The Kansas City Chiefs are back in the Super Bowl for the third time in four years. They did so this season, perhaps improbably, without the services of wide receiver Tyreek Hill, who they traded away early in the offseason. Hill had an All-Pro year with the Miami Dolphins, finishing second in the NFL in receiving yards (1,710). The two picks the Chiefs got in return for Hill were used on defensive end George Karlaftis and Skyy Moore, both of whom had up-and-down rookie seasons.
So, how did the Chiefs manage to get back to the Super Bowl and even improve on offense despite losing an All-Pro receiver? Here are the three ways they improved in 2022 without Hill.
Patrick Mahomes Shows Patience
During the 2020 and 2021 seasons, Mahomes combined to average 7.2 yards per passing attempt on first down. Surprisingly, that ranks just 26th among qualifying quarterbacks that season. As great as Mahomes was during those seasons, he wasn't the most efficient quarterback on first down.
Part of the reason for his limited success on first down is that he just didn't complete a high enough percentage of his passes. He finished with a 65% completion rate during that stretch, which seems reasonable. However, when you compare it to his peers, it actually ranks only 25th.
Too often, Mahomes would be too aggressive on first down, looking for the big play down the field to Tyreek Hill. That would lead to huge gains every now and then, but it didn't always make the offense very consistent and would put the Chiefs in unfavorable down and distances.
But this year, Mahomes showed more patience and took the layups on first down. As a result, not only did he see his completion percentage rise to 69.7% on first down, but his yards per attempt improved to 7.7. That's important, as it allowed the Chiefs to avoid more third downs in 2022 than in any season prior during Mahomes' career.
In 2022, the Chiefs moved the chains on first or second down 57% of the time. That was No. 1 in the league by a good margin. Take a look at how the entire NFL ranks at getting first downs by down from the 2022 season:
Final moving the chains chart pic.twitter.com/MnksfGfxAc
— Timo Riske (@PFF_Moo) January 9, 2023
By throwing the ball underneath on first and second down more to Travis Kelce, JuJu Smith-Schuster and Jerick McKinnon, the offense actually became more efficient. The Chiefs might not have been quite as much “fun” without the 60-yard bombs to Hill, but they managed to move the ball more consistently. Mahomes deserves a ton of credit for changing his style of play, as he was more willing to take what the defense gave him rather than going for knockout blows on first down.