Are the Chiefs Built to Come from Behind and Win?

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Are the Chiefs Built to Come from Behind and Win?
Matt Sullivan/Getty Images
Dwayne Bowe (left) and Jamaal Charles (right) need to great for the Chiefs.

So the Kansas City Chiefs are 4-0 and everyone is starting to notice. Never mind the fact that the four teams the Chiefs have played are a combined 3-13 and never mind the fact that the Chiefs have faced the easiest schedule in football, according to Pro-Football-Reference.com—almost twice as easy as the next easiest. 

The Chiefs get the lead, the Chiefs play good defense, the Chiefs milk the clock and the Chiefs win. As long as that pattern continues to repeat, the Chiefs should keep winning, but we all know eventually they are going to be challenged.

Are the Chiefs capable of battling back in a game when they fall behind? It's a legitimate question because the Chiefs haven't fallen behind much this season. It’s a good thing, because this team isn’t built to come from behind and win.

In total time, the Chiefs have trailed for about two quarters, but most of that time was spent trailing by three points or fewer and never more than six. They trailed by six for just one drive against the Cowboys, but once they got the lead their great defense took over.

It took the Chiefs five offensive drives to score against the Cowboys when trailing, even though two of them started in excellent field position.

That has to be a concern for the Chiefs because the offense is clearly still struggling to move the ball.

 

Offensive Output

Despite the Chiefs starting at their own 37.6 on average—by far the league's best average drive starting field position—the Chiefs have averaged 5.3 plays per drive (23rd in the NFL), 26.1 yards per drive (24th in the NFL) and just 1.5 points per drive (22nd in the NFL). 

Chiefs Offense 2013 Drive Stats
Points Per Game Yards Per Play Scoring % Turnover %
Value 25.5 5.1 28.3 5.7
Rank 11 22T 19T 3
Points Per Drive Yards Per Drive Plays Per Drive Average Drive Start
Value 1.5 26.1 5.3 37.6
Rank 20T 23T 20T 1

http://www.pro-football-reference.com/years/2013/

The passing offense is what the teams have to use to climb back into games in this league and that has be the Chiefs' biggest area of concern. Just about everything about Kansas City's passing game screams average, despite having played some of the worst pass defenses in the league.

That's not a good sign for the Chiefs if they run into situations where they need their passing game to make plays. Andy Reid's offense is passing as much as you would expect, but quarterback Alex Smith is completing just 60.3 percent of his passes.

So far, Smith really has lived up to his reputation as a game manager by avoiding turnovers, but otherwise not doing anything statistically above average. Smith takes a lot of sacks, he doesn't throw deep and he hasn’t really been efficient enough to get away with that against a good team.

The Chiefs and 49ers have proven that you can win with a quarterback like Smith, but the question is if he can lead his team from behind to get a victory. The type of quarterback Smith is would seemingly make it difficult for him, but he had six fourth-quarter comebacks and six game-winning drives in 2011, so he must be capable, right?

Alex Smith Passing Statistics
Year Comp % TD % INT % Sack % YPA YPC QBR
2013 Rank 18 11 5 17 22 25 15
2013 60.3 4.8 1.4 7.0 6.6 10.9 53.52
2011-2012 64.3 4.5 1.5 9.3 7.4 11.5 45.77/70.09
Career 59.3 3.8 2.8 8.2 6.6 11.1 -

pro-football-reference.com

Well, maybe not. If you go back and look at those drives, Smith didn't make many big plays with his arm to win those games. I’d be foolish not to mention he did make a few plays, but for the most part it was the running game or the players around him making plays. Smith's Total QBR was 45.77 in 2011, just 21st in the NFL despite going 13-3.

If a defense takes away the short passing game, Smith hasn't proven that he can go deep in 2013. Through four games, Smith has attempted just five deep passes, according to ProFootballFocus (subscription required). That's just 3.4 percent of his passes and way below the league average that is closer to 12 percent.

Alex Smith's Passing Chart
Distance Left Middle Right
20+ Yards 0-for-2 1-for-2, 31 yards 0-for-1
10-19 Yards 2-for-5, 31 yards 10-for-12, 172 yards, 2 Touchdowns 3-for-8, 77 yards, 1 touchdown
0-9 Yards 11-for-17, 90 yards, 1 touchdown 36-for-51, 368 yards, 3 touchdowns, 2 Interceptions 10-for-17, 91 yards
Behind LOS 2-for-3, 9 yards 8-for-12, 48 yards 5-for-6, 40 yards

ProFootballFocus.com

The best offensive player on the team is clearly running back Jamaal Charles, and he's touched the ball 103 times in four games. Unfortunately, a number of his touches have come late in the game when the Chiefs are trying to burn valuable time off the clock. If that doesn't change and the Chiefs fall behind, you have to wonder if Charles will be involved enough early to make an impact.

Strictly because he's a running back, it's harder for Charles to be an impact player if the Chiefs fall behind. It's not impossible and that's what happened in San Francisco with Frank Gore and Kendall Hunter in 2011 along with Smith, but the Chiefs offensive line isn’t as good as that offensive line.

Kansas City's offense is just not built to come from behind and win, so they will need to continue playing great defense and mistake-free football offensively to hang with better teams. 

 

Defensive Strength

There is no doubting that the Chiefs' defense has been great this season, but one of the reasons they have been so good is because their pass rush. If the Chiefs fall behind and teams run on the Chiefs, it might be tough for them to get back into the game.

Although the defense has been great, the run defense has allowed 4.5 yards per carry (23rd in the league) and 135.7 yards per game (27th in the league). If the Chiefs fall behind, the opposing team might be content grinding out yards on the ground—especially if the Chiefs offense can't get them back into the game.

John Rieger-USA TODAY Sports
It's a little surprising the Chiefs aren't better against the run with a player like Dontari Poe in the center of the defense.

If a team can run the ball on the Chiefs, that also takes away their ability to force turnovers with interceptions and sack fumbles. It's those turnovers that have contributed to giving the Chiefs the best average drive start in the league.

If the Chiefs have to sustain longer drives to score, that will hurt their chances of coming back in a game when they fall behind. This defense's greatest asset is being able to play aggressive defense, but they can't be as aggressive as they want to be if they fall behind and a team can use the running game and the short passing game on them.

 

Outlook

There is good news for the Chiefs, and obviously not everything is going to go wrong all at once (right?). Not many teams on the Chiefs schedule have an offense capable of getting an early lead against their defense.

The Chiefs go to Tennessee to face the Titans, who will start backup quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick in Week 5, and then come how for three games against the Oakland Raiders, Houston Texans and Cleveland Browns. The Chiefs go to Buffalo Week 9 before the bye week.

Schedule With Opponent Offensive Ranks
Week Team Offensive Rank
5 at Tennessee 13*
6 Oakland 25
7 Houston 19
8 Cleveland 23*
9 at Buffalo 20*
10 BYE -
11 at Denver 1
12 San Diego 7
13 Denver 1
14 at Washington 17
15 at Oakland 25
16 Indianapolis 9
17 at San Diego 7

pro-football-reference.com (*Injured Quarterback*)

The Browns will be without quarterback Brian Hoyer, who tore his ACL Thursday night, and will have to go back to Brandon Weeden. The Bills may be without their starting quarterback EJ Manuel, who sprained his LCL on Thursday night and is expected to miss 4-6, according to NFL.com.

It’s hard to believe, but Matt Schaub and Terrelle Pryor actually look like the toughest quarterbacks and the toughest offenses on the Chiefs schedule until they go to Denver in Week 11. If the Chiefs can’t win those games, they aren’t nearly the team that their 4-0 record seems to indicate.

It does get tougher after the bye week—a lot tougher—and the Chiefs play some offenses that know how to put points on the board. Perhaps that’s when we might start to see some of these weaknesses exposed. If we see that before the schedule toughens, then that will be very concerning for the Chiefs.

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The Chiefs will to play Denver two times in three weeks with the San Diego Chargers sandwiched in between. The Chargers are having a bounce-back year offensively, so they are capable of building an early lead. Everyone knows Peyton Manning is playing out of his forehead right now, so the Broncos will certainly be a huge test.

The Chiefs then go to Washington to face Robert Griffin III, who currently looks like a shell of what he was last year, but who might be back to himself in December. That game is also on the road, so that makes it potentially a little more difficult. We'll have to wait on see on this one.

The last three games are on the road: in Oakland, at home against the Indianapolis Colts and a Week 17 game in San Diego. When it's all over, the Chiefs might have the easier first-half schedule and the hardest second-half schedule in football. 

Right now, the Chiefs don't look like a team that is built to win from behind, but they have the next six weeks to work out some of the bugs. It's a new offensive system and sometimes it takes time for everyone to get on the same page.

If the Chiefs don't prove that their offense is capable of making big plays through the air, they could be in for a tough second half. Sitting at 4-0 and having a soft schedule for the next five weeks is certainly a luxury that the Chiefs can't afford to waste. 

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