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3 notable statistics from the Chiefs’ season-opening loss

Looking at some numbers from a disappointing debut to 2023.

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NFL: Detroit Lions at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

The first game of the Kansas City Chiefs’ 2023 season sure wasn’t pretty, and the numbers behind the 21-20 loss to the Detroit Lions aren’t much better.

I looked at three statistics from the game that could tell us more about the loss but may also shed light on longer-term issues. I started with the pass offense:

Quarterback Patrick Mahomes was kept clean for the entirety of Thursday night. Yet, he only earned a passer rating of 77.5 — the lowest among his 19 career games where he wasn’t sacked.

While that’s an individual stat, it speaks to the lack of places to go with the ball. Mahomes tried to wait for opportunities — his average time spent in the pocket of 3.39 seconds was longer than any game last year — but he couldn’t find much. He salvaged some of those dropbacks by scrambling at times.

It is a quantifiable way of showing how valuable tight end Travis Kelce is to the offense — not just for his own production but the rest of the unit. His absence eases the minds of opponents working in coverage while it hardens the task of Mahomes snap to snap — even if he is operating from a clean pocket.

The drops added to this ridiculously-low passer rating and wiped away any margin for error this offense had without Kelce.

On defense, cornerback L’Jarius Sneed played after missing all of the preseason — and that may have come through with his tackling performance. He missed four tackles, two more than any other Chiefs defender. It was the first time Sneed accounted for that many in one game.

The negative was paired with two blitzes that got pressure on the quarterback and another tackle for loss, but the uncharacteristic performance may indicate that Sneed is not 100% back — or needed some preseason time at least.

The tackling should improve as the year progresses, as it does most seasons under defensive coordinator Steve Spagunolo. This should be an outlier for Sneed.

To continue on the Chiefs’ ugly offensive performance, the Lions’ defense only deployed man coverage on 10 snaps or 8.5% of their plays. That means Chiefs pass-catchers were failing to get open against zone the majority of the time, which shouldn’t be as difficult to beat as man coverage.

Against zone, the routes are all about timing and using the right spacing. Neither of those things were crisp from the Chiefs’ wide receivers. Pass-catchers were drifting away from throwing windows and running into each other at times.

If receivers struggled to get open against man coverage, it’s an issue of individual physical talent. If receivers can’t find opportunity against zone, it’s more mental — and I believe this statistic indicates how uncomfortable young, new receivers still are in the Chiefs’ system.

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