The 2021 Chiefs are not who we thought they were -- at least not yet.
Kansas City is nine weeks into this campaign and hasn't consistently regained its explosive offensive ability that has defined the club's existence in the Patrick Mahomes/Andy Reid era. The Chiefs rank seventh in total offense and sixth in passing, but 14th in yards per play. Even worse, they're tied for 17th in big plays this season.
A team known for being capable of blowing a game open in a flash is now a middling bunch. Worst of all, Mahomes can't stop turning the ball over, throwing at least one interception in all but two of the games he's played this season. As a team, Kansas City ranks 31st in turnovers.
The resulting rhythm (or lack thereof) goes something like this: occasional handoff to the running back of the day or receiver running a variation of a jet sweep, intermediate pass attempt, and roll out to buy time before attempting a deep shot. Sometimes the deep shot comes on first or second down. It's often fruitless, and happens far too frequently to chalk it up to situational decision-making (i.e., second-and-short). Our own Gregg Rosenthal put it best via Twitter:
Kansas City is stubbornly stuck in its ways, and without much of a running game to speak of -- oh, and a defense that has put too much pressure on the offense to win games in the early portion of the season -- there doesn't seem to be a way out. Mahomes doesn't want a way out, at least not via a more conservative route.
"I mean, I'm gonna take shots," Mahomes said, via the Kansas City Star. "The last few years I've taken those shots, and they've worked. I've taken those shots, and they haven't worked (as well this season), and we've still been able to find ways to score points.
"Whenever I've got a guy with a chance to make a play downfield, I'm going to give him a chance to make a play."
That's been a running theme for these Chiefs: It worked last year, so why not now?
The aggression Mahomes described is what Reid wants out of his quarterback. The Chiefs just need to execute better at all levels of the field.
"When given an opportunity, if it's a situation where it's equal or depending on the matchup, you take the shot," Reid said. "You're never going to get a shot unless you take a shot. That's how we do it. "If you don't get it, then you go get it the next down. We're one of the better second-down teams in football. Go get it then. That's how we go."
The problems aren't limited solely to Mahomes. His receivers have had an issue with drops and general ball security after the catch in 2021, including in short-yardage situations. There was Tyreek Hill's drop that landed in the arms of Bills safety Micah Hyde for a month-defining pick-six in Week 5, or Travis Kelce's fumble after the catch in Week 8. We could go on.
Mahomes is also responsible for the most interceptions thrown (14) since Week 14 of the 2020 season, and his 75.2 passer rating is among the bottom five quarterbacks in the league with three-plus starts since Week 5.
Kansas City has a few glimmers of hope, though: Mahomes is still the owner of a 92.5 passer rating and a 20-10 TD-INT ratio. The Chiefs have won three of their last four and are right in the thick of a tight AFC West, even as Mahomes has struggled over Kansas City's last five games. And Mahomes dug into his supply of clutch juice to complete a third-down pass to Hill that the Chiefs absolutely had to have to hold off the Aaron Rodgers-less Packers last weekend.
Perhaps Week 9 was the turning point for the struggling Chiefs. They'll hope it was, because the Raiders come to town this weekend for a prime-time date with the reigning division champions.
Either way, Mahomes isn't going to change who he is. He's still going to air it out.
"I think, just in general, even when we're not connecting on them, it still tells that defense they have to back up, and it opens up stuff underneath," Mahomes said. "Taking those shots during the game, even if they're not connecting, it kind of puts a little bit of a fear into the defense to know they can't start coming up; they can't start jumping some of our routes.
"So obviously it's going to be nice when we complete one of these. We haven't completed one in a couple weeks here. But either way, taking those shots and having those opportunities at the right time and the right place will continue to open up the offense more and more."