A year ago, there was just one question about the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense — perhaps the biggest since Patrick Mahomes’ debut as the starting quarterback 2018: How will the unit fare without wide receiver Tyreek Hill?
A few months later, the Kansas City offense finished the regular season at the top of the league in:
- Points per game (29.2)
- Total yards per game (414) & per play (6.4)
- Net yards per passing attempt (7.5)
- First downs per game (24)
- Touchdown pass percentage (6.3%)
- Passer rating (104.7)
Even with Mahomes as the starter, the Chiefs had never led the league in all six of these categories — although they got close in 2018.
That overall efficiency was the sum of all the different ways the offense successfully attacked opposing defenses in 2022.
In the regular season, the Chiefs ranked first in Expected Points Added (EPA) per play from 11 personnel, the three-receiver set used as every team’s primary personnel package. Kansas City ranked first in EPA/pass attempt in those scenarios, along with EPA/pass attempt on early downs.
When the team went to two or three tight ends (12 or 13 personnel), they maintained a ranking in the top six for EPA/play. But no one had a higher EPA/pass attempt on play-action dropbacks — nor did anybody top Mahomes on dropbacks from a clean pocket.
The Chiefs’ offense was better than any team on any down. On an early down, the Chiefs had the league’s highest success rate. On third down, the Chiefs’ dropbacks were successful 52% of the time; the NFL average was 39%. Mahomes led all quarterbacks in EPA/pass attempt on third and fourth down combined.
It didn’t matter what defensive coverage was thrown at Kansas City’s passing game. Whether it was against man coverage, zone coverage, blitzes, standard rushes, two-high safeties or non-two-high shells, the offense still led the NFL in EPA/pass attempt.
It topped the league on passes thrown within 10 air yards, but also on attempts that traveled further. Attempts from both inside and outside the pocket ranked as the NFL’s best. No NFL passing game generated better efficiency targeting their wide receivers, but also when throwing to any other position. While I’ve already touched on the team’s play-action success, non-play-action dropbacks also resulted in league-leading efficiency.
Is it fair to expect the Chiefs to be as dominant in all facets of offense in 2023? Probably not.
This collection of No. 1 rankings is… incredible. An offense can’t expect to have league-leading execution in every single facet of the game — but Kansas City very nearly had that last season.
Why a drop-off could happen
The easy answer is statistical: negative regression. Even if you want to figure that Mahomes is simply an alien from another planet — a distinct possibility — 2022’s historic output is simply closer to being an outlier than the average.
The team’s opponents will do their best to make this difficult, too. In 2022, the Chiefs ended up playing the league’s fourth-easiest schedule in the NFL last year — but based on oddsmakers’ win forecasts, Kansas City is facing the fifth-toughest schedule in 2023.
Then there is the loss of a known quantity among the team’s wide receivers: JuJu Smith-Schuster. The Chiefs should be able to replace his steadiness — but as they figure that out, it may not look as clean.
Why the Chiefs could defy logic and do it again
Another easy answer: because it’s the Chiefs.
Remember: this is the team with a trinity of offensive football masterminds: Mahomes, head coach Andy Reid and tight end Travis Kelce. The fourth pillar of the team is usually on the other side of the ball — and here, that’s an important factor.
If defensive tackle Chris Jones continues to hold out amid his negotiations for a contract extension, the offense may once again have to put up unreal numbers — just like it did in 2018. Without Jones (and defensive lineman Charles Omenihu, who is suspended for six games), the defense will be in a bad position. There will no longer be an excuse for Reid to find a conservative zone when holding a lead; we should see aggressive play-calling through all four quarters.
The offense could also be more multi-faceted than it was last season. The new players at offensive tackle will benefit the primary way the Chiefs want to run the ball: with zone runs that utilize the mobility of blockers. Right tackle Jawaan Taylor’s get-off and length allow him to swallow up linebackers in pursuit at the second level, while left tackle Donovan Smith is a much better fit for that type of run action than his predecessor.
The team’s deeper group of wide receivers should also help the cause. A purpose-built slot receiver like rookie Rashee Rice may allow the team to improve its running plays from lighter personnel. The trio of Skyy Moore, Kadarius Toney and Richie James should give defensive coordinators fits trying to prevent one-on-one situations in the open field.
And then there’s Justyn Ross, whose 6-foot-4 frame — and the ability to overwhelm a cornerback with his athleticism — makes him a weapon that Mahomes really hasn’t had before now.
But let’s boil it down. If any offense in is going to continue being this absurdly, ridiculously efficient, it’s going to be this one — but because the only number that really matters is 15.