There is no hiding it: The Kansas City Chiefs are awful in the red zone; that is when they get to it.
According to teamrankings.com, the Chiefs are 29th in the NFL in red-zone scoring attempts per game (2.4) and 32nd in red-zone touchdowns scored per game (0.6). There are a myriad of reasons why these struggles have come upon the team, and as usual in football, it starts with the quarterback, continues with the pass protection and finishes with the always questionable offensive coordinator.
The two have combined for 16 interceptions thrown and only six touchdowns. Further frightening is their completion percentages, which are 57 and 58 percent. The two quarterbacks have simply missed open targets on multiple occasions, consequently leaving points on the field.
Although the quarterbacks have struggled, they are not the sole problem. On occasion, the offensive line has allowed pressure into the pocket, giving quarterbacks constricted space to operate in. This is problematic because neither quarterback throws well under duress, noticeably dropping their eyes to prepare for the hit as they miss open receivers.
And then there is the play-caller.
First-year offensive coordinator Brian Daboll runs the show in Kansas City, and he hasn't done a very good job of it. If we're being honest, he hasn't really done much of a good job anywhere he's been, whether it was in Cleveland or Miami and now in Kansas City.
Despite the lack of success, he continues to be hired and produce baffling play-calling. Chiefs fans have seen him phase out the only weapon the team has—running back Jamaal Charles—and erase hope of any chances of scoring with further questionable decisions.
Going back to the quarterback, Matt Cassel played in the Week 8 clash against the hated rival Oakland Raiders and had a great opportunity to lead the offense into the end zone.
It was 3rd-and-3 with the ball on the 13-yard line and Cassel was standing in shotgun. To his right were three pass catchers that formed a "Trips" or "Trey" set while a lone receiver stood to his far left. In the backfield, Cassel was accompanied by a running back who would ultimately be a pass protector.
The four pass-catchers would be running various short routes that created the "Spacing" concept. This concept consisted of short curl routes being ran in various zones of the field. While the pass-catchers would be running these routes, Cassel would be working on a three step drop. Three step drops are rhythmic, with the quarterback taught to get the ball out of his hands when the third and final step hits the ground.
Defensively, the Raiders were going to be playing man coverage across the formation and sending an overload blitz. This worked in favor of the Chiefs, who were expecting to get rid of the ball quickly. However, an issue arose after the snap: Cassel didn't get the ball out of his hands.
Overwhelmed with the Raiders' pressure, Cassel kept the ball in his hands despite having available targets in the middle of the field and to his left. As a result, he was sacked, and the Chiefs had to settle for a field goal despite it being a manageable down for their quarterback.
What might be more puzzling than Cassel's inadequacies is those of his offensive coordinator. In Week 10, the Chiefs faced the Pittsburgh Steelers on Monday Night Football, and Brian Daboll did a surprisingly good job of calling plays in this game.
It was a revelation, particularly when the Chiefs got in the red zone where he called a zone stretch run behind the right offensive tackle and guard.
A part of the "12" (one back, two tight ends) personnel, Jamaal Charles carried the ball, took a few short steps to his right before bending it back to the inside of the formation. He made a blistering cut off of the offensive tackle's inside hip and charged into the end zone for a touchdown. This was great play-calling from Daboll because he knew what the strength of his offense was—running the ball—and who his best player was.
However, two weeks later, all of it went down the drain as Daboll once again made a questionable call. Facing the Denver Broncos defense in the red zone, Daboll went away from the running game to use a gadget play that ultimately failed.
It was 3rd-and-3, and the Chiefs were driving into Broncos territory. They just ripped off two runs of six and 19 yards, and then Daboll went for the jugular: the Wildcat.
Nothing against the Wildcat, but it wasn't needed in this situation. In a short down and distance, Daboll should either call a run from a traditional formation or a successful short passing play.
Instead, he rolled the dice with the arm of Peyton Hillis, who carried the ball to his right before attempting a throw across the formation to quarterback Brady Quinn, which fell short. The play was unlikely to succeed had it been completed due to the defender next to Quinn, who was short of the first down marker.
The play-calling of Brian Daboll has long been in question. For a couple of weeks in Kansas City, he showed quality but with no consistency and mostly poor judgement. He has put his players in poor positions to succeed and shown little confidence in his quarterback, which admittedly, is a slightly understandable but not entirely.
It's 3rd-and-3 and the running back is throwing the ball? That simply doesn't make sense.
While Daboll is likely to be used as a scapegoat for the Chiefs offense, or lack thereof, he's not the lone individual who deserves criticism. Quarterbacks Matt Cassel and Brady Quinn have struggled passing the ball accurately and finding open targets while not always getting strong pass protection from their blockers.
All in all, the Chiefs' red-zone woes are likely to continue through the expiration of the regular season, and in all likelihood, there will be a new quarterback and play-caller in Kansas City come next season.