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Revisiting 5 more of this season’s 10 biggest Chiefs questions

Taking another look at the most significant questions facing Kansas City before the season began.

Detroit Lions v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

In a series of articles published over the summer, I covered the 10 biggest questions facing the Kansas City Chiefs in 2023. During the bye week, I revisited five of them. So now, let’s readdress my other five preseason questions.

How much of an offensive load can Kadarius Toney carry?

In July, I was skeptical that with Toney’s injury history, it would be hard for him to scale up his role.

In Kansas City, the team has very carefully avoided taxing him physically. He has still, however, dealt with multiple injuries — including a lingering hamstring injury that kept him out of games.

Even so, the Chiefs have repeatedly said they view him as their No. 1 receiver. With a full offseason in Kansas City, the team is hoping he can get more touches. Toney absolutely has the talent for that, but how much more can the Chiefs put on him? Can he stay healthy through a full season — including the playoffs?

Through nine weeks, that skepticism appears justified. Toney is on pace to collect just 38 catches for 240 yards and two touchdowns. He’s been on the field for more than 40% of the offensive snaps just once this season — and has been at 20% (or less) for three straight weeks.

Before the season, the Chiefs believed Toney could be the team’s No. 1 wideout. Whether it’s because of lingering effects from his offseason surgery — or simply a misevaluation of his talent — he hasn’t fulfilled that role. Toney continues to be a package player who is useful for a small number of plays — and this year, those plays aren’t working. His 2022 receiving success rate has dropped to 46.4% — and on six rushing attempts, his success rate is zero. (It was 80% last season).

Toney still has a lot to prove — and until he does, his role in Kansas City is not likely to change.

What does Year 2 look like for Justin Reid and Bryan Cook

In his first season with the team, I wasn’t one of Reid’s big fans — and during the summer, I wondered what we would see from the veteran safety in 2023.

The duality of his play throughout the season leaves questions about what version of Reid we’ll get. Was his strong end to 2022 a mirage, or did the Chiefs find ways to unlock his play by switching his role?

My reservations were not justified; Reid has exceeded even his excellent finish from last season. Through nine games, he has been fantastic. With three pass breakups, he’s among the top 10 safeties. His tackling has improved — and he’s been a major factor in Kansas City’s run defense. Reid has done exactly what the Chiefs are paying him to do.

For Cook, I was mostly concerned about stepping into a starting role after serving as a dime safety in 2022.

Cook arguably brings the best blend of size, explosiveness and range the Chiefs have had since Eric Berry — but can he put all his traits together as a starter? If Cook had any struggles in 2022, the Chiefs didn’t need to play him — but now, he will be trusted with every coverage call and responsibility.

Unfortunately, Cook’s development process has been a bit slower. Whether he’s deep or in man coverage, he struggles in one-on-one matchups. His tackling has been up and down. But he made the game-winning play in Frankfurt, returning a lateral from Mike Edwards (who had recovered Tyreek Hill’s fumble) for a touchdown.

I still believe Cook has a lot of talent — and he hasn’t had many negative plays. As he gains more experience, I have hope that we’ll see more positive plays on film.

What roles will the Chiefs’ linebackers play?

After Kansas City signed former Los Angeles Chargers linebacker Drue Tranquill, I had a lot of questions about how the Chiefs would deploy four linebackers.

If the Chiefs still want to give Willie Gay developmental reps, whose reps are going away? Does Leo Chenal see a reduced role if both Tranquill and Gay play in base? Taking any non-dime reps from Nick Bolton seems unlikely — but if the matchup requires a more rangy coverage linebacker, could the Chiefs move Tranquill to MIKE and reduce Bolton’s snaps?

Once again, having a talent as versatile as Tranquill is incredibly valuable. I think he’s a terrific fit in this defense and gives defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo a reliable option at multiple spots, which is critical when he’s game planning each week. Still, his introduction to this team brings a lot of questions about how the Chiefs feel about their linebacker investments long-term.

To the Chiefs' credit, they have been very diverse with their linebackers. While Bolton, Gay and Chenal have been the defense’s three base linebackers, Tranquill has rotated in for the unit’s 3-3-5 package, as a dime MIKE linebacker and next to Bolton in nickel. With Bolton injured, Tranquill has been the full-time MIKE. This season, Chenal has added contributions as a pass rusher — and Gay is not only playing the best football of his career, but is still finding ways to get on the field.

All of Kansas City’s linebackers are playing to their strengths. While I was dubious about whether the staff could pull it off, it deserves a lot of credit for finding ideal spots for every second-level player.

In Year 2, how far along is Skyy Moore?

During training camp, I wondered whether Moore — a natural replacement for wide receiver JuJu Smith-Schuster — could step into the veteran’s 135 targets from last season.

Can Moore handle that usage bump? Is Moore going to be ready to beat top cornerbacks? With defenses focused on him, how much can he step up his game to overcome that extra attention? Can he be a consistent option for Mahomes every week?

I was excited for Moore; I compared him to Randall Cobb. I believed that with the lack of experience (and talent) in the wide receiver room, Moore could have a breakout season. But through nine weeks, he has been a big disappointment. He is currently on pace for 30 catches, 380 yards and two touchdowns. After consistently getting something close to half of the offensive snaps in every game this season, his usage plummeted to just 23% against the Miami Dolphins.

Moore’s lack of size and athleticism have been a major problem. He’s struggling to create separation — and Patrick Mahomes’ trust in him is deteriorating. Before Moore can live up to his offseason hype, has to find a role that works for him. Hopefully, he can find it after the bye week.

Is this the best defense of the Steve Spagnuolo era?

Before the season began, I had little doubt that this was the most talented group of players Spagnuolo has had in Kansas City — but I wasn’t sure these young players could live up to their potential.

Can they take steps forward to not have a bad stretch like they had in 2022? Was the post-bye stretch of the season actually how good they are on defense? The Chiefs faced bad offenses like the Denver Broncos (twice), Los Angeles Rams and Houston Texans after the bye. With another difficult schedule, will the defense regress against stiffer competition?

So far, my fears have turned out to be unfounded. The Chiefs’ defense is currently fifth in EPA and sixth in success rate. Against the pass, it is third in EPA and second in success rate. Every part of this defense is working well. The unit has conquered not just the Dolphins, but also the Detroit Lions (without Chris Jones), the Jacksonville Jaguars and the Los Angeles Chargers. It is easily among the league’s top-3 defenses.

Even better: nothing these players are doing is unsustainable; I have zero concern about how the defense will perform in the playoffs. In my view, the defense has the league’s best cornerback duo. Defensive tackle Chris Jones is playing at an absurd level — and is being flanked by strong pass rushers like Mike Danna, Charles Omenihu and George Karlaftis. When Bolton returns, the team will have four excellent linebackers playing exactly the right roles.

Kansas City’s versatile defense is playing fast, smart and physical football. With these elements, I’m confident the Chiefs can find answers against any offense.

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