Kansas City Chiefs: Overcoming Their Flaws


The Kansas City Chiefs rolled to a lopsided 34-7 victory over the St. Louis Rams on Sunday. KC fans should feel great that their team was able to take advantage of a struggling and injury-riddled Rams team, the same Rams team that defeated the defending Super Bowl champions the week prior. Good football teams find ways to beat bad football teams, and at 2-5 that’s what the Rams have to be classified as (especially when they lose several more starters to injury). Despite the 34-7 margin of victory, the Chiefs didn’t look perfect. This is still a team that has flaws. What is encouraging is that they seem to be finding a way to overcome those flaws and that is a testament to Andy Reid and his coaching staff.

First, let’s take off any “homer” blinders and acknowledge some of the flaws this Chiefs team has. Their offensive line is still a very young work-in-progress. Alex Smith, while possessing numerous good qualities, is still hesitant to go downfield and limits the number of explosive plays KC can make. Injuries to Mike DeVito, Derrick Johnson, Joe Mays and Eric Berry have had an impact on the team’s ability to stop the run (their 4.7 YPC allowed is tied for fifth worst in the NFL). The Chiefs have also struggled at times to find defensive backs that can effectively cover downfield.

Why do I point these things out?

Am I trying to throw a “wet blanket” on Sunday’s win over the Rams?

Absolutely not, in fact it’s just the opposite. I’m trying to put this win in perspective. The difference I see between last year’s team that was 7-0 at this point and relatively untested, and this season’s 4-3 team is that this team is making a conscious effort to adapt to their weaknesses. They aren’t just hoping that the good outweighs the bad. They are finding ways to make sure they overcome those weaknesses and can win despite them.

Let’s look at those weaknesses I mentioned earlier:

1. The offensive line is a very young work-in-progress.

Is the Chiefs OL great when it comes to run or pass blocking? No, they’re not terrible, but not great either. So what is KC doing about it? Well, their play-calling (while occasionally maddening for fans) is specifically designed to succeed with this line. The Chiefs don’t just line up and run the ball right at the defense “smash mouth” style most of the time. The KC OL isn’t strong enough to manhandle good defensive fronts. Instead, KC often tries to create misdirection to get the defenders either headed in the wrong direction or at least hesitating long enough for Jamaal Charles or Knile Davis to run past them. Then late in the game when the defense is tired, you start to see more of a straight ahead approach (often with Davis getting more carries).

In terms of pass protection, the Chiefs know that they can’t run slow, developing pass plays where the QB must sit in the pocket for a long time. With the exception of center Rodney Hudson, the entire starting offensive line is susceptible to allowing a pass rusher to get by on any given play. The solution is designing plays that have quick out options. Instead of stretching the field vertically (which doesn’t play to Smith’s game anyway, but more on that in a moment) the Chiefs stretch the field from sideline to sideline and give lots of short pass options for Smith to choose from.

That brings me to the second weakness…..

2. Alex Smith, while possessing numerous good qualities, is still hesitant to go downfield and limits the number of explosive plays KC can make.

The solution to this weakness was already spelled out when talking about the pass protection for the offensive line. The Chiefs aren’t running an offensive game plan that focuses on Smith throwing the ball downfield. Instead, they give Smith multiple short-to-intermediate routes and hopefully are able to find playmakers like Dwayne Bowe, Travis Kelce, Jamaal Charles and De’Anthony Thomas in space and allow their speed or athleticism to make things happen. Smith now sits at 66.8 percent completions on the season. While the general perception is that Smith always “dinks, dunks, and checks down,” his average completion this season has gone for 10.5 yards. So Smith is completing two-thirds of his passes and averages a first down every completion. I’m guessing if someone offered you a QB that could do that at the beginning of the season, most of you would have taken that. That’s smart play design by Andy Reid, given the QB he has, the pass protection concerns, and the lack of much WR depth on the roster.

3. Injuries to Mike DeVito, Derrick Johnson, Joe Mays and Eric Berry have had an impact on their ability to stop the run.

The Chiefs MVP of the first seven games is probably defensive coordinator Bob Sutton, who was one of the biggest question marks I had about the Chiefs coming into this season. The job he has done game planning and coaching up backup players that have been forced into starting roles has been fantastic. The Chiefs gave up a mediocre 4.5 YPC to opponents last season. The losses of those four players listed above, all of whom are essential parts of the KC run defense, should have been devastating. Instead, players like James-Michael Johnson, Josh Mauga, Jaye Howard, and Ron Parker have done a great job of stepping up and filling holes. If I had told you before the season that after seven games the Chiefs leading tacklers would have been Josh Mauga, Ron Parker and Husain Abdullah, what would you have guessed KC’s record would have been? I’m guessing not 4-3, especially with how difficult their schedule looked. Mauga and Parker have really shined of late and credit should be given to GM John Dorsey as well for finding reserve players with the talent needed to step up and play.

4. The Chiefs have struggled at times to find defensive backs that can effectively cover.

Before the season started if I had told you that Marcus Cooper would play poorly enough to get benched, Ron Parker would have to move to safety because of an injury to Eric Berry, Chris Owens would miss time due to injury, and the Chiefs would have Jamell Fleming make multiple starts at CB I’m going to go out on a limb and guess that you wouldn’t have predicted that KC would be allowing the fewest passing yards per game (195.7 YPG, second place is at 210.9). That’s exactly what KC is doing. Keep in mind that KC has played good passing teams, too. In fact, three of their seven opponents are in the top 10 in the league for passing yards (Denver, San Diego, New England).

Have there been plays where coverage has broken down? Yes. Have there been times when individual defensive backs have gotten beat? Yes. But overall, the defense has done a great job of putting guys in situations where they can succeed (again, props to Bob Sutton). The Chiefs are using schemes that play to their players strengths and also backing up CBs with safety help from both Husain Abdullah and Ron Parker over the top. The best help the defensive backs are getting is from the excellent KC pass rush. The Chiefs are now tied for fourth in the NFL in sacks (the other four teams have all played one more game than KC) and Justin Houston leads all players in the NFL with 10 sacks himself (pay the man!!!). The combination of coverage calls and an elite pass rush is allowing KC to get by with average CB play.

The Chiefs coaching staff is not perfect. Are there play calls that have been maddening? Of course. With 20/20 hindsight would the coaching staff probably do a few things differently? Certainly. My point is that if you allow those mistakes to overshadow the effective game-planning and in-game adjustments that this coaching staff have come up with you are missing the boat. The Chiefs understand who they are and their coaches are smart enough to come up with ways to win with the players that they have. With a manageable schedule remaining and a battle-tested team, there is reason for optimism in KC.

The Chiefs weren’t perfect on Sunday, but they didn’t have to be. They were smart enough to not beat themselves and do what needed to be done to win. I expect to see more of the same both next Sunday against the struggling New York Jets and throughout the remainder of the season as the Chiefs work toward returning to the playoffs again this year despite their flaws.

As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!!!!