Offensive struggles return to the forefront of Chiefs problems

With the first four games in the books, it's time to take a serious look at the Kansas City Chiefs' offensive struggles. Four games is a significant enough sample size to pose serious questions about the trajectory of the 2023 offense.
Kansas City Chiefs v New York Jets
Kansas City Chiefs v New York Jets / Kevin Sabitus/GettyImages

The first month of the regular season is fertile ground for overreactions. Narratives develop before some NFL teams play their home opener.

Following a Week 1 loss to the Detroit Lions, where the Kansas City Chiefs managed just 20 points, there were a number of questions surrounding Kansas City's wide receiver corps. Skyy Moore and Kadarius Toney were practically no shows on Banner Night. The rest of the room — Marquez Valdes-Scantling, Justin Watson, Rashee Rice, Richie James and Justyn Ross — posted a paltry 134 receiving yards. Without Travis Kelce in the lineup, the offense failed to produce points on seven offensive drives.

The next week in Jacksonville, the Chiefs rebounded to snare the first victory of their 2023 campaign, but posted just 17 points against the Jaguars' 23rd-ranked scoring defense. The receiver room had a better outing in Week 2, but the Chiefs didn't post their first points of the day until late in the second quarter. During the month of September, every team's primary objective is simply to find a way to win while they sort through their early-season shortcomings. Kansas City did that in Jacksonville, but did little to quiet the questions.

The hapless Chicago Bears came to Arrowhead in Week 3 and the Kansas City Chiefs had their best offensive performance of the season. The offense effortlessly rang up 41 points, 456 total yards of offense and 31 first downs. Finally, the unit appeared to be in mid-season form. Rookie Rashee Rice led all receivers with 59 receiving yards. Unfortunately, that reassurance would be short lived.

Everyone in Chiefs Kingdom anticipated Kansas City would build upon their offensive momentum in a Sunday Night Football matchup with the New York Jets. Mucdh to their chagrin, that simply was not the case. The team had five scoring drives in the contest, but settled for field goals in three of them. Patrick Mahomes was uncharacteristically bad on the night, turning the ball over twice, and posting a 66.3 QBR. To put this into perspective, Rashee Rice had 32 receiving yards on Sunday night. The quartet of MVS-Toney-Watson-Moore had 33. With October underway, it's time to admit the Chiefs have a serious problem at wide receiver.

The Kansas City Chiefs, heading into Week 5, have now posted three mediocre offensive performances.

Four weeks into the regular season, Justin Watson is still the team's leading receiver (that's including Travis Kelce). Rashee Rice is currently third on the team with 140 receiving yards. Mind you, that's as a first-year receiver in an Andy Reid offense. Think about that for a second. He's currently outperforming Valdes-Scantling, Toney and Moore in an offense that's historically been hard on incoming receivers. This lack of production could eventually catch up with the Chiefs when more formidable opponents show up on the schedule.

On Sunday night, I saw a return of "hero ball" from Patrick Mahomes. There were long stretches of the game where he didn't look comfortable in this offense. He looked like a man who doesn't yet have trust in most of his inexperienced receivers. He tried forcing the ball into double coverage on multiple occasions. He ended the night with two interceptions, but at least one other ball was dropped by a Jets defender. On his first pick of the night, Mahomes underthrew Noah Gray by a solid four yards and the ball was intercepted by safety Ashtyn Davis. The second interception was a pass intended for Travis Kelce that linebacker C.J. Mosley undercut and took away from Mahomes.

With the game on the line, Mahomes took the game into his own hands and used his legs to preserve a narrow fourth quarter lead. The Chiefs would win 23-20, but there are now real reasons to wonder about the offensive trajectory this season. Rice is still battling drops, but looks to be a real find for the Chiefs. If he continues to mature, he may well be the team's best receiver by the end of the season. The rest of the room remains a question. It might be time for general manager Brett Veach to start looking into trade options for Kansas City.

Fourth-year man Chase Claypool was inactive for the Bears' matchup with the Denver Broncos on Sunday. He recently landed in the headlines for calling Chicago's coaching staff into question for how he's currently being utilized. It appears he may be in head coach Matt Eberflus' doghouse. The Bears just traded for Claypool a year ago, but with tensions mounting in the Windy City, he could be an intriguing option with the trade deadline approaching. Davante Adams and Mike Evans are higher-profile options, but it's unlikely the Chiefs have the cap space available to give serious consideration to either of them. The Chiefs may also consider a guy like Arizona Cardinals receiver Marquise Brown.

Make no mistake, I still haven't given up on the possibility that the Chiefs receivers, as a whole, become a more reliable group as the year goes on. It's just time to consider if this group is good enough for the team to successfully defend its title. At the moment, it's tough to see this offense trading scores with AFC opponents like the Buffalo Bills and Miami Dolphins. It'd be nice if the team could identify another reliable vet receiver to bring into the fold.

Sunday's tilt with the Minnesota Vikings presents another opportunity for the offense to gain its bearings. The Vikes are a middle-of-the-road defense that has surrendered 82 points in three losses thus far in 2023. Cross your fingers and hope your general manager makes a few phone calls over the next several weeks.