Sunday’s 27-20 victory over the Minnesota Vikings marked the fourth consecutive victory for the Kansas City Chiefs. At 4-1, they are tied with the Miami Dolphins for the AFC’s best record early in the season.
In spite of the winning record, Kansas City’s offense has appeared uncharacteristically inefficient compared to the first five seasons of the Patrick Mahomes era. Particularly concerning is the lack of a go-to receiver behind perennial All-Pro tight end Travis Kelce — who is racking up a concerning run of injuries in his age-34 season.
Six different wide receivers — among 10 total players — caught passes on Sunday, with all trailing Kelce’s 10 receptions for 67 yards. Speaking via Zoom on Monday, Chiefs’ offensive coordinator Matt Nagy expects to continue splitting the work among the entire wide receivers’ room.
10 different players caught a pass yesterday to contribute to a victory against the Vikings— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) October 9, 2023
“I think for us, it’s going to be more of the committee approach,” he confirmed of his plans for the position.
He appeared to refute criticism that the Chiefs need to decide on a couple of receivers to give traditional starter workloads, citing the varied skill sets each brings to the room.
“[Opponents] know they are going to put plans together to try to stop [Kelce],” he acknowledged. “With that said, we also have great wide receivers that we know they all have different strengths. We’ve been saying that all year long. For us, it’s our job as coaches to put them in different spots to utilize their strengths.”
Reiterating a longtime adage of Chiefs’ head coach Andy Reid, Nagy said that the Chiefs’ young receivers will need to show they can handle multiple roles to increase their snap counts. He trusts that Mahomes will be able to continue functioning with the current committee approach.
“[The receivers] also know,” Nagy stated, “that they’ve got to know these circles and spots within the offense — and not just their particular route. They’ve got to understand the concept. Then we have a phenomenal quarterback that’s able to spread the ball around.
“I think it probably makes it difficult for defensive coordinators to go into a game and say, ‘Hey, listen, this guy, we’re going to shut him down, and they can’t throw it to these other two or three guys because they’re just guys.’
“We feel like we’ve got a bunch of really good players at the wide receiver position that all have different strengths — and we just want to utilize them to the best of our ability.”
Two receivers who may have a path to expanding their roles are rookie Rashee Rice and veteran Justin Watson. Rice caught four passes for 33 yards and the go-ahead touchdown against the Vikings. In a season where Mahomes is struggling on deep passes, Watson brought in two impressive deep throws for 56 yards.
Nagy was happy to see Rice make a play under less-than-perfect circumstances.
“I think yesterday,” he recalled, “you saw that one catch he had over the middle of the field where he was running a basic cross, and the throw was a little bit behind him, but he was able to maneuver himself and make a strong-handed catch and still get vertical. To me, that’s immense growth from him where Week 1 and preseason, we might not have seen that.”
In Nagy’s eyes, Rice is learning more about NFL defenses.
“[Rice is] starting to understand the different levels that you see,” the coach observed, “with the linebackers [and] safeties [and] finding different holes in zones. Also, his touchdown catch — making a strong catch, he was physical [and] he was fast.
“What I think we’re seeing right now with Rashee is somebody that’s slowly gaining confidence in himself. He knows that we, as coaches, are slowly gaining more confidence in him. There’s immense growth ahead of him, and I think that’s the exciting part that we all see.”
After entering the league with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers, Watson is in his second season with the Chiefs. Nagy appreciates the connection he has developed with Mahomes after a season working together.
“I think for [Watson],” he explained, “it’s that trust element that he and Pat have built over the last two years. Last year when he got here, we knew hey, this is a guy that can take the top off. This is a guy that has good hands. This is a guy who can run routes. But putting it all together in this system [and] this offense is the first part.
“Then the next part is understanding how to mesh with Pat, and get to a point where yesterday, Pat just throws the ball up in Cover 0 and trusts him to go up and make a play.”
While Nagy bragged about a big play Watson made, he also appreciated the receiver knowing when not to be a hero.
“There was one earlier in the game,” Nagy revealed, “where they hit us with a Cover 0 and Pat threw the ball up. J-Wat was running down the seam. It was a little bit underthrown, and naturally, I think he did a good job of knocking the ball down and preventing an interception.
“When you do that the first time — you throw a ball up to a guy one-on-one and there’s not an interception — it’s going to give you as a quarterback more trust in that guy in throwing it up a second time and seeing what he can do. And J-Wat went up and made a strong catch — a big play.”
Speaking from the locker room after the game, Watson set a high bar for where he wants his connection with Mahomes to go.
“I want that same connection that 87 (Kelce) and 15 (Mahomes) have. I’m working for that same connection. I’m always picking Pat’s brain, picking Trav’s brain, and asking why did you go out this way, or why did you set this route up? It’s been cool seeing the growth from year one to year two for myself and some of the other guys.”