State of the Union: Where the Chiefs Stand Headed into the Bye Week
The Kansas City Chiefs have gone from preseason darlings to midseason derelicts in six weeks thanks to foul quarterback play, fumbles and quarreling. The Chiefs have not led for a single second of a single game this season and currently sit in the NFL’s cellar at 1-5.
Fans are flying banners over the stadium calling for the firing of the general manager and the benching of the starting quarterback, while players are going on misguided rants lambasting them for cheering a change. The head coach doesn’t understand why his team is playing poorly and the general manager is reportedly being offered a contract extension according to CBS Sports (or not, depending on which report you believe).
The State of the Union can best be described in one word: dysfunctional. The Chiefs are a talented team with no quarterback and weak leadership. The bye week was an opportunity for the ownership to start the healing process, but Scott Pioli is still employed. Any potential change will have to wait.
The Chiefs were no better off with Brady Quinn at quarterback than they were Matt Cassel. The defense also continues to give up an alarming amount of points and big plays. Even the vaunted running game had some issues when facing a Tampa Bay Buccaneers team that could set the edge.
What’s a good State of the Union without a few numbers so twisted and vague they can’t possibly be true or false? If this was public office, all the stats would be presented in impossibly complicated terms. The Chiefs have allowed 500 yards less than 1,000 yards in the last 14.4 quarters when trailing by a touchdown or more. Try fact checking that one!
Point is, statistics can lie and not every statistic that was selected is going to give a truthful characterization of the Chiefs. A good example of a statistic that may or may not be a good representation of the Chiefs is their third-down conversion percentage which currently ranks them sixth in the entire NFL.
A statistical anomaly perhaps, but it could point to probably improvement of the offense. There are other statistics that might suggest the Chiefs are able to convert on third down in the middle of the field, but not in the red zone.
According to TeamRankings.com, Kansas City is scoring touchdowns on just 26.67 percent of their trips into the red zone, good for the worst in the NFL. The Chiefs were also worst in red-zone touchdown percentage last season.
The Chiefs are padding a lot of stats after they are behind, which makes selecting representative stats difficult. There are a few stats that are undeniably hurting the Chiefs, such as turnover margin. Turnovers are particularly damaging because they can both take points off the board for your team and result in points for the opponent. This is a big reason the Chiefs are not scoring a lot of points and are also allowing a lot.
The Chiefs could obviously use more production from the passing game, but just avoiding turnovers and leaning on the running game would effectively improve their chances of winning the game. Take away the turnover margin and the point statistics, which are heavily influenced by the turnovers, and the Chiefs are an above-average team.
Many of the turnovers are the result of the poor quarterback play, but it goes deeper than that. The receivers have tipped far too many passes into the air and the running backs have also fumbled away opportunities.
The plan that worked for the Chiefs in 2010 was avoiding turnovers, running the football and playing good defense. The offense is basically constructed the same as it was that year and the run-heavy approach is the Chiefs' best option. Kansas City nearly defeated the Baltimore Ravens with an attack that took this reality to an extreme.
The Chiefs haven’t been able to play good defense this season and have been gouged by big plays, compounding their issues. The Chiefs have allowed eight runs of 20 or more yards and a disproportionate number of passing touchdowns compared to the other pass defense statistics.
It’s the players that win and lose games. Stats are for losers some might say, and it’s on the players to perform. One of the big problems in Kansas City is that there are not that many problems with the personnel. It seems odd, but almost all of the offensive players are performing well save for the quarterback.
Scott Pioli may go down in flames because of his handling of the most important position on a football team, even though he’s put together a pretty nice offense at the other 10 positions. The Chiefs have a nice line, good running backs and talented wide receivers who each bring something different to the table. The depth isn’t bad either.
The Chiefs are strong on the offensive line, with the weakest link being rookie Jeff Allen at left guard. Allen is playing only because of injury, but seems to be getting better each week. The right tackle position was a problem last season, and the Chiefs brought in Eric Winston. When Winston is not denigrating the fans or committing penalties, he’s one of the better right tackles in the league.
Outside of bringing back the retired Casey Wiegmann and pushing Ryan Lilja back to left guard, there’s not much the Chiefs could do to tweak the offensive line. Holes are being opened for Jamaal Charles and the pass blocking has been solid as well.
There’s little doubt that Charles is one of the best running back in the NFL and that the Chiefs should continue to ride him. When Charles needs a breather, Shaun Draughn has done an admirable job and made a lot of people forget about Peyton Hillis. Nate Eachus is a nice versatile fullback.
One area where the Chiefs could make a change is at tight end. Tony Moeaki is now the primary receiving tight end while Steve Maneri continues to serve as a good blocking tight end. The Chiefs certainly miss Kevin Boss in the passing game, as Moeaki has not provided them with much production.
As a rookie, Moeaki was a key weapon on offense, but he hasn’t been the same this season. Of the three players that suffered an ACL tear last season, Moeaki has been rehabbing the longest, so health shouldn’t be an issue. It might be time for the Chiefs to give more opportunities to Jake O’Connell in the passing game.
The Chiefs have four capable wide receivers, which has caused Steve Breaston to be phased out the last couple of weeks. The talent is there, but they need to do a better job of making adjustments to poorly thrown passes. The Chiefs had has too many interceptions that were tipped in the air or went off the hands of the wide receivers. In most cases these were poor throws, but the receivers can still do a better job hauling in those tough catches.
Going into the season, Cassel seemed like the smarter choice at quarterback. the former Patriot has proved in the past he can manage turnovers and let the running game and defense win contests for him, but that hasn’t been the case. The Chiefs should go with Quinn and give him five games like Cassel to see if the offense improves.
The Chiefs managed Quinn in his first start last week, but the result was a lot of short completions and two interceptions. The Chiefs need to let the Quinn throw the ball to the outside and occasionally test the defense deep if he’s going to be at all successful.
Defenses will adjust quickly when they know the quarterback will not take a shot when presented with the opportunity. The Chiefs have an excellent run game that should set up the pass, but the play-calling hasn’t leveraged the running game to create opportunities in the passing game.
The Chiefs have taken two different approaches to try and solve their problem, first by hardly throwing at all and then by throwing nearly 40 times. This imbalanced attack isn’t helping the Chiefs get in sync on offense. Without a competent passing game, the Chiefs can’t afford to go away from the game plan. The Chiefs must run and mix in the pass with an optimal number of attempts being around 25.
Charles is explosive enough to bring the Chiefs back when they are down without the passing game. Charles did against the New Orleans Saints, but optimally the Chiefs would be able to play with a lead. To get a lead and keep a lead the Chiefs will need to play better on defense.
It’s interesting that rookie Dontari Poe continues to get the majority of snaps as nose tackle when the team has been struggling against the run. Anthony Toribio was considered to be the superior nose tackle in the preseason and he’s played sparingly since returning, and at defensive end.
Poe has improved and he’s been able to keep Derrick Johnson and Jovan Belcher clean, which is probably why he continues to start and get all the snaps in the middle. The run defense gets unfairly targeted because the Chiefs have fallen behind in every game.
The Chiefs' real problem on defense is they have too few impact players. Kansas City does have plenty of expected impact players that have not performed. Eric Berry looks like a shell of his former self and is still trying to recapture some of the magic from his rookie season.
Tamba Hali, Derrick Johnson and Brandon Flowers have all been pretty average considering what they are capable of doing. All three have been solid, just unspectacular and every good defense needs more than one impact player. If the Chiefs are going to improve defensively, they need their other playmakers to step up.
So far, only Justin Houston has been an impact player for the Chiefs on defense. Houston has been a great pass-rusher, but he’s not one-dimensional. Houston can also play the run as well as cover, and he’s been significantly better than any other player on Kansas City’s defense.
The Chiefs got Kendrick Lewis back from injury, but it’s unknown if Lewis is even an upgrade over Abe Elam at this point. There just isn't a lot Pioli and Crennel can do to get more production from the defense as far as changing the personnel.
The Chiefs have players capable of producing in this scheme. It’s not some theoretical hope that they can produce, because they did produce for the last two years. It will be interesting to see if Kansas City’s defense plays better with a lead, which the Chiefs have not had this season.
Kansas City has not had much success making adjustments from week to week or within the game. In most cases, the Chiefs have completely ignored external factors and completely focused on their own problems.
The Chiefs decided to run on the Baltimore Ravens, presumably to avoid putting the game in Cassel’s hands. The coaches did this even though the Ravens were a much weaker team against the pass.
The Chiefs were competitive at halftime in four of the six games they played and could only manage one victory. The presumption here is that the Chiefs are having trouble making in-game adjustments when their opponent adjusts to what they are doing offensively and defensively.
There is plenty of talent on the roster, and the bad quarterback excuse only works to an extent. Romeo Crennel is known as a players' coach for the way that he deals with them, but maybe what the Chiefs need is a disciplinarian. No so much a coach like Todd Haley, but one more in the mould of Tom Coughlin.
Crennel came out after the last game and said, via the team’s official website, “I don’t understand why we played the way we played.”
Maybe Crennel doesn’t even realize that he is basically admitting his own culpability in the team’s struggles and that he either really doesn’t know why his team is bad or he’s doing everything right and the Chiefs are still getting it wrong. It could legitimately be either one at this point.
The fans are stuck with Crennel for at very least this season, and maybe longer depending on the status of Pioli. With 10 games to go, it’s now or never for Crennel. Maybe Crennel was dealt a bad hand by Pioli with no viable quarterback on the roster, but he accepted the challenge and now he’s got to finish to the job.
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