The Kansas City Chiefs’ offense and the unreasonable expectation of flawlessness

CARSON, CA - SEPTEMBER 09: Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs fends off the rush of Desmond King #20 of the Los Angeles Chargers during the fourth quarter in a 38-28 Chiefs win at StubHub Center on September 9, 2018 in Carson, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images)
CARSON, CA - SEPTEMBER 09: Patrick Mahomes #15 of the Kansas City Chiefs fends off the rush of Desmond King #20 of the Los Angeles Chargers during the fourth quarter in a 38-28 Chiefs win at StubHub Center on September 9, 2018 in Carson, California. (Photo by Harry How/Getty Images) /

The magical offense of 2018 left all of us with unreasonable expectations for a flawless offense for the Kansas City Chiefs. We should have known better.

The Kansas City Chiefs have played nearly 11 quarters of football without Patrick Mahomes this season. They’ve played four games and change without Tyreek Hill. They’ve played games without Chris Jones, Kendall Fuller, Frank Clark, Eric Fisher,  and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif. If I told you before the season began they’d go through all those injuries while also playing one of the most difficult schedules in the league, what’s a record you’d be happy with?

How about 7-4? Because they’re 7-4.

Now, has there been plenty of really bad, ugly, no-good garbage play the Chiefs need to clean up? Absolutely. In all three phases, the Chiefs have played like a team that’s feeling themselves way too much. But there was also an expectation placed on them, particularly the offense, by this fanbase that was entirely unreachable. We all got caught up in the hype, and I’m just as much at fault as everyone else.

History has shown us that record-setting offenses don’t replicate themselves the following year. Tom Brady and the New England Patriots never repeated their 2007 output, nor did Peyton Manning and the Denver Broncos ever match the stats of their 2013 season. Like the 2018 Chiefs, neither of those teams won a Super Bowl during their history-obliterating 50+ passing touchdown years.

Coming into 2019, there was not just a hope but an expectation that the Chiefs would not only repeat their 2018 offensive output but improve upon it. Despite all of NFL history screaming that a mix of random chance, injuries, and natural regression would pull them closer to the rest of the league’s best, we took for granted that even more broken records were inevitable. The 2019 Chiefs were going to be unstoppable! Who could even come close to beating them? They might not lose another game until 2021!

Well, they did lose. Four times (so far). And even when they’ve won, they’ve looked like a messy shell of themselves from only a year ago.

But this should be the expectation. Teams lose, and teams play messy—especially in the regular season. The unmatched Patriots dynasty is currently 9-1, mostly on the strength of figuring out a way to win despite playing far, far below their standards, particularly on offense.

This is not to say the Chiefs don’t need to clean up their overall execution and specifically their tendency to commit roughly 137 penalties a game. They absolutely need to get stuff like that fixed before the postseason. But the idea that this offense needs to average over 30 points a game or else be a complete failure isn’t something that is in touch with reality.

This fevered demand for perfection is likely because we, as Chiefs fans, have never experienced talent like this. We’ve seen other teams with hyper-talented rosters that could score seemingly at will from any spot on the field, but most of us have never witnessed it up close, every single week, every single snap. We’ve had our first taste of generational talent, and we expect the high to be just as intense in perpetuity. The result is an offense going from near-flawless to simply great feeling like diminishing returns when it’s really just closer to what they really are.

This offense is immensely talented; that much is objective fact at this point. They have the capability to drop 50+ points on any team at any time, and they’re more likely than not to finish the season averaging 30+ a game once again. But in 2018 they also had a lot break their way. Every play call clicked, every 50-50 ball was a completion, and every 3rd-and-long was a miracle conversion. What we saw last year was a whole lot of talent mixed with a whole lot of good luck. This year we’re seeing a whole lot of talent mixed with injuries and random chance setting them closer to human.

So now we’re in a position where an offense that remains top five in yards and points per game is getting scrutinized as an underperforming, not-good-enough mess. That’s the curse of having a season like 2018: anything less than perfection is seen as failure.

Mahomes is, at his core, still more gunslinger than not. I think that’s something we forget. He’s far more measured and calculated than Favre ever was. In a lot of ways, the “Favre meets Rodgers” comparison is accurate. But he’s closer to Favre than Rodgers in aggressiveness, and that inevitably means more random chance impacting more plays than your average QB. We’re seeing the impact of that this season: more overthrows, more dangerous near-interceptions, and fewer out-of-thin-air 3rd-and-long miracles.

And that’s okay. This offense has virtually no ceiling, but that’s because it is willing to take chances other teams wouldn’t dream of. And sometimes that’s going to result in more conservative playcalling from Andy Reid late in games where the offense has felt unsynchronized and they just need to escape with a win. That’s okay, too. This team just needs to get to the playoffs; nothing that happens in the regular season past that really matters.

The Chiefs can win ugly and lose inexplicably in the regular season and still win the Super Bowl. They are legitimate contenders. Whether they win a title or lose in the playoffs again, that fact will not change. But they aren’t going to roll through the playoffs completely unmatched in their greatness, stomping on every team in their path as they start a new, unbeatable dynasty. They’ll struggle and fight and probably make as many ugly mistakes as they do miraculous plays. But with Mahomes that’s what we signed up for: bottled chaos that will always be as unpredictable as it is thrilling.

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