The Kansas City Chiefs' offense now faces two central questions

Now that the NFL trade deadline has come and gone, the Kansas City Chiefs' offense is left with a pair of questions to answer about the rest of their 2023 campaign.

Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos
Kansas City Chiefs v Denver Broncos / Michael Owens/GettyImages

The NFL trade deadline is now in the rearview and no additional moves were made by Chiefs general manager Brett Veach. As it stands, bringing wide receiver Mecole Hardman back to Kansas City — for a 2025 draft pick swap with the New York Jets — proved to be Kansas City's only transaction.

Concerns about the team's wide receiver corps have been mounting since the offense turned in an uninspired 20-point performance in the season-opening loss to the Detroit Lions. Those concerns reached a fever pitch on Sunday after the Chiefs fell to the division rival Denver Broncos, 24-9. The offense failed to record a touchdown for the first time in 30 games and kicker Harrison Butker accounted for all nine of Kansas City's points.

How much of that losing effort can be attributed to the wide receivers' outing on Sunday depends entirely upon who you might ask. What's tough to argue is how they clearly came up short in key situations. Marquez Valdes-Scantling caught a 15-yard pass that had gotten the Chiefs into Broncos' territory early in the second quarter but fumbled moments later snuffing out an otherwise promising drive. On Kansas City's lone third-quarter drive, down just five points, rookie Rashee Rice dropped a pass that should have been paydirt had he hauled it in. The next quarter, Patrick Mahomes would be betrayed by another drop when a ball went through Skyy Moore's outstretched hands in the end zone.

Now that the NFL trade deadline has come and gone, the Chiefs' offense is left with a pair of questions to answer about the rest of their season.

However you feel about the position group, Chiefs brass stood pat at the deadline. Time will tell if that was the right decision.

At this point in the season, it seems to me there are two central questions that now apply to this receiver group and the offense as a whole. For an offense with perhaps the least amount of firepower it has had in nearly a decade, can this unit play the mistake-free brand of football required in January and February? If not, is this offense capable of overcoming errors? Despite a vastly improved defense, the answer to one or both of those questions must be yes if this team is to make another championship run.

Sunday's contest with the Broncos was a comedy of errors. Kansas City could not overcome a -4 turnover differential generously contributing five turnovers to the Broncos' cause in the rematch. There was a time when the Chiefs digging themselves a hole wasn't quite as daunting. Think back to the 2019 postseason tournament. The divisional round matchup with the Houston Texans began as disastrously as any professional football game could. The team fell behind 24-0, but quickly obliterated Houston's lead with a fast-and-furious second-quarter run. Imagine this 2023 team trailing by such a large margin. There were times last Sunday when just a 12-point lead felt insurmountable.

Once the postseason is underway, the Chiefs can't afford games where they give the opposing team extra possessions. They can't stall in the red zone and settle for field goals. The competition is simply too tough not to capitalize on stalled drives, turnovers, and drive-killing penalties. The objective for this team is to learn to play clean games that their Top 5 defense can keep close. If they can do that, you like the chances of your two-time MVP to make plays when absolutely necessary. The trouble is that the Chiefs have won the turnover battle just twice in its first eight games. Their matchup with the Vikings is the only game where they haven't committed a turnover in 2023. This will have to change the rest of the way.

With so many young players who've yet to prove reliable, the latter option is for this team to overcome its own mistakes. This offense hasn't shown enough to have confidence in playing as well from behind as it has in recent years. Right now, Travis Kelce is the only player Mahomes can consistently count on to produce. Rashee Rice is becoming a valuable second option but appears to have one pesky drop each week. He led all receivers in offensive snaps on Sunday with a 61% share of offensive plays. In order for him to have a consistent impact on this offense, that number will need to grow to and stay above 70%.

It might also help for the Chiefs to bring the offense into a bit of balance. Isiah Pacheco, despite averaging five yards per carry on Sunday, had only eight rushing attempts in the game. On the whole, the Chiefs' offense had about a 30:70 run-to-pass ratio. Those numbers may need to move about 7-10% for a more well-rounded offense. Be clear: Andy Reid will never be a run-first head coach, but running enough to keep defenses honest and stay ahead of the sticks seems prudent. Carries will obviously fluctuate as Reid crafts individual game plans tailored to his respective opponents, but right around 15 carries per game seems like a nice round number for Pacheco. Add in a larger snap share for Justin Watson (the other receiver who has contributed on a fairly consistent basis) and a bit more 12 personnel, and you might have an offense that can withstand a few failed drives or a turnover here and there.

At this stage, the team is the team. From this moment forward, winning another Super Bowl rests on the players already in that locker room at One Arrowhead Drive. The window to get well has evaporated. Kansas City's next two opponents — the Miami Dolphins and Philadelphia Eagles — are a combined 13-3 and each team is among the five best in the league right now. The Chiefs shrank their margin for error in the AFC dropping a game to the Denver Broncos. It happens, but now they'll need to lock in and play more complementary football where the offense doesn't put the defense in compromising positions by turning the ball over and failing to produce in the red zone. Sunday's international matchup with the Fins will be a great litmus to determine if this team is truly ready, to compete with the league's best when all of the marbles are on the line in mid-January.