Mapping out the Blueprint for a Kansas City Chiefs Playoff Run in 2013-2014
The Kansas City Chiefs and head coach Andy Reid crossed paths last January and will set out on the road to redemption together in 2013. The makeover won't be an overnight project, but the Indianapolis Colts proved that a 2-14 franchise can graduate to an immediate playoff threat with some offseason tinkering.
Like the aforementioned Colts squad, the 2-14 Chiefs head into the offseason handcuffed to a quarterback quandary and own the first pick in the upcoming 2013 NFL draft. Kansas City will also decide the fate of a number of franchise favorites, as a handful of big names could land in the free-agent pool.
But if the franchise mirrors the following steps, it will avoid stumbling out of the gates again, and the Chiefs will be on track for a 2013 playoff run.
Release Quarterback Matt Cassel and Defensive End Tyson Jackson
Throughout last season, Cassel jogged onto the field in nine games and threw a measly total of six touchdowns to 18 interceptions. Kansas City's much-maligned quarterback also accounted for six fumbles.
Jackson showed signs of progress in the last quarter of the 2012 season and enjoyed his most productive year as a pro. However, his most productive year still only amounted to 31 tackles, three sacks and one tackle in the backfield.
If the Chiefs hope to re-sign the likes of Dwayne Bowe and Branden Albert and make any significant moves in free agency, the departures of Cassel and Jackson will become mandatory. And coincidentally, Cassel's 2013 base salary mirrors that of San Francisco 49ers quarterback Alex Smith.
Place the Franchise Tag on Left Tackle Branden Albert
Branden Albert is a one-man security blanket who instills confidence in his quarterbacks.
When he's on the field, Kansas City knows what it's getting with Albert. But will he remain on the field in 2013?
In 13 games (11 starts) last season, the prude offensive anchor only allowed one sack (via WalterFootball.com). However, he was restricted to 13 games due to ongoing back spasms.
Back injuries can become chronic annoyances—"can" being the key word. But Albert's history paints a portrait of a reliable, well-rounded bodyguard: No. 76 has lined up in 73 of 80 possible games over his five-year career.
With Andy Reid pacing the sideline, it's safe to assume that a heavy dosage of spirals will rocket through the Arrowhead air. This is welcomed news to No. 76, considering Albert excels in pass protection and maneuvers well in space (and screens will also become more prevalent under Reid).
If tentative figures hold, applying the franchise tag to the left tackle would cost the Chiefs $9.66 million. But that $9.66 million extends his stay with the team and seemingly answers the questions regarding his durability.
Re-Sign Wide Receiver Dwayne Bowe
Dwayne Bowe has participated in the full slate of 16 games in four of his six seasons. And in those four years, Bowe chewed up 4,338 receiving yards, despite the fact that Kansas City hasn't lined up a respectable No. 2 receiver to alleviate some of the pressure.
Since Tony Gonzalez's departure following the 2008 season, No. 82 has bolstered the Chiefs' passing game while overcoming substandard quarterback play.
Bowe was sidelined for the final three contests of 2012, but his injury (broken ribs) won't linger into the 2013 season.
However, Kansas City could always pursue another high-value target, such as Green Bay Packers wideout Greg Jennings. But Bowe is a year younger, and Jennings' injury-plagued past raises flags, as the wideout has missed time in four of his seven seasons.
Andy Reid will be implementing a West Coast offense that revolves around short-to-intermediate routes in the passing game, which Bowe excels in.
The franchise will continue to be ambushed by questions until opening day; signing Bowe will at least offer a sense of stability, though.
There are few guarantees in life, and there are less in football. If Bowe's skills drastically decline over the course of a long-term contract, the Chiefs could cut the cord in an effort to do the same with their losses.
Draft West Virginia Quarterback Geno Smith
The possibility of Alex Smith joining the Chiefs—via trade or free agency—is very real. But is he the answer to Kansas City's longstanding quarterback curse, or is he simply a convenient Band-Aid? The 49ers quarterback nearly led his team to the Super Bowl in the 2011 season. But his offense accompanied a top-tier defense—something Kansas City doesn't flaunt—through the Sunday tunnels.
Drafting Geno Smith affords Andy Reid the opportunity to build a young, vastly talented quarterback from the ground up—potentially laying a cornerstone for the franchise to build around in years to come.
But long-term implications aside, selecting Smith would still likely impact the 2013 season. Even if Alex Smith takes the first snap next fall, there's little hope in him starting every contest—he has only endured the full 16-game schedule twice in seven years. There's no doubt that Geno Smith can step in, answer the call and deliver wins as a rookie.
If West Virginia's record-breaker headlines the depth chart on opening day, history proves that Kansas City could still breach the playoff picture. Three rookie quarterbacks—Andrew Luck, Robert Griffin III and Russell wilson—willed their respective teams into the postseason last year. And the Super Bowl featured a quarterback, Colin Kaepernick, who entered the game with less experience than any of the aforementioned three.
By all accounts, Smith figures to be the first quarterback plucked from the board this April. The rookie also projects to be the most seamless fit into Reid's offensive scheme.
As previously mentioned, West Coast offenses typically emphasize short-to-intermediate routes through the air. And when comparing Smith to prospects Tyler Wilson, Mike Glennon and Matt Barkley, statistics show that the West Virginia quarterback is the most accurate passer within that range.
In 2012, Smith completed 83.3 percent of passes within one to five yards, 78.1 percent of passes within six to 10 yards and 64 percent of throws from 11 to 20 yards—the highest percentage amongst his peers in all three categories (via SecondRoundStats.com).
Obviously, no fanbase will universally agree on any draft choice. Andy Reid's selection of Donovan McNabb (No. 2 overall) was greeted by a chorus of condescending boos, but McNabb propelled the Philadelphia Eagles to five NFC Championship Game appearances and a trip to the Super Bowl.
In 2008, John Harbaugh also began his tenure as the Baltimore Ravens head coach with skeptics second-guessing his pick of quarterback Joe Flacco—it's safe to say that gamble paid off.
Add Quality Depth
Kansas City's trend of wretched preseason play stems from one factor: lack of depth. And it leaks into the regular season.
The problem primarily sprouts from poor drafting, which results in Tyler Palko taking snaps and reminding the audience that all men are not created equal.
In 2012, players such as Jamar Newsome and Jalil Brown repeatedly folded like accordions when the light shined their way. But Kansas City's roster was stretched too thin to address the issue, and the Chiefs were left without an exit plan.
Kansas City desperately needs to upgrade its reinforcements, especially at the skill positions.
Diversify the Offensive Play-Calling
Last year, the Chiefs rushed the ball 60.4 percent of the time on first downs. In comparison, the New England Patriots' league-leading offense only handed it off on 49.1 percent of first downs. And because the Patriots' unpredictability resulted in more conversions, Stevan Ridley actually averaged more rushing attempts (18.1) than Jamaal Charles (17.8) (via Pro-Football-Reference.com).
Kansas City's opponents could safely assume that first downs would unfold with Charles slashing behind the strong side of the line.
Predictability spells trouble for offensive coordinators, which is why Brian Daboll was sent packing after only one season with the Chiefs.
Stretch the Field
Even when Matt Cassel was at his best, he still ranked among the NFL's worst—in terms of downfield passing, at least.
By the end of the 2010 season, 31 quarterbacks attempted a minimum of 30 passes that traveled 20 or more yards. With a 24.56 completion percentage, Cassel finished dead last (via Pro Football Focus).
Even if they dive incomplete, vertical bombs stretch the defense out and give safeties a reason to stay honest (which prevents them from cheating up in run support). If quarterbacks don't pose a legitimate downfield threat, cornerbacks will itch at the chance to jump routes, knowing that the risk yields little consequence.
Utilize Running Back Jamaal Charles More Effectively
Last year, the only offensive signs associated with the Chiefs' passing game were an oval of middle fingers following another Matt Cassel or Brady Quinn misfire. Week by week, the chains fossilized into shackles.
Despite that, Jamaal Charles rebounded from his 2011 ACL tear, stared down stacked boxes of bite-size militias and still managed to average 5.3 yards per carry.
While Andy Reid is oftentimes condemned for under-utilizing his running backs, LeSean McCoy still averaged 16.7 attempts per game last season. And judging by Charles' 2012 numbers, that falls square within his sweet spot. The backfield blur averaged 7.3 yards on carries 11–20 throughout individual games last season. However, his average drastically plummeted to 2.3 on carries 21–30 (via NFL.com).
Charles is at his best in the open field, which is why it makes sense to feed him the ball in space via the passing game. Up to this point in his career, the Chiefs' Pro Bowler has averaged 8.4 yards per reception, yet he only snatched 35 passes in 2012. Under Reid, McCoy—who averages 7.2 yards per reception in his career—posted 58 receptions.
Ideally, the Chiefs would give Charles 15 to 20 carries per game while throwing in a handful of screens.
Limiting Charles' diversity only narrows the window of opportunity, adding another conservative scoop to the Chiefs' vanilla play-calling.
Twitter: Follow @BrettGering