Drawing up a game plan for the Kansas City Chiefs has become a little repetitive. The Chiefs don’t have the luxury of being able to pass the ball and their best offensive player is a running back. It’s not hard to figure out what the Chiefs need to do offensively; they just haven’t been able to do it.
Unfortunately, even when the Chiefs have a good running game, they need the passing game to put them in the end zone. Last week Kansas City controlled the clock with the running game, kept Peyton Manning off the field as much as possible but couldn’t put the ball in the end zone.
Defensively the Chiefs still allowed the Denver Broncos to score on half of their offensive possessions and convert half of their third-down attempts. The Chiefs have a wealth of defensive talent, but there’s a major issue with desire. Stopping the run has been an issue for the Chiefs, and they’ve allowed big plays in the passing game just about every week.
You can sum up the game plan briefly: Run the ball, pass to score, stop the run and eliminate the big pass play. That’s all the Chiefs have to do to win the game, but obviously it’s easier said than done.
The question is not what they need to do, it’s how they need to do it.
The Chiefs need to keep running the ball. Jamaal Charles had 107 yards last week and his capable of much more against the Carolina Panthers this week. The Panthers’ run defense is nearly identical to the Chiefs. Both teams have allowed 4.5 yards per carry, with the Panthers allowing one more rushing yard on five fewer attempts.
The tough part is know what running play to use that put the Chiefs in the best possible position for a big play. Last week Charles rushed between the tackles 14 times for 41 yards and off tackle or outside nine times for 66 yards, according to ProFootballFocus (subscription required).
Charles speed is best put to use to the outside and the Chiefs haven’t figured out yet that running him between the tackles only hurts his production. Based on ProFootballFocus data, Charles is averaging 1.5 yards more off tackle and outside than he is between the tackles this season.
This presents a challenge for the Chiefs because the Panthers have two defensive tackles who are weak against the run and two defensive ends who are much stouter against the run. Charles Johnson and Greg Hardy are two very solid all-around defensive ends that do a good job of turning the outside run back inside where middle linebacker Luke Keuchly can make the tackle.
The Chiefs could be without Branden Albert at left tackle and Ryan Lilja at center on Sunday which only adds to the problems the Chiefs could have running the ball. The Chiefs best opportunity for a big play and continued production on the ground could come running between Jon Asamoah and Eric Winston.
In the red zone, it would be ideal to turn to Tony Moeaki for some help, but the Panthers have a very good cover linebacker in Thomas Davis. Quinn is going to have to take more chances in the passing game and throw to his outside receivers.
The Panthers pass defense is much like the Bengals one the Chiefs faced two weeks ago, only they don’t have a Geno Atkins at defensive tackle. Quinn and Matt Cassel combined for 188 yards passing, and the team failed to score an offensive touchdown. The game might have gone differently if the Chiefs could convert on third down.
Converting on third down comes from creating manageable down-and-distance situations and then finding a match up on third down that’s worth exploiting. The Chiefs need to run to put themselves in position and then try to get Dwayne Bowe matched up with Josh Norman.
If the Chiefs target Bowe 15 times and give Charles 25 carries, good things can still happen for them offensively. Charles has 23 or more carries in four games and it’s no coincidence that the Chiefs were the most competitive in those games. Charles has two of his three touchdowns in those games.
Bowe is averaging seven receptions for 96 yards and a touchdown in the three games where he’s been targeted more than 10 times. Conventional wisdom says you need to get your No. 1 receiver involved early and often so he’ll be ready late in the game and that sure seems like the case with Bowe.
It’s time for the Chiefs to stop messing around with all these different running backs and wide receivers and go to what everyone knows works: to ride Charles and feed Bowe to victory.
The Panthers don’t have much of a running game save Cam Newton, and the Chiefs can counter that by making Derrick Johnson a spy. Johnson is by far the Chiefs best run defender, and he should do a fine job keeping Newton contained.
The Panthers are averaging just 3.9 yards per carry, but Newton is most dangerous in the red zone as he’s rushed for six touchdowns. Safeties and linebackers need to be on alert in the red zone for designed read-option plays that take advantage of Newton’s athleticism.
Newton looks to Steve Smith in the passing game in the middle of the field and targets the taller Brandon LaFell and his tight end Greg Olsen as he nears the red zone.
If the Chiefs play disciplined defense, they should match up quite well with the Panthers. Carolina will not be able to exploit the Chiefs poor run defense as efficiently with Newton as the primary rushing threat.
The Chiefs have cornerbacks who should be able to slow down Newton’s receivers and run with them deep, which is the key to Carolina’s passing game. The Panthers offense is structured similarly to San Diego’s, as both head coach Ron Rivera and offensive coordinator Rob Chudzinski formally worked under Norv Turner. Chudzinski was also Crennel’s offensive coordinator in Cleveland in 2007 and 2008, and the two men will have a very good idea what they want to do against each other.
The Chiefs have been protecting the ball better and competing in games, and that’s a good sign for the future. If the Chiefs are going to get another win, Week 13’s game against the Panthers is as good an opportunity as they will get the rest of the way.