During each season’s bye week, the Kansas City Chiefs traditionally take time to self-scout, evaluating themselves so they can be as sharp as possible during the stretch run — and ultimately, the playoffs.
It’s not hard to imagine the of things that Kansas City’s offensive staff might have been reflecting upon since the team’s Week 9 victory over the Miami Dolphins in Frankfurt. The passing game has been far clunkier than fans have come to expect — and the running game has been inefficient.
The Chiefs’ offensive coordinator Matt Nagy likely evaluated himself (and his players) as much as anyone — starting with his wide receivers.
“There is a little bit of putting the puzzle together of what they do well,” Nagy told reporters during his Friday press appearance. “The timing element is probably the biggest thing between Patrick and the guys — trying to figure out what routes they run well and the timing element to that with the defense. I do feel like these guys are mentally starting to grasp what we’re trying to get from them.”
But in Nagy’s view, those weren’t the biggest problems that need to be solved.
“There are two big things that jump out: penalties and turnovers,” he declared.
While he admitted that his offense still needs to improve its efficiency, he believes that solving those two problems can go a long way.
“With the defense playing the way they’re playing,” he noted, “we can really make good things happen.”
The Chiefs have averaged nearly two turnovers a game this year — the league’s second-highest rate. And while the team doesn’t rank as highly in overall penalties, right tackle Jawaan Taylor leads the NFL’s offensive players with 11 flags.
It’s obvious why these two problems are so important: they can kill drives and negate big plays. Nagy used the team’s most recent game as an example.
“We came out [in] the first drive with great energy. It’s efficient. [We] go down and score a touchdown. It felt great on the sideline: things were good, [there were] no penalties.
“Then we come out in the second half and have two big penalties that stall drives. Then we had a turnover on the sack fumble. [Before] all of that happens, we had control of that game; we were in a great place.
“The good thing is that if you just reduce those — or eliminate them, great — just look at where we can be. We’re doing a lot of great things; the players are doing a great job of executing. We just have to reduce that negative stuff.”
Some of the negative plays have come on passes thrown by quarterback Patrick Mahomes. He has eight interceptions — the sixth-most this season. While some haven’t been his fault, others have come as a result of forcing downfield throws into tight coverage.
Chiefs’ quarterbacks coach David Girardi believes that being more disciplined within the scheme could help.
“It’s going to come down to getting the ball out on time,” Girardi said on Friday. “That would be the big thing: if something is there, take it. Go through your progressions — and if your first or second read is there, take [it]. Sometimes quarterbacks can get caught up [in] extended plays — and Patrick is great at that. So you also have to weigh that as well.”
Girardi doesn’t believe that Mahomes is refusing to take what the defense gives him. Instead, he thinks that sometimes, the two-time MVP has simply tried to catalyze the offense.
“There are times he wants to make that big play — and we love that about Patrick,” Girardi assured his listeners. “He has grown; he has developed to taking underneath stuff. It could be something in the flat — [just] let our guys go make a play. He has definitely grown there; it’s something that he sees (and knows) that is available to him.”
In other words, the details need to be fine-tuned — which is consistent with how Mahomes attacked the bye week.
“I think what I’ve realized now is [that] it’s never as big as it seems,” the quarterback said on Friday. “It’s always little things — as far as fundamentals, as far as games and stuff like that. It doesn’t surprise me now. Instead of trying to make these big, huge changes, you just go back to the fundamentals and try to execute better.”
So Mahomes and his teammates have their marching orders for the final eight games — starting with what might be the season’s biggest test against the Philadelphia Eagles on Monday night.