For the second straight season the Kansas City Chiefs have started the season off by going 0-2 in particularly humiliating fashion. In 2011 it was easy to explain the losses after Todd Haley’s bizarro preseason approach and season-ending injuries to key players like Tony Moeaki, Eric Berry and Jamaal Charles. Chiefs fans (myself included) convinced themselves that the 2012 season opening loss to the Atlanta Falcons was due in large part to the four missing defensive starters (specifically star players Tamba Hali and Brandon Flowers). However, despite the return of Hali and Flowers for Week 2, the defense put up another poor showing against the Buffalo Bills, a team with much less offensive firepower than the Falcons. The offense was equally unimpressive this time around as well.
So what is going on?
Why are the Chiefs so bad?
After watching both games I had my suspicions, but I wanted more proof than just my gut reaction. So I tore into the stats a little bit to see if the numbers supported what I thought I was seeing. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, the numbers confirmed my suspicions 100 percent.
Ladies and gentlemen, there are two main reasons that the Chiefs are off to a horrible start. One has to do with the offense and one with the defense. Before I tell you exactly what these reasons are, I want to be clear about one thing. Matt Cassel is not one of the two main reasons the Chiefs have been horrible this year. I understand that he has turned the ball over. I understand that he has serious flaws in his game, but as I stated last week, we already knew that the Chiefs won’t win if it’s all on Matt Cassel’s shoulders. The team is supposed to win by running the football and playing good defense. Thus far, Cassel has had to carry far too much of the load. That’s not how things were supposed to go this season. Which leads us to the two reasons the Chiefs are off to such a bad start.
Reason #1: The Chiefs’ Run Game Is A Fraud
The Chiefs are averaging 151 yards per game and about 5.3 yards per carry through the first two games of the season. On the surface, those are great numbers. Numbers that if sustained, would put them near the top of the league in rushing at the end of the season. However, these numbers are misleading. The Chiefs simply have not been able to run the ball effectively when the game was on the line.
Here’s the proof:
If you take out the meaningless rushing yards that the Chiefs racked up after the opposing team had the game sealed and started playing strictly a prevent defense it changes those numbers drastically. I subtracted the rushing yards KC got after falling behind 40-17 to Atlanta and 35-3 versus Buffalo. Without those garbage time yards the rushing totals drop from 302 yards on 57 carries to 166 yards on 39 carries. So 45 percent of KC’s rushing yards have come after the other team’s defense has basically stopped trying to stop the run. When you subtract those yards the YPC drops a full yard from 5.3 to 4.3.
Unfortunately, the bad news doesn’t stop there. If you subtract the 39 yards rushing by Matt Cassel on QB scrambles, the numbers drop to 36 carries for 127 yards and only 3.5 yards per carry.
So on meaningful rushes by KC’s running backs, the Chiefs are only averaging 3.5 yards per carry. That number by itself just isn’t good enough for a team that is supposed to rely on its running game to move the ball.
Here’s the really scary part (as if those numbers weren’t bad enough):
46 of those 127 yards came on one big play (by Jamaal Charles). So on the other 35 non-garbage time rushes the Chiefs have only gained 81 yards. That’s a pathetic 2.3 yards per carry.
So, 2.3 yards per carry by a team that was hyped as possibly being the best rushing team in all of the NFL before the season began. Now, the offensive line deserves credit for the 46-yard run, so the actual non-garbage time YPC is 3.5, but that 2.3 YPC number does give you an accurate picture of what the run blocking has been like on 97 percent of the meaningful rushes thus far this season. If the Chiefs want to score enough points to win games (especially if the defense is struggling) they must find a way to run the ball before the game is out of hand and that starts up front with the offensive line.
Reason #2: The Sub-Package Defense Has Been A Total Failure
Anyone who has watched every painful snap of the Chiefs first two games would probably state with absolute confidence that the Chiefs defense as a whole has been a total failure. It’s hard to argue with that. I certainly won’t make a case that the Chiefs defense has been great in any aspect, but it seemed to me that the sub-package (specifically when the Chiefs go to two defensive linemen) has been especially bad.
Let me pause here and admit that these numbers are not a complete study on the KC sub-package. When you have an 8 a.m. Monday posting time, it’s hard to do a ton of research after a Sunday game ends. I simply didn’t have enough time to go through and re-watch both games and chart every play that the Chiefs played in their sub-package defense. However, in ESPN’s play-by-play break down, they do note every play that was in the shotgun formation. Since the Chiefs are almost always in their sub-package against the shotgun, I thought this would give me a snapshot of how the sub-package defense is doing. Here is what I found:
Matt Ryan and Ryan Fitzpatrick were a combined 19-26 (73 percent) when throwing from the shotgun. They were a combined 14-24 (58 percent) when throwing from under center. That’s a pretty big difference.
The combined rushing stats for all QB scrambles and RB rushes from the shotgun formation are 17 rushes for 132 yards, that’s 7.8 YPC with three TDs. On the other 42 rushes from under center (or the wildcat) the Chiefs have allowed 153 yards for only 3.6 YPC and ZERO TDs.
Speaking of TDs, six of the eight TDs scored by the opposing offenses were scored from the shotgun formation. I went back and watched the highlights of the other two TDs (both vs. ATL) and even though they weren’t from the shotgun they were both against the Chiefs’ sub-package defense. So all eight TDs allowed by the defense have come against their sub-package.
Those numbers say A LOT. Again, these aren’t the concrete numbers of sub-package vs. base defense, but I think that it clearly shows that this is where the major problem with the defense lies.
Nothing in the sub-package is working. No one is getting pressure on the QB. The two down linemen are consistently out of position and allowing big runs by both the QB and the RBs. As a result, Derrick Johnson and Eric Berry are playing up too close to the line of scrimmage and are leaving huge patches of open field behind them where WRs and TEs are running free all game long.
Johnson and Berry are two of KC’s most talented players, but both have been rendered useless thus far. Johnson’s coverage drops have been especially horrible (one can only hope that he’s not 100 percent back from his ankle injury) and Eric Berry’s talent is being completely wasted because he is playing so close to the line of scrimmage. I get that he is good against the run, but when you put him down that low with only two down linemen to tie up blockers it means he is often taking on offensive linemen, fullbacks, and tight ends that are running free and he can’t roam to the ball to make plays. In my opinion, KC would be better served letting Elam play down there in the box and utilizing Berry’s speed and athleticism in the middle of the field. As it stands, the Chiefs haven’t gained anything from Berry’s return from injury when that should have been one of the biggest upgrades on the team this year.
Some of the failure of the sub-package is on the players for not doing their jobs, but a lot of it has to go on Romeo and the coaching staff for not making adjustments when it is clear that things are not working, AT ALL. If I were New Orleans I would come out on Sunday and run every single play out of the shotgun with multiple WRs and force KC to prove that they can stop me with their sub-package personnel, because unless Romeo can figure out how to do just that, the KC defense is going to continue to struggle.
I wish I saw a simple fix for either of these two issues. To be honest, I don’t really understand why either one is as bad as it is. The Chiefs have Jamaal Charles and Peyton Hillis in place of Thomas Jones and Jackie Battle AND upgraded from Barry Richardson to Eric Winston and are running the ball much less effectively. On the other side of the ball, the Chiefs shut down Aaron Rodgers and the best passing attack in the NFL last season using almost all sub-package defense. In that game the Chiefs used Kendrick Lewis, Sabby Piscatelli, Brandon Carr, Allen Bailey, and Wallace Gilberry compared to Abram Elam, Eric Berry, Stanford Routt, Dontari Poe and Ropati Pitoitua this year. I understand that there is a lot of turnover there, I just don’t see where there is such a severe drop off in talent that it justifies going from a great defense to a horrible one. My only hope is that all the different players just haven’t “jelled” yet and will come together as the season goes by. I guess the same could go for the offensive line as well.
Regardless, the coaching staff had better figure out a way to address these two issues ASAP, otherwise the fate of the team will continue to rest on the arm of Matt Cassel, and we all know that Cassel’s arm isn’t one that will carry KC to where they want to go unless the rest of the team is holding up their end of the bargain. All we heard coming into the season was how good the Chiefs roster was from 2-53, while the most important position (QB) was where they were “just okay.” Many experts predicted that the Chiefs roster from 2-53 was SOOOO good that they’d overcome the mediocre QB. Well, Cassel has lived up to his end of the bargain and has been “just okay.” The real question is, “What is up with players 2-53?”
That is where the Chiefs must improve (and fast) if they want to salvage this season.
As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!