What’s wrong with the Chiefs? How WR drops, Eric Bieniemy to Matt Nagy downgrade are hurting Kansas City’s offense

The Chiefs entered the 2023 NFL season expected to once again be one of the AFC’s best teams. But as the campaign’s stretch run begins, some are questioning whether the squad can contend for a second consecutive Super Bowl win.

The Chiefs are still a good team. They are among the AFC’s divisional leaders, after all, and they remain in the race for the No. 1 seed in the conference.

However, the team just hasn’t looked the same as it has in recent seasons. While its defense has largely been strong, its offense has regressed. Patrick Mahomes is still playing well, but the unit as a whole isn’t the same unstoppable and explosive one that it has been in recent seasons. That’s part of the reason that the Chiefs have scuffled to a 2-3 record since Week 8 of the season.

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So, what’s causing this downturn for the Chiefs, and can they fix some of the issues within their team? Here’s what to know about Kansas City’s offensive issues and the recent regression of its defense.

What’s wrong with the Chiefs?

Wide receiver issues

Many presumed the Chiefs would struggle at receiver when the team traded Tyreek Hill ahead of the 2022 NFL season. The team was able to withstand the loss of the speedster during that Super Bowl run, but hasn’t had the same success in doing so this season.

Kansas City’s wide-outs have endured a couple of key issues. First, they haven’t demonstrated great chemistry with Patrick Mahomes. The two-time MVP doesn’t look as comfortable or in rhythm as he has throughout his career. He seems reluctant to make certain throws, a sign that he simply doesn’t trust his pass catchers.

It’s hard to blame him for that lack of trust. Why? Because the Chiefs collectively lead the league in dropped passes. They have had 32 total passes glance off their hands this season, and those have often been costly to them in key defeats.

In Week 1, Kadarius Toney had four drops in a one-point loss to the Lions. Then, against the Eagles, Marquez Valdes-Scantling had a chance to catch a deep, go-ahead touchdown late with Kansas City trailing by four points.

Instead, he failed to reel it in. Just a few plays after that, the drive stalled to seal an Eagles win.

The Chiefs have a young receiving corps, so these issues may eventually resolve themselves. Still, having a 7.1 percent drop rate is far from ideal, especially considering that some of the team’s top targets — like Rashee Rice — have drop rates much higher than that.

Below is a breakdown of the team’s drops by player.

Player Drops Drop %
Rashee Rice 8 12.3
Travis Kelce 4 4.5
Kadarius Toney 3 10
Justin Watson 3 7.7
Jerick McKinnon 3 11.5
Marquez Valdes-Scantling 2 7.1
Justyn Ross 2 33.3
Isiah Pacheco 2 5.3
Skyy Moore 1 2.9
Clyde Edwards-Helaire 1 14.3
Blake Bell 1 20
Richie James 1 33.3
Mecole Hardman 1 7.7

Suffice it to say that this type of inconsistent receiver play would hold back any offense. However, the issues with Kansas City’s offense go well beyond their shoddy receiver play.

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Offensive line penalties

The Chiefs decided to overhaul the tackle position during the 2023 NFL offseason after losing Orlando Brown Jr. to the Bengals and Andrew Wylie to the Commanders. Jawaan Taylor came in on a deal worth $20 million per year to man one tackle spot while veteran Donovan Smith was added closer to training camp to give the team a true left tackle.

The expectation was that the veterans would help to further solidify what was already a good offensive line with a great interior trio. Instead, they haven’t performed well.

Smith and Taylor have combined for a whopping 25 penalties through 13 weeks of the 2023 NFL season. Taylor is responsible for a league-worst 16 while Smith’s nine rank fourth-worst among tackles.

These penalties have often put the Chiefs behind the chains. Patrick Mahomes and Co. haven’t been able to find consistent success when this happens because of their lack of high-end receiving options and middling blocking on the edge.

Smith isn’t likely to improve much henceforth considering that he is already 30. Taylor, however, should regain his form. The 26-year-old is just having a bad year, but his athleticism and previous run of success with the Jaguars should be enough to earn him more chances moving forward with the Chiefs.

Still, it’s hard to imagine that Kansas City wouldn’t be better off having retained Brown. He has allowed just two penalties this season and has seemingly improved each week he has been with the Bengals.

So, the Chiefs may look back at this roster decision with a hint of regret, especially if Taylor continues to cost them yards and allow pressure.

MORE: J.J. Watt, NFL world blast officials for letting Jawaan Taylor get away with false starts

Eric Bieniemy to Matt Nagy downgrade

Another regret that the Chiefs might have is entrusting Matt Nagy to be the successor to Eric Bieniemy.

Bieniemy was always likely to leave the Chiefs at some point. He had long been considered one of the best offensive coordinators in the league and was routinely a candidate for a head coaching position around the NFL.

However, one of the questions surrounding Bieniemy was about how he would fare as an offensive-minded head coach having served under Andy Reid, who calls his own plays. That’s part of why he defected to become the Commanders’ assistant head coach and offensive coordinator.

Reid responded to that loss by reinstalling Nagy as the team’s offensive coordinator. He had a successful half-season run in that role before his failed tenure as Bears head coach, so it was presumed he would be able to find success back in a familiar position.

Instead, Nagy’s influence on the offense has been a net negative. While the team’s personnel may be weaker than what Bieniemy had in 2022, the team has declined in both yards per game and points per game under Nagy’s watch.

Chiefs offense Yards per game (rank) Points per game (rank)
2022 with Bieniemy 413.6 (1st) 29.2 (1st)
2023 with Nagy 362.6 (8th) 22.9 (11th)

Again, while some of this can be chalked up to weaker personnel, it’s worth noting that Bieniemy’s offenses never ranked lower than sixth in either yards or points per game during his five seasons as the team’s offensive coordinator. And even without Tyreek Hill in 2022, he helped lead Patrick Mahomes to an MVP season and a second Super Bowl win.

So, Nagy has come up short in replacing Bieniemy. That he is a downgrade shouldn’t be much of a surprise though. During his four years in Chicago, his teams had an above-average scoring mark just once.

Year Yards per game (rank) Points per game (rank)
2018 343.8 (21st) 21.2 (9th)
2019 296.8 (29th) 17.5 (29th)
2020 331.4 (26th) 23.3 (22nd)
2021 307.4 (24th) 18.3 (27th)

Thus, it’s worth questioning whether Reid should have had a better succession plan behind Bieniemy given the time he had to plan it.

MORE: Eric Bieniemy rumored to be target of Bears if they fire Matt Eberflus

Nick Bolton’s injury

The Chiefs’ offense has been the more noticeable part of their struggles on a year-long basis. However, their recent downturn has come because their defense has gotten beaten up.

Star linebacker Nick Bolton has been out since Week 7 because of a dislocated wrist. Kansas City was able to overcome that in certain matchups, but against the Packers, they lost his top replacement — Drue Tranquill — to a concussion. Once safety Bryan Cook was carted off with an ankle injury in that contest, it became tough for the Chiefs to stop the Packers from attacking space in the middle and deep parts of the field.

That’s why the Chiefs surrendered a season-high 27 points at Lambeau Field that night.

Will that loss to the Packers be a harbinger of a defensive decline for the Chiefs? Probably not, as Bolton appears ready to return to the stop unit soon.

Generally speaking though, Bolton’s impact when on the field is immense. The Chiefs have allowed similar yardage totals to opponents with and without Bolts, but they are nearly a touchdown better scoring-wise when he is on the field.

Chiefs defense Points allowed per game Yards allowed per game
With Bolton 13.5 298.5
Without Bolton 19.1 297.25

Simply put, Bolton’s speed and tackling prowess brings something to the fold that the Chiefs don’t have without him. So, the sooner that the Chiefs can get Bolton back, the better.

And if Cook and Tranquill can return to the field at some point in the not-so-distant future as well, then the Chiefs’ concerns on defense won’t run all that deep. It’s just about getting a dinged-up unit back to full strength.

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How to fix the Chiefs’ offense

While the Chiefs’ defense should be fixed as they get healthier up the middle, the plan to fix the offense is a bit more difficult. Not necessarily because there isn’t an answer, but because it runs counter to Reid’s preferences as a coach.

Reid’s offenses have always skewed pass-heavy during his time in the NFL. Even when he has had elite running backs like LeSean McCoy and Jamaal Charles, his teams have been built around the passing game.

But is that working for the Chiefs this season? Not as much. The issues at receiver and tackle have limited Mahomes’ ability to make plays downfield, and as a result, he has completed just 27.7 percent of his passes of 20-plus yards for 430 yards, one touchdown and six interceptions, per Pro Football Focus. That’s good for a passer rating of just 32.7.

Despite this, 10.6 percent of Mahomes’ passes (47 total through 13 weeks) have been at least 20 yards downfield. That represents a major problem in Kansas City to go along with his receivers’ drops.

While Reid won’t want to take away Mahomes power to take the occasional downfield shot — he does have game-changing arm talent, after all — it may be better for the Chiefs to focus on matriculating the ball downfield. If they focus more of their energy on the intermediate part of the field, that will allow them to more effectively move the ball.

It would also help them to become a run-first offense. Again, that isn’t Reid’s preference, but Isiah Pacheco is having an excellent season during which he has averaged 4.4 yards per carry while running for 779 yards and six touchdowns.

Pacheco is a physical between-the-tackles runner who also possesses game-breaking speed. Relying on him in early-down situations to give the Chiefs more manageable third downs could go a long way toward helping the team’s offense stay on schedule. It would mitigate the effects of negative plays, like drops and penalties, while keeping Mahomes out of situations where he has to search for explosive, downfield throws that simply aren’t there.

The Chiefs have the seventh-highest passing percentage in the NFL at 60.57. If they can bring that number into the high 50s as the season goes along, their offense should be able to control the clock more and better set Mahomes up to make throws off play action. It also should allow their 47.02 third-down conversion percentage — which is good for fourth in the league but is Kansas City’s worst mark since Mahomes’ first season as a starter in 2018 — to rise.

Perhaps Reid will keep the faith that eventually, Mahomes’ receivers will progress enough that generating chunk plays will become easier. But if he believes the offense needs an overhaul, using the running game to set up Mahomes rather than the other way around may be the path to follow.

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