

5. The Chiefs should’ve signed DeAndre Hopkins

Throughout the offseason, the Chiefs flirted with Hopkins as a potential solution at wide receiver — but he ended up signing with the Tennessee Titans. Kansas City’s available means to open cap space were limited; Hopkins could simply get more money elsewhere.

Hopkins is on pace for 75 catches, 1,224 yards and seven touchdowns this season. Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Rashee Rice and Moore are collectively on pace for 119 catches, 1,607 yards, and 11 touchdowns. Hopkins is clearly better than any receiver on Kansas City’s roster. The team should have opened the cap space to bring him in.

Verdict: Fact

6. The Chiefs shouldn’t have let Juju Smith-Schuster leave

Smith-Schuster was an awesome player for the Chiefs. He put up 78 catches, 933 yards and three touchdowns. He had a 67.3% success rate, which was the league’s third highest. Smith-Schuster brought a sense of calm to the passing offense; Mahomes could trust him to be in the right spots and move the chains.

Smith-Schuster’s play has been much worse this year. He’s on pace for only 32 catches. 189 yards and two touchdowns. Some of that might be from the New England Patriots’ putrid offense — but when he was with the Pittsburgh Steelers, Smith-Schuster had success with Mason Rudolph and Duck Hodges as his quarterbacks. His body is starting to give out on him; if he had remained in Kansas City, I doubt he would have been able to be as efficient. Even given their wide receiver struggles, I think the Chiefs made the right decision.

Verdict: Fiction

7. The Chiefs can’t win the Super Bowl with this offense

The offense has very real issues. Outside of throwing to Kelce, the passing game lacks an identity. Wide receivers are playing poorly. The running game is inefficient.

There is zero doubt: offense is a significant step down from where it was last season.

But the offense isn’t broken. It is still fifth in EPA per play and seventh in success rate. Even with all of the frustrations from the passing game, the team ranks fourth in dropback EPA and fifth in success rate.

As long as Mahomes, Kelce, and Reid are in the playoffs, they’re going to be formidable. With them — and the Chiefs’ truly elite defense — Kansas City has as good a shot to win the Super Bowl as any other team.

Verdict: Fiction

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