Can the Chiefs score points?
Of all their successes over the last three years, the one thing the Chiefs have never been is a scoring machine. Last year, the injury-riddled Chiefs were 31st in the league for scoring with a miserable 13.2 points per game, which was actually a worse performance than the team’s 4-12 season in 2009. Believe it or not, the Chiefs’ total point differential in that failed campaign was only slightly worse than last season at -130 vs. -126.
Even when the Chiefs were healthy and on fire in 2010 they weren’t exactly blowing teams away. Our point differential was just +40, meaning we were scoring just 2.5 more points per game than our collective opponents. It is no secret that this needs to change.
Overall, the Chiefs are built to control the ball and play stout defense. But, again, we haven’t done the best job of that: last year the Chiefs averaged 310.9 yards per game while allowing 333.3. During the triumphant 2010 season, this indicator wasn’t radically different at 349.7 to 330.2 – gaining 20 more yards than your opponent does not a domination make.
Still, the Chiefs have found success in the recipe of playing everyone close, controlling the ball and wearing down opposing defenses to eventual 4th-quarter victories. In short, get a little bit ahead and hold on for dear life. But, the other issue with the Chiefs possession-based style is that the Chiefs absolutely must score at the end of their long drives. This recipe can work if the Chiefs are able to play offense efficiently enough to rack up points while chewing up clock and have a defense that is consistent enough to thwart opposing offenses in doing the same. As long as the Chiefs are leaving points on the field with stalled drives, red zone inefficiency and turnovers, the team has to rely on the opponent being just as ineffective.
Last year, the Chiefs were dead last in red zone efficiency at 33.33 percent. Given that statistic and the fact that the Chiefs had a -126 point differential, it is truly miraculous that this team won 7 games.
The good news is that the Chiefs are now finally built to be the kind of team that they’ve been trying to be. Jamaal Charles is clearly the most dynamic player on offense, but he’s a boom-and-bust runner. He’ll gain 25, then get stuffed in the backfield. Then he’ll get you 6 yards only to get stuck for two consecutive 1.5-yard gains. He’ll give you magic, but he won’t always keep the ball moving. That’s why Peyton Hillis is such an important addition. His power allows him to be a much more consistent 1st-down runner. The development of Dexter McCluster as a reliable slot receiver provides another move-the-chains weapon to keep the ball in Kansas City hands.
But, they still need to put it in the end zone.
In the preseason, the Chiefs looked good running the ball and have been overall effective moving down field. But, they still haven’t shown the ability to keep up in scoring. And, when experimenting with throwing the ball heavily against the Seahawks, they showed that they will have a hard time catching up in games if they get behind by more than one touchdown.
Therefore, Atlanta is going to be the perfect test for whether the Chiefs can put points on the board. Not only do the Falcons have two good receivers that are constant downfield threats, but the Chiefs are likely to be without their pass defense players. It’s looking like CB Brandon Flowers and S Kendrick Lewis will be out with injuries and Tamba Hali will be serving his one-game suspension.
Honestly, I think the Chiefs should hold out Lewis and Flowers – it is absolutely not worth it for them to aggravate their injuries to a point where they could potentially be lost for extended time. But, without them, the onus is going to be on the offense to keep up with Atlanta’s deadly air attack.
This matchup will tell us a lot about the 2012 Chiefs. It’s a test.
Let the games begin.