Week 11 proved to be disappointing for the 2013 edition of the Kansas City Chiefs. The question is, was Sunday’s game against the Broncos just an example of the Chiefs not playing up to their full potential or did it perhaps reveal some inconvenient truths about this team? I suppose arguments can be made both ways but before we undertake such a debate, some sort of unbiased form of measurement is always useful in characterizing the Chiefs strengths and weaknesses . That’s exactly what we do here, using Football Outsider’s weekly statistical analyses.
As the chart below suggests, the Chiefs are, generally speaking, playing well in the team sense, but in more cases than not, flawed on Offense both as a unit and at the individual player level. Looking at the individual team units, we see that, relative to the rest of league, the Defense and Special Teams are pretty efficient while the Offense is performing below average. These rankings in fact represent a consistent theme for the Chiefs all season long; they have yet to show signs of significant improvement in any area and, if anything, are showing signs of deterioration in what had previously been major areas of strength. This notion of stagnancy is further confirmed by the Chiefs #2 Variance ranking, which is just another way of saying they are a team that does not change much from week to week.
Looking at the next chart, we get further confirmation that, outside of our two Tight Ends, nobody on offense is doing anything of any real significance to make this offense really go. Even Jamaal Charles’ effectiveness comes off looking pretty pedestrian when one considers that his OL is ranked 2nd in run blocking efficiency. Can any team expect prolonged success when both their Quarterback and all their Wide Receivers perform well below average compared to their league peers? Considering that modern NFL rules are designed to be pass friendly, it is hard to see how.
If you were to guess where this team’s weakest link is, when considering both the rush and pass, you would probably say it is our Pass Offense and that would be wrong. The Chiefs weakest point is in fact Rush Defense which is 24th in the league in DVOA. Surprised? The Chiefs Rush and Pass category rankings are as follows:
- 19th ranked Pass Offense
- 8th ranked Rush Offense
- 3rd ranked Pass Defense
- 24th ranked Rush Defense
Because the NFL favors the pass so much, I am not overly concerned that the Chiefs are not among the best run defenders so long as they have a strong pass defense, which they do. Still, if you struggle to stop the run, especially late in the season, it increases the likelihood that you are going to lose some otherwise winnable games and I just don’t believe the Chiefs have a whole lot of wiggle room in the Win Loss column as things currently stand. Further, when one considers the big picture . . . Offense, Defense, Run, Pass . . . it’s hard to escape the sense that the Chiefs might just be a slightly above-average team, 9-1 record aside.
The more obvious concern is the Chiefs chronic inability make strides in the passing game. Why has it been so ineffective and why does it not seem to be improving? Is it Alex Smith’s inconsistent accuracy? Is it that Smith plays too tentative? Is it that receivers are not getting open? Dropping balls? Is it lack of protection? All the above? What is it going to take to see improvement and what’s the first thing that can realistically be improved?
What about the fact that the Chiefs have only had one sack in the last three games? What has gone wrong there? It seems to me that teams are figuring out how to slow down the Chiefs pass rush and that the Chiefs have yet to come up with their own counter-strategy. Anyway, I am not sure what the exact answer is to any of these questions but it certainly is frustrating, from a fan’s perspective, that the people whose job it is to figure out and overcome such problems do not seem to be making any significant headway.
Is it too critical to say that the Chiefs are totally predictable? Is it too much to expect an occasional surprise from this team? A different look from week to week? A new wrinkle here or there?
I believe Sunday’s game against the Chargers could very well be the defining moment of the 2013 campaign. If the offensive lines of the
Browns (19th), Bills (18th), and Broncos (1st) have figured out how to stop the Chiefs’ pass rush, I’d say the chances are pretty good that the Chargers OL (5th) will be able to do the same unless the Chiefs manage to come up with some better strategies for getting to the quarterback. If the Chiefs are unable to get to Phillip Rivers, my confidence in the Chiefs ability to beat the Chargers plummets dramatically.
In spite of their record, the Chargers are not terribly different from the Broncos. The Chargers currently rank #2 in Offensive Efficiency and Phillip Rivers is among the top 5 in both DYAR and DVOA and even owns a better completion rate than Peyton Manning. Though the Chiefs succeeded in keeping Manning & co from scoring more than 30 points, they nevertheless failed to keep Manning & co from scoring more points than the Chiefs were able to put up. Considering each teams strengths and weaknesses, I can easily envision a similar outcome this Sunday.
Even though the Chargers rank near the bottom of the league on Defense this year they are at least smart enough to figure out where the Chiefs strengths and weaknesses lie and likely follow the same game plan that previous opponents have successfully employed to keep the Chiefs from scoring points. If the Chiefs play to their offensive strength, running the ball, the Chargers can be expected to load up the box with 8 or 9 guys. Do the Chiefs have an answer for that? Ten games into the season, the answer seems to be no.
Am I being too harsh here? Win or lose, as said earlier, this Sunday is going to be a statement game for the Chiefs. To keep our hopes for this season alive, there needs to be two signs of change: 1) when the Chiefs have the ball, noticeable success in the passing game, particularly in the Red Zone and 2) on Defense, the return of pressure and sacks.
That’s my Double Take. What’s your take Addicts?