The Kansas City Chiefs officially signed wide receiver Josh Gordon Tuesday, which is an intriguing addition, but their offense may have to score 35-plus points per game to rebound from a 1-2 start.
Gordon doesn't solve the Chiefs' glaring issues on either side of the ball, especially on defense.
Sure, if he avoids substance-abuse and performance-enhancing-drug violations, which have disrupted his 10-year career, the big-play wide receiver who averages 17.2 yards per catch is an immediate upgrade over Mecole Hardman or Demarcus Robinson as the No. 2 wideout behind Tyreek Hill.
Be that as it may, Kansas City's aerial attack has moved the ball up and down the field without Gordon. The Chiefs rank fifth in passing yards, and they're tied with the Los Angeles Rams for the second-most touchdowns (nine) through the air. Aside from six turnovers over the last two games, the offense is just fine with Hardman, Robinson and Byron Pringle as complementary receivers.
The Chiefs have much bigger questions to answer right now.
Where are the reinforcements for the pass rush while defensive end Frank Clark battles a hamstring injury that has limited him over the past two months? Someone has to help Chris Jones pressure the pocket. He hasn't recorded a sack since Week 1. Why hasn't defensive tackle Jarran Reed provided a significant boost as an every-down defender? Will safety Juan Thornhill show flashes as he did before tearing his ACL at the end of his rookie year?
Do you notice a pattern there? All the pressing questions highlight concerns for the defense. ESPN's Adam Teicher put the Chiefs' most prevalent issue into perspective after the team's 30-24 loss to the Los Angeles Chargers in Week 3.
"Repairing the bigger issue, a leaky defense, will be more problematic. The Chiefs, after a strong start on Sunday, allowed the Chargers to score on five of their final seven possessions, including all three in the fourth quarter. … The faulty defense, which also wasted an 11-point fourth-quarter lead during last week's loss to the Baltimore Ravens, is the biggest reason the Chiefs are 1-2 and in last place in the AFC West for the first time since 2015."
While Gordon may be able to help the Chiefs outscore opponents in an offensive shootout, he hasn't made a run stop, recorded a sack or forced a turnover in his career, and that's what the Chiefs need more of to get back on the right track.
Through the first three weeks of the season, Kansas City is tied with the Dallas Cowboys and Jacksonville Jaguars for the second-fewest sacks in the league. They've surrendered the second-most points and rushing yards. The defense has struggled inside its own 20-yard line, allowing opponents to score touchdowns on 12 of 13 red-zone trips.
Even if the Chiefs have the 2018 version of Gordon, who caught 41 passes for 737 yards and four touchdowns in 12 games, the offense would have little margin for error because of a defense that's shown little resistance through the first month of the season.
With an effective ground attack, opposing teams can dominate time of possession, which would keep quarterback Patrick Mahomes and all of his offensive playmakers on the sideline.
If the Chiefs don't find solutions for their porous run defense and lackluster pass rush, they would have to generate takeaways at a high rate and cut down on turnovers to win high-scoring contests.
Over the last two outings, Mahomes has thrown three interceptions, and running back Clyde Edwards-Helaire has lost two fumbles. While Gordon can become a reliable third pass-catching option to open up the field for easier completions and allow the team to rely a little less on a primary rusher with ball-security issues, Mahomes has to make better decisions with the football.
As The Athletic's Nate Taylor noted, opposing teams have backed off on blitzes and implemented more zone looks to clog Mahomes' passing lanes.
"The lesson the offensive players learned, Bieniemy said, is that they will have to be consistent with their precision when executing their assignments since defenses, at the worst, may intend to elongate the Chiefs' drives in hopes of seizing on a self-inflicted mistake," Taylor wrote.
At times, off-man coverage could neutralize Gordon's ability to beat a defender one-on-one and place more onus on Mahomes to make the correct read and throw.
Teicher believes Mahomes must do a better job against two-high safety looks to compensate for a subpar defense.
"…it might continue to be difficult for the Chiefs to score enough to overcome their defense," Teicher wrote. "Opponents are working to limit the Chiefs' big plays. They faced two high safeties in their first two games on 82 percent of their plays, far higher than the league average of 64 percent."
In Week 3 against the Chargers, Mahomes threw two interceptions. Hill and Edwards-Helaire lost fumbles on back-to-back drives. Kansas City gave the ball away in Chargers territory on three of those possessions.
If the Chiefs turn one of those possessions into a touchdown drive, they could've walked out of Arrowhead Stadium 2-1, but they beat themselves. Gordon isn't going to fix that problem or help Mahomes dissect two-high safety looks.
Following the loss to Los Angeles, Mahomes accepted fault for his late fourth-quarter interception, a pass intended for star tight end Travis Kelce.
"It was one of those things where I probably shouldn't throw it, especially in that situation," Mahomes said to reporters. "But there's been many times where we've made that work and made a big play on it."
While Gordon has the opportunity to put together a comeback story, resurrecting his career after several suspensions, he's not the anecdote for the Chiefs' defensive ills or the solution to their flurry of turnovers in the past two weeks.
In order to shake off a rough September, Edwards-Helaire has to protect the football, Mahomes needs to put the ball in better spots for his receivers and most importantly, the defense must tighten up against ground attacks and in the red zone.