The Kansas City Chiefs’ Toxic Trifecta

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The Kansas City Chiefs lost to the Denver Broncos on Sunday night by the score of 29-16. Sadly, the score really doesn’t tell the story of just how out of reach the game seemed to be. Coming off an embarrassing loss to a winless Raiders team, motivated by the emotional situation with Eric Berry, and playing in front of packed prime time crowd in Arrowhead, you would have expected the Chiefs to come out and play with fire. That didn’t happen. While the Chiefs defense did show some fight as the game wore on, there can be no argument made that KC deserved to win that game. They didn’t deserve to win, at all. The Broncos out-played, out-worked, and out-coached the Chiefs and if anything they deserved to win by more than just 13 points.

It is my opinion that the last two games have exposed a trio of issues on offense that are a death blow to any serious playoff run that the Chiefs and their fans may have been hoping for this season. Now, don’t get me wrong, I still believe the Chiefs can make the playoffs. It’s even possible that they could get that elusive playoff win that we all want so badly. However, this team as currently constructed is not capable of running with the “big dogs” in the NFL. For one game, yes, but over multiple games that it would take to make and win a Super Bowl, nope, not this year.

Now, before I lay out this “Toxic Trifecta” that I believe is holding the Chiefs back let me be clear about this, they are not the only problems facing the Chiefs. The run defense is horrible and a major problem. The play-calling on offense is also incredibly frustrating at times. That having been said, the defense (despite its issues with the run) is not the reason the Chiefs can’t be a serious contender this season. Along the same lines, while Andy Reid can make you want to pull your hair out at times, he is still a much bigger positive for the Chiefs than he is a negative. So while those things do hold the Chiefs back at times, they are not what is keeping the Chiefs from becoming a power house in the AFC.

The Toxic Trifecta that is holding KC back is this:

In a passing league the Chiefs have a limited quarterback playing behind a terrible pass blocking offensive line and throwing to one of the worst wide receiver units in the NFL.

Go back and read that again and really let it soak in.

I really don’t see how any rational person that has watched KC play this season could dispute any of those three points. So when you put them all together it’s really pretty impressive that KC has managed to win as many games as they have.

Is Alex Smith the worst QB in the league? No, not even close (despite what some detractors might say). However, he is unquestionably limited. He rarely throws the ball down the field. He seems to get jittery in the pocket and drops his eyes when he feels pressure instead of focusing on getting the ball out.

Can you win in the playoffs with Alex Smith? I believe you can, but you need the right team around him and the more I watch the 2014 Kansas City Chiefs, the more I fear that this is not the “right team.”

Have QBs consistently won games behind offensive lines as bad at pass blocking as this Chiefs line this season? Yes, some have. Aaron Rodgers has won behind horrible offensive lines. So has Ben Roethlisberger. The problem obviously is that Alex Smith is not Aaron Rodgers. Smith is good enough to win, but he can’t overcome a horrible offensive line like those QBs can. He needs more help than those QBs do and his current offensive line isn’t giving him that help. The Chiefs gave up six sacks on Sunday night against the Broncos. While Smith can do a better job of getting the ball out faster, that is still an indictment of the pass protection.

Then there is the wide receivers. The signing of Jason Avant and the return of Donnie Avery from injury was supposed to provide KC with the best group of WRs that they’ve fielded this season. Sadly, that may have been the case but even so the Chiefs still appeared woefully short on playmakers at that position on Sunday. Even when Smith was finally able to connect with Avery, what happens? Avery fumbles the ball away.

My honest assessment of KC’s WRs? Dwayne Bowe is a good blocker who sometimes makes great catches but even when he does he often falls to the ground immediately after catching the pass. Donnie Avery is a small and fast WR who is often banged up, has mediocre (at best) hands and rarely fights for the ball when it’s in the air. Jason Avant is a slow but sure-handed safety valve dump-off target. Every other WR isn’t even worth talking about.

So how is a limited quarterback with bad pass protection supposed to make plays with those guys to throw to?

Think about how KC’s defensive backs often play off of opposing WRs. They are worried about getting beat deep. That can be because of fear of the WR’s abilities or fear of the QB’s ability to beat the defense deep. Since KC respects those things they often surrender easy catches underneath as they protect the back end. KC’s WRs never get that respect. Opposing defenses don’t fear KC’s WRs, they don’t fear Alex Smith’s deep ball, and even if they did, they know that half the time his offensive line won’t give him time to throw it deep anyway. Since they don’t respect the down field passing game, they don’t give the KC WRs the space that KC gives their opponents and so those easy, quick underneath throws aren’t there. Since those easy short throws aren’t there, Smith has to spend more time in the pocket looking for someone to throw to and that’s when the pass protection becomes a problem (or Smith simply drops his eyes and takes off scrambling).

In a perfect world when an NFL QB drops back to pass, he should survey the field, find an open WR, then deliver the ball to that WR. When the Chiefs drop back to do that, the WRs often don’t get open before the pass protection fails, Smith drops his eyes to avoid the rush and everything breaks down.

It’s not all Smith’s fault.

It’s not all the offensive line’s fault.

It’s not all the wide receivers’ fault.

All three are to blame and that is why I’m now concerned that this team isn’t currently built to compete at the highest level. There are simply too many limitations on offense to overcome for an extended time against quality opponents. Yes, KC is good enough to beat any team on a given day. Yes, they beat the Patriots and the Seahawks and yes, if they get into the playoffs, they might be good enough to find a way to win a game. While that would certainly be nice, given KC’s playoff drought, it’s not the ultimate goal. The ultimate goal is to win a Super Bowl.

Right now KC’s Toxic Trifecta on offense makes that goal feel incredibly out of reach.

While some fans may not want to accept it, Alex Smith is the Chiefs QB for years to come. While I’ve acknowledged his limitations, I do still believe the Chiefs can win with him. So in my opinion the clear mission for this team moving forward has to be to upgrade the offensive line and receiver position. If winning with Smith is the plan, then the roster around him has to be one that compensates for his flaws.

This roster doesn’t and every week that goes by, that becomes more and more clear.

So what do you think, Addicts? Am I overreacting to two straight losses or do you agree that this Toxic Trifecta is too big of problem for the 2014 Kansas City Chiefs to overcome? I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments below.

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