The defending-champion Kansas City Chiefs are frustrated with the NFL’s officiating. They’re mad as hell over calls that were made, or not made, in the late stages of consecutive losses to Green Bay and Buffalo.

I like the Chiefs and make sure to watch every game. And while I would like to have empathy for coach Andy Reid and quarterback Patrick Mahomes … I can’t do it.

Forgive me for declining to join the caterwauling chorus to wail about the controversial particulars, I’d prefer to look at the real problem instead of gazing at the zebras.

The Chiefs have fallen to 8-5 on the campaign because of a sludgy, sloppy offense. Passionate KC fans know this of course, but it’s easier to direct the anger at the officials and concoct feverish conspiracies.

No, my friends – this isn’t a nefarious NFL plot to stop the Chiefs from winning.

The Chiefs are stopping themselves.

This is being done without the need of a diabolical intervention from a busy-body, flag-throwing, vision-challenged crew of judges. If the Chiefs really believe they’re victims of grave officiating injustice … hey, welcome to the NFL. The officiating reeks. All 32 teams can agree on that. All 32 teams are victims.

The Chiefs are averaging 22.5 points per game this season which ranks 11th in the league. That’s the lowest scoring average in a season since Mahomes became the starting quarterback in 2018.

Until now, Kansas City had never averaged fewer than 28.2 points per game in a season with Mahomes. And until the stall in 2023, the Chiefs and Mahomes hadn’t ranked worse than sixth in the NFL for points per game in a season.

The Kansas City offense isn’t finding the end zone with enough frequency in ’23, ranking tied for ninth in the NFL with an average of 2.4 offensive touchdowns per game. This is the first time Kansas City has averaged fewer than 3.3 offensive touchdowns per game with Mahomes leading the attack.

Compared to their first five seasons with Mahomes as their starter, the Chiefs offense has declined by an average of 1.08 offensive touchdowns per game. That definitely matters; four of their five losses have been by one-score margins.

Here are the issues. All stats apply to regular-season games only

THE OVERALL DOWNTURN

In Mahomes’ first five seasons as the starting quarterback, the rocking-and-rolling Chiefs led the NFL with an average of 30.6 points per game and went 64-18. This season, the Chiefs rank 11th with an average of 22.5 points per game and already have lost five times with four regular-season games remaining.

The Chiefs have scored on 40.3 percent of their possessions. That ranks 8th among NFL offenses. Last season they were No. 1 in the league by scoring on 46.4% of their drives.

Last season KC was No. 2 in the NFL with a touchdown percentage of 69.4 when in the red zone. This year, the Chiefs rank 14th with a red-zone TD percentage of 56.3.

After leading the NFL with an average of 6.4 yards per play in 2022, the Chiefs have dropped to seventh season with an average of 5.6 yards/play.

Last season the Chiefs led the NFL in Expected Points Added in the passing game but have dropped to 10th in passing EPA this year.

Last season the Chiefs led the NFL in points per drive (2.71) but are tied for eighth this season (2.13.)

The Chiefs have averaged only 3.0 points scored in the fourth quarter this season – the worst in the NFL. In Mahomes’ first five seasons Kansas City averaged 7.6 points in the fourth quarter. Until this year the KC offense never ranked worse than 16th in the league in fourth-quarter scoring average – and ranked among the NFL’s top 11 in four of the five seasons.

This season Mahomes has a fourth-quarter passer rating of 68.8 which ranks 14th among 16 quarterbacks that have attempted at least 100 passes in the 4th. Mahomes has only three TD passes in the fourth quarter this year.

With the offense so dormant late in games, the Chiefs don’t have a single fourth–quarter comeback for a win this season. Mahomes led 13 fourth-quarter comebacks in his first five seasons as a starter.

The Chiefs have just one game-winning drive in 2023. Mahomes was credited with 14 game-winning drives over his first five seasons.

TOO MANY MISTAKES ON OFFENSE

We’ll get to the dropped passes in a few moments.

Through the first 13 games the Chiefs have been unusually unkempt on offense, a shoddiness that’s been made clear by these simple stats:

* Kansas City has been flagged for 53 accepted penalties on offense, the most in the NFL. Accepted penalties have cost the KC offense a league-high 446 yards.

* Kansas City has turned the ball over 25 times — already the most in a season since Andy Reid became the team’s head coach in 2013.

THE WIDE RECEIVERS

Bad. Really bad. Rashee Rice gets an exemption, though he’s had some screw-ups including a lost fumble late in the third quarter of Sunday’s 20-17 loss to the Bills. But in grading done by Pro Football Focus, Rice 16th among all NFL wide receivers. No other Kansas City WR is better than 68th. Kadarius Toney, Justin Watson, Sky Moore and (especially) Marquez Valdes-Scantling have been shaky at best in 2023. Toney’s offsides penalty wiped out the likely winning touchdown on KC’s final possession against the Bills. The spectacular play by tight end Travis Kelce – a catch and lateral to Toney, who sprinted into the end zone – was wasted through Toney’s incomprehensible lapse in concentration.

When Mahomes specifically targets a wide receiver this season, his throws have been on target at a rate 72.8 percent. And the pass attempt has been deemed catchable at a rate of 83.1%. But despite the quarterback’s accuracy, Mahomes has completed 63.6% of his pass attempts to wide receivers — which tells us how unreliable the receivers are.

Per Football Reference, Kansas City has dropped the most passes (32) in the NFL this season. That’s the count through 13 games. Last season, the Chiefs dropped 34 passes in 17 regular-season games. Kansas City’s overall drop rate (7.7%) ranks 30th in the NFL. Mahomes’ passer rating when targeting a wide receiver is a pedestrian 85.0.

Among 97 NFL wide receivers that have been targeted at least 30 times this season, here’s where individual Chiefs rank in percentage of successful grabs on catchable passes:

* Rice, 89.7%, 38th

* Toney, 88.9%, 40th

* Sky Moore, 87.5%, 51st

* Justin Watson, 75%, 93rd

* Valdez-Scantling, 80%, 80th

Last season, when Mahomes threw to a wide receiver, the Chiefs led the NL with the lowest “bust” rate at 10.3 percent. This season, KC’s bust rate in throws to wide receivers (15.6%) is the third worst in the league. When a WR is involved, too many plays have crashed.

This season Kansas City’s wide receivers rank a poor 26th in the league in Expected Points Added. Last season their receivers were 6th in the NFL in EPA.

THE DECLINE IN DEEP PASSING

Kansas City’s effectiveness on deep passes – to any receiver including tight ends and backs – has deteriorated in 2023.

— Last season on throws that traveled 20+ yards in the air, Mahomes completed 28 of 63 (44.4%) with three touchdowns and no interceptions. This season? Mahomes has connected on 14 of 52 deep throws (26.9%) with one touchdown and six interceptions. (The numbers are from Pro Football Focus.)

— The Chiefs’ struggles on deeper throws has reduced the scope of the passing game. Here’s a stat that jumped out at me: this season Mahomes’ average throw has traveled only 6.8 yards. That ranks an alarming 35th among NFL quarterbacks that have at least 100 passing attempts this year. For perspective, consider this: Mahomes’ average distance on throws lags behind a collection of quarterbacks that includes Daniel Jones, Zach Wilson, Mac Jones, Tommy DeVito, Kenny Pickett, Joshua Dobbs, Bryce Young, Justin Fields and P.J. Walker. Whoa. This shouldn’t be happening.

This explains everything: the 2023 Chiefs rank 30th in average depth per target (7.0 yards) and 30th in average depth per completion (4.3 yards.) I assume that defenses are happy with Kansas City’s small-ball strategy. It’s much easier to control the damage. The Chiefs have gotten positive results in their passes to running backs, but the impact of those plays can’t make up for the weakness at wide receiver or fix the limitations of the passing game.

WHAT ABOUT TRAVIS KELCE? 

According to an increasingly popular narrative, Kelce has lost a step in his age-34 season. I looked at this from every angle and the facts don’t support the perception. Kelce is averaging 11.2 yards per reception, and that would be the lowest rate in a season. So that’s a minus. But everything else is pretty much the same as it ever was … and even better in some categories.

Last season Kelce was No. 1 among tight ends in EPA; this season he’s a close second. And this year he leads NFL tight ends in the Points Above Replacement (PAR) metric. His average yards per target (8.7) matches last season’s rate. This year his yards per route run is actually higher than in 2022. And his percentage of “boom” plays this season – defined as “very successful” is virtually identical to last year’s rate.

Given the unimposing nature of Kansas City’s deep-ball game, it’s much easier for opponents to defend Kelce on the short and intermediate stuff. But he’s still delivering.

THE CONCLUSION

My goodness, I have a bunch of other stuff to reaffirm all of these points about the KC offense but I don’t want to keep flooding you with numbers.

We keep waiting for the Chiefs to return to elite status offensively. But 13 games into the season, we’re watching the same problems surface over and over again. If the breakout hasn’t happened by now … well, then when? Time and time again the Chiefs have shown us who they are. And we don’t have much reason to think that this is an aberration.

After losing four of their last six games, Kansas City has drifted downward in the overall AFC standings and have a diminishing chance of securing homefield advantage in the postseason. During the Mahomes Era the Chiefs have played every AFC playoff game at home including all four conference championship games.

With a 4-2 record the Chiefs have done fine on the road this season. But the road wins came at Jacksonville (early), the NY Jets, Minnesota and Las Vegas. And three of the four victories were determined by a one-score margin. The point is, Mahomes and this offense would face much better competition on the road during the postseason. From 2018 through 2022, the Reid-Mahomes offense averaged an astonishing 32.5 points per road game. This season the Chiefs have averaged 21 points in six roadies.

Yes, officiating is a league-wide problem. And the Chiefs are entitled to their frustration. But in Kansas City, the Chiefs offense is a much bigger problem than any officiating crew.

Thanks for reading …

–Bernie

Bernie hosts an opinionated and analytical sports-talk show on 590 The Fan, KFNS. It airs 3-6 p.m. Monday through Thursday and 4-6 p.m. on Friday. Stream it live or access the show podcast on 590thefan.com or through the 590 The Fan St. Louis app.

Please follow Bernie on Twitter @miklasz and on Threads @miklaszb

All stats used in this Chiefs column were sourced from Sports Info Solutions, Football Reference and Pro Football Focus.

 

Bernie Miklasz

Bernie Miklasz

For the last 35 years Bernie Miklasz has entertained, enlightened, and connected with generations of St. Louis sports fans.

While best known for his voice as the lead sports columnist at the Post-Dispatch for 26 years, Bernie has also written for The Athletic, Dallas Morning News and Baltimore News American. Bernie has hosted radio shows in St. Louis, Dallas, Baltimore and Washington D.C.

Bernie, his wife Kirsten and their cats reside in the Skinker-DeBaliviere neighborhood of St. Louis.