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Chiefs' Timid, Depleted Offense Needs to Wake Up Ahead of Divisional Round

Jan 9, 2016; Houston, TX, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) throws a pass against the Houston Texans during the first quarter in a AFC Wild Card playoff football game at NRG Stadium. Mandatory Credit: John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
John David Mercer-USA TODAY Sports
Brad Gagnon NFL National ColumnistDecember 2, 2016

On paper, the results from their Saturday wild-card victory over the Houston Texans indicate the Kansas City Chiefs are a force to be reckoned with entering the NFL's divisional playoffs. 

The Chiefs, after all, are coming off a 30-0 first-round win, extending their winning streak to 11. On the road against a division winner, that sure looks impressive. 

Most lopsided road playoff wins
YearGame
1940Bears 73, Redskins 0
1968Colts 34, Browns 0
1987Vikings 44, Saints 10
2015Chiefs 30, Texans 0
1975Cowboys 37, Rams 7
1978Cowboys 28, Rams 0
1943Redskins 28, Giants 0
Pro-Football-Reference.com

But don't be fooled, because this was the type of game in which the real winners were the rest of Kansas City's competition in the AFC. 

The Chiefs were actually extremely lucky that the Texans didn't show up Saturday.

Houston's best defensive player, J.J. Watt, wasn't a factor even before leaving with a groin injury, the Texans turned the ball over five times and the Kansas City offense was buoyed by a way-too-easy 106-yard kickoff return to start the game. 

Quarterback Alex Smith didn't have to break a sweat. 

Against the New England Patriots, he won't be so lucky. 

The Chiefs offense—which scored two touchdowns against a toothless Texans defense in the second half but went out of its way to keep Houston hanging around before thatlacked energy before and after losing star wide receiver Jeremy Maclin to a knee injury in the third quarter. 

That injury looked serious, which means Andy Reid's team—already without stud running back Jamaal Charles and starting center Mitch Morse—may not have its regular-season touchdown leader the rest of the way. Around the NFL shared Reid's confirmation regarding Maclin's injury and MRI scheduled for Sunday:

They're not out of hope. Kansas City's opportunistic defense—which ranked third in football in terms of points allowed in the regular season—still had to unwrap the gifts Texans quarterback Brian Hoyer was throwing its way.

According to the ESPN broadcast, this was the first shutout we've had in the playoffs in a decade and the third-most-lopsided playoff road shutout win in NFL history.

Worst home playoff passer ratings this century
QuarterbackYearRatingResult
Brian Hoyer201515.9Lost to Chiefs
Shane Matthews200117.9Lost to Eagles
Donovan McNabb200319.3Lost to Panthers
Matt Cassel201020.4Lost to Ravens
Rich Gannon200022.0Lost to Ravens
Pro-Football-Reference.com

But Smith will have to do more next Saturday, and he'll likely have to do it without his only wideout who had more than two touchdowns this season. He'll have to overcome big losses in order to outwit a stronger, healthier secondary that will have benefited from a first-round bye. 

Against Houston, especially in the first half, we saw far too many of those overly conservative, short-of-the-sticks third-down plays for which the Chiefs have become famous. In fact, Smith attempted just two passes beyond 20 yards, and both were incomplete.

That can't happen next Saturday, when the Chiefs will have to be willing to break character and take more chances as a road underdog—something that won't come easy, especially if Maclin is inactive. 

Smith will of course need help, particularly from Travis Kelce. After Maclin went down Saturday, three of Smith's next four completions went to the Pro Bowl tight end, including a 48-yarder that put the Chiefs inside the red zone on their final touchdown drive. Kelce wound up with eight grabs on 10 targets for a career-high 128 yards (he accounted for 67 percent of Smith's passing yardage total). 

Bill Belichick and Co. will certainly be ready for a heavy dose of Kelce, though, which could put a lot on the shoulders of sophomore starter Albert Wilson and/or rookie Chris Conley. Those two wideouts had just nine receiving yards apiece Saturday, but Conley did catch Smith's only touchdown pass.

Creativity is what Kansas City is in desperate need of. Reid's an offensive coach with major credentials, and now's the time to pull out as many stops as possible with Smith, Kelce, Wilson, Conley and backs Charcandrick West and Spencer Ware. Let's keep in mind this is a coach who once won a playoff game with Jeff Garcia at quarterback and Reggie Brown and Donte' Stallworth as his top receivers. 

If the Chiefs stick with the status quo on offense, a lack of talent and experience will catch up with them. 

The performance in Houston was flawed beyond just conservative play-calling. Smith missed on a wide-open deep ball that should have been a first-half touchdown and had an uncharacteristic interception in the first quarter. The Chiefs also settled for long field goals rather than gambling on 4th-and-1 twice, which actually defies logic and precedents, which Brian Burke of Advanced Football Analytics discussed, and can cripple an offense under more difficult circumstances. 

Next week, they'll undoubtedly face more difficult circumstances. 

You'd be crazy to argue that a team that hasn't lost since the middle of October can't rise to the occasion, but Saturday's performance wasn't nearly as impressive as the final score might indicate. 

"Confidence and momentum are real", Smith told Evan Washburn on CBS' pregame show ahead of Saturday night's Steelers-Bengals Wild Card Game. And Saturday, confidence and momentum were enough to beat a Texans team that did everything in its power to lose.

The Patriots will likely have more than 112 net passing yards next week, and it's been seven years since New England turned the ball over as often as Houston did Saturday.

Hate to rain on a parade 22 years in the making, per NFL Network, but if the depleted Chiefs want to keep rolling and resisting the law of averages, they'll have to be much better in the divisional playoffs.

 

Brad Gagnon has covered the NFL for Bleacher Report since 2012.

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