After numerous outlets placed blame on Eric Bienemy for the Chiefs offensive demise in the second half of the AFC Championship game (and much of the 2021 season), Andy Reid brings him back for another run in 2022.
Chiefs Focus @ChiefsFocus Charles Robinson @CRob5769
My how a week can change things. Last Wednesday a group of “insiders” published an article that had a less than 24 hour lifespan on Twitter. The subject matter – Eric Bienemy’s toxic effect on the Chiefs locker room in 2021, his inability to coexist with Patrick Mahomes, and his fault in losing the AFC Championship game (essentially) for the Chiefs with his second half play calling. The article was pulled down after incredible backlash and mockery in less than 24 hours.
Inside of this article, which we don’t need to fully rehash, the authors documented a heated on field and locker room confrontation between the Chiefs franchise QB and offensive coordinator, and described it as a culmination of a year and a half long disconnect between the two. They cited on field conversations, including conversations had on the on-field headsets between Andy Reid, Mike Kafka, Eric Bienemy, and Patrick Mahomes. They went into detail on how players like Travis Kelce and Mecole Hardman were not pleased with the calls that Bienemy was making or his attitude towards the players – citing that he did not listen to player feedback, a cardinal sin for a professional football coach. What they did not cite were their sources. How did they get intel from the Chiefs in game communication? How do they know what was said in the locker room? I guess we will never know these answers. The editors of the site attempted to put out a clarification post the next morning to clear the air, but as I said above it was inevitably erased from the internet completely.
We had heard a lot of the rumblings included in said article. About 25% of it appears to be valid. Our Chief Insider JP had a lot of this information the Sunday before the article was released, but as a group of folks who value integrity over being a tabloid, we decided not to publish it. There was a portion of the article that mentioned the Chiefs having a PR nightmare on their hands (optics, as they called it) if they were to part ways with Bienemy. Is there some truth to that? Well, no one can say for certain, but with the league dealing with the ongoing Brian Flores suit, and the nature of today’s media, that is a safe assumption. Key word being assumption – you always have a 50% chance of being right when you’re predicting something like a coach being here next year or leaving. Were there talks already in place to bring Matt Nagy back had Bienemy gotten the New Orleans job? That’s almost certain. But things change. Matt Nagy had a dismal tenure in Chicago, and was the Chiefs OC when Alex Smith was quarterback. Who’s to say that he could duplicate his success with a completely different player under center?
Well….a little over a week later, Andy Reid and the Kansas City Chiefs are bringing Eric Bienemy back for the 2022 season in the same role – offensive coordinator. And quite frankly – why not? Bienemy has led the Chiefs to historic heights as the team’s offensive coordinator since 2018. In that time the Chiefs have done nothing but win – no less than 12 wins in each of his 4 regular seasons, 4 consecutive AFC Championship appearances, 2 Super Bowl appearances, and a Super Bowl win in 2019. All while coaching the league’s best quarterback and coordinating the league’s best offense in that 4 year period – hands down.
Are there issues that need to be addressed this offseason? Almost certainly. While a majority of the last 4 years have been nothing short of historically great, there have also been bad times. While the article I mentioned up top was swiftly and nearly unanimously discredited and inevitably taken down by the publishers, there was likely some truth to it. Anyone who watched the Chiefs this season could read the faces of Mahomes, Travis Kelce, Tyreek Hill, and other members of the Chiefs offense. There was frustration. There was anger. There was a disconnect that we hadn’t seen in the Kingdom previously.
But this does not all stem from one person. It is a collective problem, and a problem that Andy Reid and Brett Veach have to address in the offseason leading into 2022 if the Chiefs want to get back to a third Super Bowl in 4 seasons. Do the Chiefs have improvements to make across the board? Outside of quarterback, tight end, and most of the offensive line – yes. Absolutely. But there is one position group that led to more frustration, more disconnect, and more distrust than any other on the roster this season, and it was not on the defensive side of the ball.
When the Chiefs let Sammy Watkins walk last offseason, it left the team in a position where it did not have a true number 2 wide receiver. “It’s ok, we have Travis Kelce – we will be fine!” most of Chiefs kingdom thought. Well, we saw early on that this was far from the case. In the first seven games of 2021, and even into week 10, it was clear that Mahomes did not have great timing, trust, or rapport with the group that the Chiefs trotted out in the wide receiving corps. Dropped passes led to Mahomes looking elsewhere for different targets. Tipped passes led to interceptions. Before we knew it, the Chiefs were 3-4 after an embarrassing loss to the Tennessee Titans and did not have an identity as an offense. Mahomes led the NFL in interceptions. No one other than Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce had had a game worth noting, and were certainly not focal points of any opposing defenses.
The Chiefs were able to put a bandaid on this problem, still finishing 12-5 winning the AFC West for a sixth consecutive season and producing another trip to the AFC championship game. And what did we see in the title game? When Cincinnati took away Travis Kelce and Tyreek Hill (as much as an opposing defense can) in the second half, the Chiefs offense crumbled. Mahomes pressed. And the rest is history. When forced to go to Mecole Hardman, Byron Pringle, and Demarcus Robinson in clutch situations – this offense just doesn’t work. All three have had great flashes over the course of their careers in KC. Robinson has come up big on several occasions, and has a good chemistry with Mahomes, but is a subpar route runner. Pringle is a decent possession receiver when he is able to hang on to the ball. Hardman is a phenomenal offensive weapon, but a true number 2 wide receiver? In my opinion, the answer is absolutely not.
Prognosticators can say what they want about Eric Bienemy. Does he need to make some adjustments in his coaching style? Absolutely. There’s a reason he has interviewed for so many head coaching positions as the headpiece of the best offense in football and continued to come up empty handed. He has not, however, failed to the point where Andy Reid has lost faith in his ability to coordinate an offense. That much is clear. The personnel on the field in Kansas City is something that needs to be improved. It starts with the wide receiver position. The ball is in Brett Veach’s court now. With a loaded stable of free agent wide receivers on the table, and a draft that seems to have plenty of talent at the position as well, the challenge is clear. Get Patrick Mahomes another weapon (or two) and let the offense hum like it has for (most of) Eric Bienemy’s tenure as offensive coordinator in Kansas City.