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Zone coverage an early issue for inconsistent Chiefs’ offense

As in previous years, defenses are selling out to stop Kansas City’s deep passing attack.

Syndication: Florida Times-Union Corey Perrine/Florida Times-Union / USA TODAY NETWORK

Through two weeks of the young NFL season, the Kansas City Chiefs offense has not delivered to expectations. After years of one of the league’s most consistent — and prolific — scoring units, the Chiefs have struggled at every turn to move the ball, contributing to a slow, 1-1 start to the year.

Speaking before practice on Wednesday, Patrick Mahomes admits that Kansas City’s playmakers will need to persevere against heavy zone coverages they have seen early on this season. He cited the interception he threw while looking for wide receiver Justin Watson in Sunday’s 17-9 victory over the Jacksonville Jaguars as an example.

Kansas City Chiefs v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

“You just see it — we get a lot more zone coverages [and] a lot more deeper coverages,” the face of the league observed. “You look at that interception I threw to Watson this last week, in previous years, that safety on the back side’s not that deep and not able to get back there. I looked over to the right and saw him open up his hips to the right, so I thought there was a chance I could throw it over the top — and I got it over the top of the guy that was covering J-Wat, but that safety made a play.

“It shows defenses are going to continue to play back and make me be patient, and I have to be able to do that: take what’s there and not have negative plays happen. With our defense playing like it is, we’ll continue to score, and then defenses will have to become aggressive at some point.”

Speaking from the locker room on Wednesday, Watson called back to the Chiefs’ better second half against Jacksonville on Sunday as evidence for a more systematic approach to getting back on track.

“It’s finding soft spots,” the receiver said of beating the coverages. “I think one of the things we did better in the second half is just taking what the defense gives us. If they’re going to sink off and play deep, just take some of underneath stuff [and] play simple football. Get north and south. We did a good job of that in the second half, just taking what they gave us.”

Even so, it is hard to see deep routes thwarted, as Jaguars safety Andre Cisco was able to on Sunday.

“You circle those big plays all week in practice,” Watson admitted. “You hope to hit the home run shot. When they come out there, and they want to take that away, you’ve just got to be able to adapt quickly and make the most out of what’s out there.”

Despite the slow start, Mahomes is not sensing any frustration from his receiving corps.

Kansas City Chiefs v Jacksonville Jaguars Photo by Mike Carlson/Getty Images

“From that whole receiving room,” the reigning league MVP observed, “I haven’t seen any frustration. I think the frustration is more of me about myself and how the offense has been doing. Everybody’s had that mentality that we’ve just got to keep working [and] keep getting better — me included. Obviously, we want to play better because the defense has been playing so well. We want to take some of the pressure off of them.”

In his Wednesday remarks before practice, Chiefs’ head coach Andy Reid noted that the Chiefs are seeing different coverage arrangements than they did last season — but also charged the offense to stop compounding the issue with mistakes — such as penalties — that make a defensive coordinator’s job easier.

“Feel is the first thing,” the coach explained, “just players being able to sit in holes and do those things. They have been playing zone, but they’ve also been playing man on third down. So, they’ve got that package in. Last year, they mixed it between man, single safety, middle man, zone, and all the shell coverages. They’ve got a big package of stuff they can roll at you, but zone, you’ve got to have a feel for it.

“We’ve got to do a better job there — it’s everybody. Then, don’t put ourselves in long-yardage situations where you can’t run the ball.”

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