The Chiefs’ offense struggled early In Week 2. It felt like KC was playing scared, but could there be more there?
The Kansas City Chiefs won their home opener against the Los Angeles Chargers a week ago. Winning is hard and should never be taken for granted, but more questions than answers came out of Thursday’s game.
The Chiefs’ offense has been a well-oiled machine since Patrick Mahomes took over as the starting quarterback. Even after all the moving parts this offseason, the unit came out in Week 1 and was firing on all cylinders. Unfortunately, against the Chargers, it wasn’t a clean operation. The Chiefs sometimes struggled to move the ball and had a very poor offensive game plan overall.
The game plan was conservative* from the jump. For example, on the opening drive, the Chiefs’ offensive plays went as the following:
*After reviewing the All-22 film, ‘FB Trap’ should be ‘FB Inside Zone’
Only once did the Chiefs challenge the defense more than 10 yards down the field, but Mahomes checked down on that play. Comparatively, against the Arizona Cardinals, the Chiefs did it five times on their opening offensive drive. A similar pattern continued to the second offensive drive, where Kansas City played behind the line of scrimmage against Los Angeles. In their opening game, the club attacked downfield.
After the dominant performance the Chargers’ defensive line had in Week 1, there was a clear emphasis from the Chiefs to minimize that level of involvement. The Chiefs were trying to force those linemen to read whether plays were runs or passes. That’s why Kansas City called run plays and screens on the opening series, forcing the defensive line to not simply play a pass every down. Having a plan to slow Joey Bosa and Khalil Mack down is the correct approach, but the Chiefs let them dictate the entire offensive game plan.
Kansas City was afraid to leave its tackles on an island. Andy Reid and the rest of the staff didn’t even give Orlando Brown Jr. and Andrew Wylie chances to prove themselves. If Brown and Wylie were constantly getting beat throughout the first quarter, then the Chiefs decided to run those offensive plays, it would have made more sense. Instead, from the jump, they gave their offensive tackles help and catered play calls to benefit them.
Besides helping their tackles, the Chiefs also ran these short plays to force the defense out of two-high shell coverages. Last year, the two-high shells became the formula to slow down the Chiefs from hitting the “kill shot.” It worked early in 2021 but eventually, they countered and regained their form. They hit the underneath routes and had a more quick-hitting passing game. While this is a solution to counter two-high looks, it can’t be the only way to attack that type of defense. The safeties can cheat and shrink the playing field if Kansas City isn’t attacking deep.
The Chiefs have only been trying to hit the deep ball when the defense is not playing in those shells. They need to adjust this. Again, it goes back to letting the defense dictate what you do. There shouldn’t be anyone to be afraid of for an offense with Mahomes at quarterback. By showing opponents that the Chiefs are still willing to attack deep against two-high, it’ll stretch the field and open up intermediate routes. This doesn’t mean Kansas City should run four verticals every play, but there need to be times when Marquez Valdes-Scantling or Mecole Hardman gets a look on a vertical route. Using them in every facet of the game, including as field-stretchers, will open up plays for JuJu Smith-Schuster and Travis Kelce.
Smith-Schuster saw his average depth of target (ADOT) decrease from a little above 10 yards in Week 1 to less than two yards in Week 2. That’s a failure by the coaching staff. Smith-Schuster was brought in this offseason to be the receiver who could beat man coverage and win over the middle of the field. He ran multiple intermediate routes in Week 1, leading to six catches for 79 yards. Against Los Angeles, he saw very few targets and they were all near the line of scrimmage. For Smith-Schuster to prosper in this offense, the Chiefs need to use him to attack the intermediate areas of the field.
Another player who has the skill set to win against man coverage is Skyy Moore. Moore was drafted in the second round this year and has mostly played as a punt returner. He has logged 15 total snaps on offense through two weeks, but only two of them were against the Chargers. Perhaps it’s because Moore is a rookie on a short week, but he needs to see more snaps in the coming games. He can help the offense with his well-rounded game.
Could many of these concerns be chalked up to the Chiefs trying to learn how to use their new personnel in game situations? Could it be just one weird game against a divisional opponent that always plays tough? Absolutely, but it’s still something that Kansas City should be aware of.
The Chiefs have scored the second-most points in the league through the season’s first two weeks. They still have Reid, and the second half of last week’s game was smoother than the first. By no means should the alarm bells be ringing, as this is just something to keep in mind moving forward. With an upcoming stretch where the defense will be missing two key contributors, the offense might need to carry the load. In an ideal world, the Chiefs can get back to the high-flying offense everyone knows and loves this weekend in Indianapolis while continuing to improve throughout the season.