No loss is a good loss but after watching Sunday’s game, I am starting to feel like the Kansas City Chiefs were actually dealt a blessing in disguise in drawing the Baltimore Ravens in the first round of the playoffs.
I thought a lot about KC’s loss last night. I started by asking myself a lot of questions. Simply saying that the Chiefs lost because they were flat or distracted or weren’t physical enough is too easy. I wanted to know why the Chiefs had lost so badly. Why did Kansas City have so much trouble with the Raiders? What was it about Oakland that caused the Chiefs to lose for the very first time all season at Arrowhead Stadium?
To answer those questions I decided to go back through all of KC’s games and look at what I thought caused the bulk of the team’s problems. The games that stand out to me are the loss to Denver, the win against Denver, the loss to the Chargers and both losses to the Raiders.
Buckle up for an epic explanation after the jump.
The Chiefs didn’t have a chance in this game because of Brodie Croyle. This game taught us that without the threat of a passing game, the Chiefs are toast. KC was successful early in the season running without much of a passing game but once teams started keying in on the run, the Chiefs were forced to open up their passing game. This actually worked out better for the Chiefs because it enabled Matt Cassel and Dwayne Bowe to develop. The Chiefs are very difficult to beat when they can throw the ball.
The Chiefs were flat against the Chargers but I believe the game would have been much more competitive had Cassel been able to play. The Chargers secondary is not talented enough to employ the strategy they used against Croyle against Cassel.
This was the game where someone finally decided to go all in to stop the Chiefs run game and expose what the Chiefs were doing on defense. Until this game, the Chiefs were running like crazy and were hardly letting Cassel throw at all. On defense, they were selling out to stop the run and hoping their talented secondary would develop enough to keep them in games. This is why KC had a top 7 run defense most of the first half of the season and a terrible pass defense. It is how they were able to shut down MJD, Arian Foster and Frank Gore. They were selling out their secondary to stop the run, a strategy that teams would eventually start using against them.
Denver, who couldn’t run the ball anyway, decided to air it out on the Chiefs early to get a lead while refusing to respect KC’s QB and WR. It worked. Denver got their early lead by the time the Chiefs figured out what was going on, it was too late.
The 10-6 win over Denver at Arrowhead confused a lot of people but it made perfect sense to me. Most folks had already written the first Denver loss as an aberration. I knew that there was no way we would see a repeat of the Denver game.
You see, after the Denver loss, KC’s rushing defense ranking slowly started to get worse while their pass defense ranking slowly started to get better. Denver had exposed what the Chiefs were doing on defense so KC was forced to make sure their opponents didn’t expose their pass defense. This meant yielding more rushing yards at the expense of protecting against the big play through the air.
This spelled doom for the Broncos the second go round because Denver couldn’t run to save their lives all year. Thus the Chiefs sold out to stop the pass and Denver couldn’t do what they did best. The Chiefs let them run for a bunch of yards while shutting down Orton. Once Denver ran out of field, however, they couldn’t get the ball in the endzone.
The Chiefs struggled to score in this game for the same reason they lost twice to the Oakland Raiders; they couldn’t pass the ball.
Champ Bailey locked down Dwayne Bowe and Thomas Jones and Tony Moeaki lead the team in receiving. A running back and a rookie TE leading the Chiefs in receiving is not good news for the Chiefs. Cassel threw for under 200 yards and KC’s offense struggled.
In the end, KC was able to pull it out but it was close.
Both Raiders Losses:
The Oakland Raiders are the perfect foil to the Kansas City Chiefs as they are currently constructed.
The Raiders are a team with an extremely talented secondary. They are 2ndin the NFL in pass defense, allowing only 155.9 yards per game. The Chiefs and their weak receiving core have absolutely no chance against a team like the Raiders.
Bowe is the only legit receiver on the roster. Tucker and McCluster are rookies. Moeaki is a rookie. Chambers is old and has been mostly useless all season long. A team like Oakland can play man coverage on pretty much every receiver the Chiefs have. This enables them to load up the box to try to stop the run. The Chiefs didn’t do themselves any favors giving the ball to Thomas Jones 10 times but that is a topic for another article.
Before Sunday’s game, I mentioned that I thought the Raiders would be a good test for Cassel and Bowe and a good tune up for the NY Jets. I wanted to see if Cassel and Bowe could beat the man coverage and if KC’s receivers could get open.
It turns out, Bowe and Cassel were able to do ok beating the man coverage but no one else on the roster could.
Bowe had 5 of KC’s 13 receptions Sunday. The rest of KC’s receivers were never open. McCluster was targeted 7 times and caught just 1 pass, a screen. Moeaki caught one ball and dropped a pass the only other time he was open. Chambers caught 2 balls in garbage time.
That was pretty much it.
Looking at these games, I found some answers to my questions.
The Chiefs are extremely shallow at receiver. After Bowe, they literally have no one. Cassel and Bowe are good enough to exploit poorer pass defenses and do so fairly well but they are powerless against the cream of the crop. This isn’t because they aren’t talented, it is because there simply aren’t enough talented receivers on the roster to get open and make things easier for them.
The Chiefs are as talented as they are going to get this season. Small developments are happening but Dexter McCluster is not going to suddenly morph into a great receiver in a week. Thus, the formula to beat the Chiefs will remain the same until the end of this year. If a team can shutdown KC’s passing game while loading the box, they will be able to slow down Jamaal Charles and put Cassel under pressure.
The teams that weren’t able to do that, teams like the Titans and Rams, got spanked by the Chiefs because their corners couldn’t cover Bowe.
In short, even though it took me a thousand words to get here, the better an opponent’s pass defense the greater chance they will be able to handle the Chiefs.
That brings us back to the Baltimore Ravens. I think, after fully evaluating what I believe to be KC’s greatest weaknesses, that the Ravens are actually a better matchup for the Chiefs than the NY Jets.
The Jets have the league’s 6th ranked pass defense. CB Darrel Revis would likely be able to handle Bowe enough to enable the Jets to load up the box, get into the backfield, slow Charles and sack Cassel.
I think the game would have been more favorable for the Chiefs defense but I think it would have been such a nightmare for the offense that KC’s D would have eventually cracked, mush like it did yesterday. Remember, the defense kept the Chiefs in the Raiders game until a couple of turnovers pretty much sealed the deal.
The Jets also sport the league’s 3rd ranked rushing defense. There is a good chance the Chiefs wouldn’t have even scored against the NY Jets, especially after Rex Ryan got a look at the tape from the Oakland game.
I am not taking anything away from the Baltimore Ravens here but I think the Chiefs match up much better against them.
The Ravens have a good defense and an average offense.
Let’s start with the offense. The Ravens are 20th in the league in passing and 14th in rushing. Not bad but hardly intimidating. I don’t see them torching the KC defense for a ton of points at Arrowhead unless the Chiefs turn the ball over.
On defense the Ravens are a tough, physical group that excels at stopping the run. They rank 5th in the NFL in rush defense, however their pass defense is somewhat underwhelming. They rank 21st in the league against the pass and give up an average of 224.9 yards a game through the air.
The Chiefs are at their best when they can open up for the running game with the pass. They are at their worst when a team shuts down their receivers. I like KC’s chances against the Ravens secondary much more than the NY Jets.
In fact, take a look at these numbers complied by a reader I_Bleed_Red over at Arrowhead Pride. The Ravens have not done well against elite receivers this year.
- Rodey White – 12 Rec, 138 yards, 2 TDs
- Andre Johnson – 9 Rec, 142 yards, 2 TDs
- Brandon Lloyd – 5 Rec, 135 yards, 2 TDs
How did those games turn out?
Baltimore beat Johnson and the Texans 34 to 28 in Houston in OT.
Baltimore beat the Broncos 31-17 in Baltimore.
Baltimore lost to the Falcons 26 to 21 in Atlanta.
Of those three teams, the Falcons, Texans and Broncos, which do the Chiefs most closely resemble?
Easy. It’s the Falcons.
The Texans lost because of their putrid defense. KC’s defense is much better than Houston’s.
The Broncos lost because they can’t run the ball against tackling dummies. The Chiefs are slightly better at running the ball than Denver.
The Falcons won because they were at home and because they took advantage of the Baltimore pass defense. Matt Ryan threw the ball 50 times in that game, completing 32 passes for 316 yards and 3 touchdowns while Falcons star running back Michael Turner averaged only 2.3 yards per carry on 17 touches.
The Falcons did it by taking advantage of the Ravens secondary and by dumping the ball to Jason Snelling out of the backfield.
If I am the Chiefs, I know the Ravens are going to come out and try to stop the run. I’m going to look to Bowe early and often and I am going to throw the ball to Charles and McCluster out of the backfield.
Yesterday sucked but it convinced me the Chiefs would have gotten stomped by the Jets. I’m not saying the Chiefs are going to waltz out there and beat a very good Ravens team.
But I am saying they’ve got a chance. And really, that is all we can ask for.