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Sunday football notes

What’s wrong with the Chiefs’ offense? Everything.

The Chiefs had several drops in last Monday’s loss to the Eagles, including one by Marquez Valdes-Scantling late in the fourth quarter that should have won the game.Ed Zurga/Associated Press

When it comes to the Chiefs’ offense, the question isn’t, “What’s wrong?”

It’s, “How much time have you got?”

The Chiefs may be 7-3 entering Sunday’s game against the Raiders, just a half-game behind the Ravens for the No. 1 seed in the AFC. But their offense is a mess, as evidenced by the drops, penalties, and turnovers in a 21-17 loss to the Eagles last Monday night.

“It starts with me,” quarterback Patrick Mahomes said, falling on his sword for his teammates. “Offensively, I’m just not where I want to be at this point in the season.”

The Chiefs enter Sunday’s game ranked No. 14 in points per game (22.5) and No. 8 in total yards, their first time outside of the top six in either category since 2016, when Alex Smith was the quarterback.

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Their problems are manifold, and they have little to do with Mahomes and mostly to do with the people around him.

First is “the penalty part,” as coach Andy Reid put it. The Chiefs had the sixth-most penalty flags (85) entering Week 12, and were second worst in net penalties (minus-18).

The offensive line has been the biggest culprit, tied for the NFL lead in holding penalties (14 in 10 games). Right guard Trey Smith is tied for the league lead with five, right tackle Jawaan Taylor is tied for fourth with four, and left tackle Donovan Smith is tied for 10th with three.

Next come the drops, which have been a problem all season. The Chiefs had several in Monday’s loss, including one by Marquez Valdes-Scantling late in the fourth quarter that should have won the game. Mahomes has had 22 passes dropped this year, or 5.8 percent, both of which lead the NFL. Travis Kelce, Rashee Rice, and Justin Watson each have four drops, tied for fifth most in the league.

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The next problem is the turnovers. The Chiefs have 19 giveaways, tied for fifth most in the league. Most alarmingly, they have an NFL-high four turnovers inside the red zone, including two last week. Mahomes is throwing interceptions at the highest rate of his career (2.4 percent) and is on pace to break his career high in interceptions (13) by two.

Up next: An inability to hit deep passes. Mahomes last year led the NFL by a wide margin with 73 completions of 20-plus yards, or 16 more than the next quarterback. This year, Mahomes ranks just 16th in such completions, on pace for 49, which would be a career low.

Mahomes is averaging just 6.9 yards per pass attempt, by far the lowest of his career and well below his career average of 8.0. He’s also throwing touchdown passes at the lowest clip of his career (5 percent).

“I’ve preached all year [that] teams are going to try to make us drive the entire field the entire game,” Mahomes said. “We have to prove that. If not, they’re going to make us do that, and it’s not like they’re changing much.”

The Chiefs’ problems are interconnected, of course, and the next one relates to several others — an inability to get Kelce the ball. In his last three games, Kelce has just 16 catches for 116 yards and one touchdown, and none of the Chiefs’ receivers are establishing themselves as consistent No. 2 options.

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“I mean, they’re putting two [or] three guys on him,” Mahomes said of Kelce. “If we hit some of these deep passes that we’re missing, it’s going to take teams out of those double teams and triple teams.”

The accumulation of issues has resulted in a troubling trend for the Chiefs — “this second-half thing,” as Reid said.

The Chiefs have no problem putting up points in the first half of games — 17.2 per game, second best in the NFL. They have the best second-quarter scoring differential in the league (plus-69), enabling them to race to halftime leads.

But the Chiefs have been surprisingly terrible after halftime. They have scored just 53 points in the second half, fewest in the NFL (5.3 per game). They have been shut out in the second half in three straight games, losses to the Broncos and Eagles and a win over the Dolphins. Mahomes is 22nd in second-half passer rating (81.8), and 32nd in yards per attempt (5.6).

Specifically, the Chiefs’ issues are in the fourth quarter. Their 19 points are the fewest in the NFL, and they are 31st in point differential (minus-33).

“As much as everybody expects us to do it, we expect more of ourselves,” Mahomes said.

Mahomes took accountability Monday night for the team’s woes, but he isn’t the problem. The Chiefs are discovering that replacing Tyreek Hill isn’t so easy, as Watson, Valdes-Scantling, Kadarius Toney, Skyy Moore, and Mecole Hardman aren’t stepping up with consistent production. Rice, a rookie second-round pick, has shown promise with 420 yards and four touchdowns, but he is only playing 47 percent of snaps as he adapts to the NFL.

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Reid sees the Chiefs’ problems as fixable, particularly the penalties and drops.

“All these things have been kind of self-inflicted,” he said. “We just take care of our business there and we’ll be OK.”

The Chiefs will be dangerous as long as they have Mahomes, Kelce, and Reid. But it’s Super Bowl or bust in Kansas City, and the offense has not been up to the task.

Mahomes is averaging just 6.9 yards per pass attempt, by far the lowest of his career and well below his career average of 8.0. Peter Aiken/Associated Press
DESPERATE TIMES

Some teams

in panic mode

With the stretch run about to begin, it’s the time when underperforming teams make moves out of panic or desperation. First, the Bills fired offensive coordinator Ken Dorsey, then Panthers coach Frank Reich took play-calling duties from offensive coordinator Thomas Brown. This past week, the 6-4 Steelers did something they hadn’t done in more than 80 years — fired a coach during the season, as Mike Tomlin axed offensive coordinator Matt Canada in his third year on the job. Running backs coach Eddie Faulkner took over as coordinator, and quarterbacks coach Mike Sullivan will call plays.

It’s hard to argue that Canada got the most out of the offense. The Steelers ranked 21st and 26th in points in his two full seasons, and 28th this year. A worn-down Ben Roethlisberger became a checkdown champion in 2021 with Canada, his 6.2 yards per pass attempt a career low. And the offense has been dreadful in several key areas this year — 31st in passing yards (170 per game), 31st in touchdown passes (seven), 25th on third down, and 25th in the red zone.

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Add in the evident frustrations between Canada and players such as receiver Diontae Johnson, and Tomlin likely had to fire Canada just to mollify the locker room and feed red meat to the fan base.

“I’m going to empower the guys around us,” Tomlin said. “We’re going to dot our i’s and cross our t’s the best we can in the hope that we go out there and put a good product out there to execute and score points.

“And if it doesn’t turn out, we get back in the lab the next week and we do the same thing and we just keep on trying to tweak the product until it’s what we desire.”

Of course, it’s a lot easier to fire the offensive coordinator than acknowledge the starting quarterback is no good. But Kenny Pickett, the Steelers’ 2022 first-round pick, has been a major disappointment this year, completing just 60.5 percent of passes with only six touchdowns, 6.1 yards per pass attempt, and a 79.2 passer rating that ranks 27th out of 32. It’s easy to blame Canada, but Pickett is responsible for his own performance.

While the Steelers are stuck with Pickett for this season, he is cheap enough ($4.6 million and two years remaining on his deal) that they easily could move on next year or find Pickett some competition.

As for Canada, he is the first coach fired midseason by the Steelers since co-owner/coach Bert Bell, the future NFL commissioner, fired himself in 1941. The Steelers started 0-2 that year under Bell and finished 1-9-1.

“He felt he was not doing a good job as head coach, so he went to his partner Art Rooney and said, ‘I’m firing myself,’ since he owned 50 percent of the Steelers,” Bell’s son, former Patriots general manager Upton Bell, said by email. “I don’t think it ever happened again in NFL history. It was one of the great moves by a coach.”

The 6-4 Steelers did something they hadn’t done in more than 80 years — fired a coach during the season, as Mike Tomlin axed offensive coordinator Matt Canada.Matt Freed/Associated Press
ETC.

Andrews injury

a blow for Ravens

Mark Andrews’s injury Nov. 16 got overshadowed by the season-ending wrist injury suffered by Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow in the same game. But Andrews’s ankle injury, suffered on a hip-drop tackle from linebacker Logan Wilson in the first quarter, has the potential to sway the balance of power in the AFC.

The 8-3 Ravens, the AFC’s No. 1 seed entering Sunday’s games, are one of the NFL’s most balanced teams, ranking in the top five in points scored and allowed. Lamar Jackson is having one of his best passing seasons under new coordinator Todd Monken, completing a career-high 69.5 percent of passes and compiling a 100.1 rating, second best to his 2019 MVP season. And Andrews is Jackson’s security blanket, second on the Ravens with 45 catches and 544 yards and first with six touchdown catches.

Andrews has been Jackson’s favorite target since they came into the league together in 2018. Per Pro Football Reference, Jackson in six years has completed 301 of 445 passes to Andrews (67.6 percent) for 3,862 yards, 33 touchdowns, 0 interceptions, 8.7 yards per attempt, and a 119.3 passer rating. Overall, Ravens quarterbacks have thrown 40 TD passes and 0 interceptions to Andrews.

Now they move forward without their top target, with tough games against the 49ers, Jaguars, and Dolphins in December.

The Ravens need a couple of young tight ends to step up, including Cambridge’s Isaiah Likely, but coach John Harbaugh is mostly counting on receivers Zay Flowers, Odell Beckham, Nelson Agholor, and Rashod Bateman to help fill Andrews’s production. Flowers, a rookie out of Boston College, leads the Ravens with 53 catches, 72 targets, and 588 yards.

“I do believe, more than we have been in recent memory, we’re probably more prepared to deal with something like this than we have been,” Harbaugh said.

Trade deadline in need of QB exception?

The trade deadline was Oct. 31, just eight weeks into an 18-week season. The NFL likes the earlier trade deadline because it doesn’t want teams waiving the white flag and giving up. But the owners may want to consider an exception specifically for quarterbacks.

The quarterback injuries are piling up, affecting teams’ playoff hopes and making certain games unwatchable. The Bengals are stuck starting Jake Browning or Drew Plitt for the rest of the year. The Browns are forced to go with Dorian Thompson-Robinson and P.J. Walker. The Jets are wasting a top defense with Zach Wilson and Tim Boyle. The Colts have to keep playing Gardner Minshew, and the Giants have to play Tommy DeVito.

But there are several quality quarterbacks sitting idly on the bench that could help teams. The Raiders could probably get a mid-round pick for Jimmy Garoppolo right now. Same with the Titans and Ryan Tannehill, the Commanders and Jacoby Brissett, Lions and Teddy Bridgewater, Panthers and Andy Dalton, Texans and Case Keenum, and Steelers and Mitchell Trubisky.

A trade deadline exception just for quarterbacks — say, Week 13 or so — would help maintain the quality of games and keep the league more competitive later in the season.

No-win situation for Boyle

The Jets lost the first-ever Black Friday game, falling, 34-13, to the Dolphins. The loss was nothing new for quarterback Tim Boyle, who got his fourth career start in place of Zach Wilson (and Aaron Rodgers).

Boyle, a native of Middletown, Conn., hasn’t done much winning since being named Connecticut High School Coaches’ Association Player of the Year in 2012. He is 4-19 as a starter after Friday’s loss — 0-8 for UConn from 2013-15, 4-7 as a transfer at Eastern Kentucky in 2017, 0-3 in for the Lions in 2021, and 0-1 with the Jets. Boyle has thrown 16 touchdowns against 37 interceptions in his college and pro career.

But Boyle made the Packers as an undrafted rookie in 2018, struck up a friendship with Rodgers in three years as a backup, and that friendship helped Boyle land with the Jets.

Extra points

The Cowboys are starting to look super. Seven of their 10 wins have been by at least 20 points, including Thursday’s 45-10 dismantling of the Commanders. The Cowboys are the 20th team since the 1970 merger to have a point differential of at least plus-160 through 11 games (plus-162), and nine of the previous 19 won the Super Bowl. Of course, two of the Cowboys’ three losses have come on the road against the 49ers and Eagles, and as of now, both playoff matchups would be on the road, too . . . Justin Jefferson is set to miss his seventh straight game with a hamstring injury, and it’s hard not to wonder if he’s taking his time because the Vikings haven’t rewarded him with a contract extension. Jefferson, arguably the best receiver in the NFL, is making $2.4 million this year and $19.7 million next year under his fifth-year option, with the top receivers in the NFL now averaging $28 million-$30 million per year. The Vikings have gone 5-1 without Jefferson, which likely has helped minimize the drama . . . Jim Irsay is one of the few owners willing to talk to media and provide insight into the decisions of the 32 owners, so we don’t want to encourage muzzling him. But someone needs to take away Irsay’s Twitter/X account and get him away from all microphones for now. Irsay does himself and the NFL no favors by saying he was arrested in 2014 for being a “rich, white billionaire,” and for threatening lawsuits against ESPN personalities . . . With the Saints leading the division at 5-5 and the Falcons and Buccaneers at 4-6, it’s shaping up to be the third straight season that the NFC South doesn’t produce a wild-card team . . . Florida State quarterback Jordan Travis was trending upward as a mid-round draft prospect, but now his stock has crashed and his career is in jeopardy after suffering a gruesome leg injury last week when taken down by a hip-drop tackle, which the NFL says has a 25 times higher injury rate than a normal tackle. Even though Travis wasn’t in the NFL at the time, his injury should put the decision over the top for the NFL to band the hip-drop tackle for 2024.


Ben Volin can be reached at ben.volin@globe.com.