Kansas City Chiefs must embrace a simplified offensive identity

One game into their playoff run, a new identity has emerged for the Kansas City Chiefs. With the Divisional Round approaching, the offense would be wise to embrace its new look.

AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Miami Dolphins v Kansas City Chiefs
AFC Wild Card Playoffs - Miami Dolphins v Kansas City Chiefs / Kara Durrette/GettyImages
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""In character, in manner, in style, in all things, the supreme excellence is simplicity.""

Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

The identity of the 2023 Kansas City Chiefs has been known since October. They're unequivocally a defensive football team. That's perhaps an inconvenient truth for the offensive coaching staff and its accompanying player personnel, but it's the truth nonetheless.

Now the question becomes what the offensive coaching staff should do with that information. The answer should be to play efficient, turnover-free football and stay out of the defense's way. Conventional wisdom says that "defense wins championships", and that's precisely what Andy Reid and company should allow to happen for the rest of Kansas City's playoff run.

Offensive Coordinator Matt Nagy had this to say in the lead-up to Kansas City's Wild Card matchup with the Miami Dolphins, "The goal is to always score or be as aggressive as we possibly can... You also want to understand our defense right now is at an elite level, so not giving them short fields with turnovers ... A bad turnover is not going to help our really good defense. Punting the ball is field position. If something's not there, we don't force it and throw an interception, we don't force a play call, we're smart, we play the field position, and understand our defense has done a great job all year long. It's time tested — it's not something that's been a three-game stretch."

If I'm honest, when I first read that, it sounded like a defeated offensive coach in retreat. Following Kansas City's 26-9 victory over the Dolphins to advance to the Divisional Round, I realize how prophetic that statement was.

In the Wild Card matchup with the Miami Dolphins, Chiefs running back Isiah Pacheco had a season-high 24 carries for 89 rushing yards and a touchdown. Tight end Travis Kelce and rookie receiver Rashee Rice were targeted 22 times, and they turned that into 15 catches, 201 receiving yards, and a touchdown (an 11-yarder to Rice).

To put those targets into perspective, the next-closest option was targeted just three times on Saturday (Mecole Hardman). Kansas City perfected its own version of the Triangle Offense and concentrated touches on its most effective and reliable weapons. Boasting a defense as stout as this one makes that possible. That has to be the team's recipe if it hopes to clear the Buffalo Bills en route to a sixth-straight appearance in the AFC Title Game.

Embracing a new-look identity this deep into an NFL season isn't easy, but it should be simple. It requires discipline to avoid the old habits that plagued this offense in the regular season. Andy Reid is accustomed to dictating terms to opposing teams rather than adjusting his philosophy to match his team's strengths. This isn't the offensive juggernaut we've come to know since Patrick Mahomes assumed the starting role at quarterback. This is a team led by its defensive prowess and ability to impose its will on opposing offenses.

Reid doesn't want to pare down his offense's complexity and run it predictably. That goes against everything he's shown us during his tenure, but it's the right answer. A more run-focused offense that targets Rice and Kelce demonstrated the ability to move the football effectively between the 20s (though the red zone is admittedly another matter altogether). If Coach Reid can commit to keeping it simple offensively, he'll keep games close and give his offense the opportunity to score points.

The offense wasn't perfect by any stretch of the imagination on Saturday scoring on just two of six red zone trips, but Harrison Butker did add 12 points going 4-for-4 on field goal attempts on the day. For a defense that surrenders just 17.3 points per game, even scores of the three-point variety are valuable. Though if I'm honest, I'd like to see the Chiefs closer to 50% in red zone efficiency moving forward. Had the Chiefs converted just one of Butker's four field goals into a touchdown, they would've posted 30 points on Saturday.

When the Chiefs last locked horns with the Bills, starting running back Isiah Pacheco was inactive due to a shoulder injury. That likely led to just 15 carries between Clyde Edwards-Helaire and Jerick McKinnon. Kansas City got solid performances from Kelce and Rice, but invested too heavily into spreading the ball around (19 targets went other players). Despite those two facts, the Chiefs still were an offensive offsides penalty from taking a late lead in that game. If Kansas City can simplify its offensive approach to the Divisional Round matchup, the defense should take care of the rest.

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