For what seems like the first time in a long time, the Kansas City Chiefs’ offense appeared to be back on track. The points were there, but the way they scored them shows how the team has progressed through the previous week’s struggles.
As week ten of the NFL season rolled around things had hit a boiling point in Kansas City. The Chiefs held a 5-4 record and had largely underperformed throughout the course of the season. Despite winning their previous two games Patrick Mahomes had undergone the worst stretch of play of his young career. Under as much scrutiny as any player has ever been for a few games underperforming Mahomes lead KC into Las Vegas to take on the Raiders in one of the best rivalries in the NFL.
Many of the talking heads, and TV analysts had the Chiefs either winning a close game or losing decisively to the Raiders. What happened is something not many saw coming, but from the offensive side of the football for the Chiefs, it was the culmination of several weeks of committing to play a different style of football than we have been used to seeing. Mahomes also turned in one of the best performances of his career, silencing critics and putting the rest of the NFL on notice.
Every team in the NFL has game-planned to stop the long ball to Tyreek Hill, and for the most part, they have been successful. Mahomes had not connected to Hill for many of the long “bombs” that we have seen become a staple of the Chiefs offense. What we have seen from the Chiefs the past few weeks is using Hill as a possession-type target, as well as a go-to target in the red zone.
This game also did an excellent job of highlighting one of the strong points of this Chiefs offense which is the interior offensive line. Trey Smith, Creed Humphrey, and Joe Thuney have been elite this year, and the Chiefs gap scheme run game has yielded huge gains. Darell Williams played the best game of his professional career, and he helped keep the Raiders defense and pass rush in check by ripping chunk gains in the run game. The entire run game was not pretty, the Chiefs have some work to do with their zone game, but the middle appears to be where they excel at running the football.
Two big factors headed into the game were the Raiders pass rush and the mini-slump that Travis Kelce was in. The Raiders pass rush had been borderline elite headed into this week, and the play of Max Crosby and Yannick Ngakoue had me a little concerned.
Andy Reid found an answer to both issues, which involved keeping Kelce lined up as an inline TE, and using the screen game. By having Kecle show he was blocking to start the play, it allowed him easier releases off the line of scrimmage, and also was a great counter for the Raider’s strong upfield pass rush.
The team did all the small things correctly. The offense did not record turnover, they utilized the short passing game, check downs, and ran the ball well. It all paid off as late in the game the Raiders started to get out of their zone defense and play more man to man. Mahomes had utilized Williams all game with check-downs and swing passes, but he re-invented the Chiefs deep passing attack.
Mahomes finished with 406 passing yards and five passing touchdowns. Williams recorded an astounding 101 receiving yards to go along with 43 yards on the ground. Kelce returned to dominate fashion with 119 yards on eight catches. Tyreek Hill continued to showcase his game-changing ability to catch the football, scoring two touchdowns, and cementing himself as one of the top wideouts in the game.
This was the result, but the table had been set weeks in advance. In the NFL teams either evolve or die. Andy Reid knew this well, and in the middle of the season, the Chiefs transformed their offense from throwing deep shots and long routes on nearly every play to taking what teams give them, utilizing short passes, the run game, and spreading the ball around. They did all of this effectively, but when it came time to put the dagger in Mahomes seemed to have regained the confidence to let the ball fly down the field.
When all of the little things are accomplished, it opens back up the ability to take deep shots. Mahomes had a great game, but he also left some throws on the field. He had a great game but there is still more he can do to achieve what he is capable of, and that should frighten the rest of the NFL. The team will go as Mahomes goes, but as they run the ball better, and as he continues to take short patterns it will start to open back up the deep passes and make this team more lethal down the home stretch.
The momentum of a season is built when the leaves start to change, and championship runs are built when the temperature goes below freezing. The Chiefs appear to have hit their stride to start the home stretch of the season, and that should put the rest of the NFL on notice.