FRANKFURT, Germany — Several members of the Kansas City Chiefs offense expressed their frustration Sunday when they failed at their last significant play of their win over the Miami Dolphins.
One by one, the players were demonstrative in their instant reactions. Center Creed Humphrey sprinted off the field, quickly took off his helmet and screamed. Quarterback Patrick Mahomes slumped his shoulders, his head bowed when he saw punter Tommy Townsend jogging onto the field. Two Dolphins defenders celebrated while Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce looked at the video board, his anger evident when he realized Mahomes had no open receivers, including him.
Coach Andy Reid, as he often does, didn’t show much emotion. But even Reid knows the Chiefs’ production in short-yardage plays has been disappointing.
Inside the Chiefs’ smaller-than-usual locker room at Deutsche Bank Park, Reid, during the postgame celebration, did something unusual: He apologized to his starting offensive linemen.
“And offense, you did enough,” Reid told them. “We’ll get better. We’ll get better. O-line, I owe you one, men.”
HOW BOUT THOSE… pic.twitter.com/zkxo5Besu8
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) November 5, 2023
The reason for Reid’s apology? The Chiefs had an opportunity to finish the game on offense by keeping the ball away from the Dolphins with a successful four-minute drive late in the fourth quarter. However, the Chiefs punted after just three plays. Instead of trusting his linemen to generate forward movement at the line of scrimmage with a simple running play on a third-and-1 snap, Reid called a play that required Mahomes to pass. But all of Mahomes’ receivers were covered, forcing him to throw an incompletion that gave the Dolphins another chance to rally.
Running back Isiah Pacheco wanted the ball, but he also decided to express a larger issue with the Chiefs’ play in similar moments, whether attempting to end a game or finish a drive by scoring points.
“You have to focus on the task,” Pacheco said. “It doesn’t matter what play (the coaches) call. You have to execute as a team.”
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More than halfway through the season, the Chiefs have struggled on third- and fourth-down plays on which they need two or fewer yards to gain a first down or a touchdown. In 32 such snaps, the Chiefs have converted just 18 times (56 percent), the 26th-ranked success rate in the league, according to TruMedia. Just seven of those plays involved Pacheco, who has gained a first down or even scored a touchdown in five of his attempts.
One of Reid’s most bizarre decisions this season came in the Chiefs’ first meeting against the Denver Broncos. On a fourth-and-2 play from the Broncos’ 6-yard line, Reid elected to have his special teams unit run its first fake of the season. In field goal formation, tight end Noah Gray moved behind long snapper James Winchester to receive the snap with Townsend and rookie tackle Wanya Morris behind him to push him forward. The Broncos prevented Gray from gaining a first down.
— NFL (@NFL) October 13, 2023
In the Chiefs’ season-opening loss to the Detroit Lions, Reid elected to call a misdirection play on a pivotal third-and-inches snap on their 34-yard line in the fourth quarter that didn’t include Mahomes touching the ball. Mahomes, in the shotgun, signaled for tight end Blake Bell, a nine-year veteran and former college quarterback, to start motioning across the bunched formation before pivoting back to get under center, which telegraphed to the Lions, who did their film study, that Mahomes was never touching the ball, removing the threat of a pass. Instead of having Bell, listed at 6-foot-6 and 252 pounds, execute the sneak, the Chiefs tried more of a razzle-dazzle approach — which they often succeed at, particularly in the red zone. Bell took the snap and handed the ball to rookie receiver Rashee Rice for a jet sweep, a play that ended in a 3-yard loss.
“We can get a lot better as an offense,” Mahomes said. “If the offense gets where I think it can be, I think we’ll be a hard team to beat.”
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The Chiefs, though, have another problem that is just as pressing as their short-yardage shortcomings.
Opposing defenses don’t feel as threatened as in the past by the Chiefs’ deep-passing attack. The Dolphins showed that by not often employing two deep safeties. With the safeties lining up 10 or 12 yards away from the line of scrimmage, Mahomes wanted to unleash and connect on a couple of deep passes, the type of highlights that force the defense to adjust.
Instead, Mahomes’ deepest passes against the Dolphins — one with the ball traveling 42 yards intended for receiver Justin Watson and the other going 39 yards for receiver Marquez Valdes-Scantling — fell incomplete.
“Marquez will probably want the one back,” Reid said. “(cornerback Kader Kohou) was tugging and pulling. He normally makes those (catches). We came out of this with things we can work on to get better, and we’ll do that.”
.@PatrickMahomes making quick work getting in the red zone 👀
— NFL (@NFL) November 5, 2023
When Mahomes has thrown a ball 15 yards or more this season, he has completed just 23 of his 60 attempts (38.3 percent), the third-lowest success rate of the 11 quarterbacks who have thrown at least 60 such passes, according to TruMedia.
“All you can do is keep working,” Mahomes said. “It’s me with timing. It’s (the receivers) just continuing to get catches as much as possible. Lucky for us, our defense is playing so (well) we’re sitting here 7-2 going into the bye.”
The Dolphins used a coverage tactic the Broncos employed a week earlier: They often dedicated two defenders to Kelce whenever he ran a short or intermediate route. In the first half, the Chiefs used Kelce as a decoy, which allowed Mahomes and the rest of his receivers to account for 90 yards and a touchdown.
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But after halftime, Chiefs receivers accounted for just 25 yards. Reid also apologized to Kelce, who finished with just three receptions for 14 yards. Kelce responded by stressing he must be effective more often when he anticipates being covered by two defenders.
“It’s something I’ve been accustomed to over the course of my career,” Kelce said. “(There’s) a lot of pride in that. But even if they put two on me, I still feel like I can try to find a way to get open for Pat.”
— Kansas City Chiefs (@Chiefs) November 5, 2023
Reid, offensive coordinator Matt Nagy and the rest of the offensive coaching staff will spend much of this week reviewing the unit’s tendencies, the progress of certain players and mistakes that can be corrected. The bye week also provides the coaches more time to identify which players should receive a larger role for the second half of the season to improve the unit’s efficiency in certain aspects.
Before the Chiefs returned to Kansas City on their eight-hour flight Sunday night, Mahomes offered a possible solution to help fix the deep-passing attack: More deep routes for Rice.
In a season-high 41 snaps Sunday, Rice finished with two receptions on two targets for 17 yards, including an 11-yard touchdown. Rice leads Chiefs receivers with 32 receptions for 378 yards and four touchdowns. But he has yet to catch a pass longer than 15 yards.
“He’s going out there and making plays,” Mahomes said. “Our job is to find different ways to get him the ball more down the field because he can do it. As the season goes on, his role will expand and I’m excited for it.”
(Photo of Marquez Valdes-Scantling: Alex Grimm / Getty Images)
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