KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP)Patrick Mahomes stood in the pocke t for what seemed an eternity and, after finally giving up on finding anybody downfield, the Chiefs quarterback tucked the ball and ran for a crucial first down against the New York Jets.
That play last Sunday night wasn’t the first time Mahomes has failed to find much help this season.
Through the first four games, the entire Chiefs wide receiver corps has combined to catch 45 passes for 588 yards and just two touchdowns. To put that into perspective, Minnesota Vikings wide receiver Justin Jefferson – whom they will see on Sunday – has already caught 33 passes for 543 yards and three scores all by himself.
The meager production from Kansas City wide receivers has had a trickle-down effect on the rest of the offense, which outside of a big performance against lowly Chicago has struggled to put up the big points for which it has become known.
“The beauty of our offense,” Chiefs offensive coordinator Matt Nagy said Thursday, “is that we’ve got a lot of different guys that are learning how to play wide receiver within this offense, and we’re learning who they are. So it’s a little bit of both, and it just continually grows, and hopefully to the point that when we get to the end of the season that we’re rolling.”
In other words, some of the blame for the poor production can be traced back to youth.
Wide receiver Skyy Moore is only in his second season. Kadarius Toney in his second with the Chiefs. Rashee Rice and Justyn Ross had never stepped on the field for a regular-season NFL game before Week 1 against Detroit.
So they’re all learning on the fly.
They’re learning how to get away from man coverage, which is far more difficult at the professional level than college. They are learning how to uncover soft spots in zones, which also means building a rapport with Mahomes so that the quarterback knows when and where the wide receiver might be setting down and waiting for the ball.
It also means figuring out how defenses might be trying to confuse everything else they do.
“A lot of NFL defenses, they’re very good at trying to disguise what they’re actually going to run,” Rice explained, “so it just kind of forces our offense to use a lot of motions and stuff so we can diagnose the defense.”
It remains a work in progress. And in the meantime, the offense has been suffering.
There were 11 wide receivers in the league entering this week with more touchdown receptions than the entire Kansas City crew. Rice tops the team with just 13 catches for a scant 140 yards, while Justin Watson leads that group with 163 yards receiving.
Neither them nor anyone else has been able to produce the splash plays that are a hallmark of the Chiefs, either. Toney has elite speed, but his nine catches for 57 yards come with 0.1 yards-before-catch per reception. That essentially means that, on average, all nine balls he has caught this season have been at the line of scrimmage.
That’s hardly the way to blow the top off a defense.
None of the issues happen in a vacuum, of course. The Chiefs have played some of the best defensive backfields in the league, and Jets cornerbacks Sauce Gardner and DJ Reed – whom they faced last week – might be the best tandem. They also tend to throw it quite frequently to Travis Kelce, Isiah Pacheco and the rest of the tight ends and running backs, which further takes the wideouts out of the equation.
“This isn’t the offense where you’re going to see one guy that has 18 targets every week,” Nagy said. “That’s just not us.”
Yet two years ago, Tyreek Hill led the team with 111 catches for 1,239 yards and nine touchdowns, and the Chiefs had three other wide receivers with at least 25 catches apiece. Last year, JuJu Smith Schuster caught 78 passes and Marquez Valdes-Scantling had 42, and both of them produced enough big plays to keep opposing defenses honest.
If Rice remains on his current pace, the second-round draft pick would lead the Chiefs with 55 catches in all.
Mahomes didn’t sound concerned this week, pointing out that the Chiefs are still 3-1 and atop the AFC West, thanks in part to a run game that has suddenly become quite devastating.
Turns out his coach didn’t sound too concerned, either.
“We have a couple young guys we’re kind of bringing along,” Andy Reid said. “but I think they’re doing a pretty good job.”
NOTES: Chiefs LB Nick Bolton (ankle) and CB Jaylen Watson (shoulder) practiced for the second straight day Thursday. That raises the likelihood that both will be available against the Vikings. Defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo said that Bolton would be a game-time decision. “He’s a competitor,” Spagnuolo added. “I don’t think he likes standing on the sideline.”
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