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Chiefs’ recurring issues on offense killed too many drives vs. Packers

The Chiefs’ inconsistency as a passing attack showed up once again during the loss in Green Bay.

Kansas City Chiefs v Green Bay Packers Photo by Stacy Revere/Getty Images

In the Kansas City Chiefs’ 27-19 loss to the Green Bay Packers, the theme of the game started with the Chiefs’ defense suffering injuries and reeling in run defense as a whole. The Packers dominated the clock, limiting the Chiefs’ offensive possessions.

When Kansas City did have the ball, the unit scored on its first four possessions (excluding a kneel-down before halftime). Once the defense did get a stop in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs took possession for the fifth time, only down 21-19. It felt like the offense was set up to succeed.

Then, the Chiefs failed to score on the final three possessions of the game. That, combined with the two red-zone drives stalling to begin the night, became the theme of this loss. The offense couldn’t pick up the defense, and the details as to why are becoming a recurring talking point:

Lack of chemistry with receivers downfield

On the Chiefs’ first drive of the fourth quarter, quarterback Patrick Mahomes saw an opportunity for a big play on second down. The downfield pass fell incomplete, which has happened far too often for Kansas City this year.

After starting with two high safeties, the Packers rotate into a coverage with only one deep; this creates space from the hashmark to the sideline. When that happens, wide receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling should adjust the path of his vertical route and veer toward the open space. That’s why the pass lands where it does.

Instead, Valdes-Scantling continues running in a direction as if he’s splitting two deep safeties. This play was followed by a punt soon after.

The play failed for the same reason this pass to wide receiver Justin Watson did against the Philadelphia Eagles. On third down, the Eagles’ safeties rotate at the snap, leaving the deep sideline vulnerable. Mahomes throws it there, but Watson is too far inside to catch it.

Situational execution

The Chiefs could score on the first four possessions of the game with efficient rushing and pass plays between the 20-yard lines. Once the team hit the red zone, it stalled in ugly fashion during the first half.

On the team’s first red-zone drive, the team drops back on first and goal from the five-yard line. This is after a 26-yard burst on the ground by running back Isiah Pacheco. The play design puts Pacheco as the primary target on a quick pass to the flat, but it relies on tight end Travis Kelce rubbing Pacheco’s defender to give him a step to the front pylon.

Mahomes doesn’t think Pacheco has the angle and is dissuaded — but there are no other realistic options to throw the ball after that. It leads to a sack that sets the Chiefs back too far to recover. A holding penalty set them back on the team’s second red-zone possession. A situation of third-and-goal from more than 10 yards away is a challenging play for any offense to execute.

On this fourth-quarter play, down 24-19 with first and 10 in Packers’ territory, Mahomes targets wide receiver Skyy Moore on a wheel-like route. The cornerback makes a good play to intercept it, but I believe Mahomes misread the leverage of the defender. That made him lead Moore down the field rather than throw a true back shoulder.

On a run-pass option play, Mahomes has been taught to get rid of the ball quickly to avoid a penalty for an illegal man downfield. On this play, that leads him to anticipate wide receiver Rashee Rice executing the rub and giving Moore space to the sideline — but the cornerback plays over it.

If this was a straight-up pass, Mahomes may take the extra split second to ensure Rice got in the cornerback’s way. However, it’s also worth pointing out that the run game had been dominant for most of the game and could have been leaned on here.

Hesitation from Mahomes

When a play like that interception happens, it stays with Mahomes, and I believe the misconnect of the pass offense is beginning to affect his anticipation and willingness to attempt high-risk, high-reward plays.

On the opening drive, the Chiefs drop back and send both wide receivers Justin Watson and Marquez Valdes-Scantling on vertical patterns from one side. That is met by a one-high look from the Packers, which creates an opportunity when that solo safety turns to run with Watson: Valdes-Scantling has the entire deep half of the field to the other side to work with.

Yet, Mahomes doesn’t give that read much of a chance, focusing on Kelce to see how he is covered. Once he is doubled up, Mahomes checks down to Pacheco for the safe play.

On the team’s second red-zone trip, the dropback calls for Rice to run a post from one side and tight end Noah Gray to run across the field below him on the other. Combined with Kelce working underneath, this creates a high-low concept that puts Green Bay’s safeties in a bind.

The defenders’ attention go to the players underneath, which gives Rice a window in the back of the end zone to score. With anticipation, Mahomes could have stayed in a triggering position and layered a pass over and between the safeties. He has made the play plenty of times before, but it is not an easy throw to make.

The bottom line

The Chiefs’ offense turned in a very efficient performance in Green Bay. Yet, only came away with 19 points because the group failed to connect on downfield throws and execute situationally. It was the red zone this time; it has been short-yardage plays in the past, and it has been penalties and turnovers.

The defense has picked up the unit this season, but Week 13 was an example of why today’s NFL still comes down to who has the more reliable offense. That’s what will matter in the postseason.

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