What happened to the Kansas City Chiefs offense in 2014, and where is it headed?


These last few weeks, the Kansas City Chiefs offense has resembled the silent passing of gas – it stinks, but you don’t know who to blame. Is it the quarterback? The receivers? The offensive line? The play-calling?

Too many factors have played a part in the unraveling of the Chiefs season since a 7-3 start, but the offense has been more disappointing than any unit. I’m going to list and discuss each issue from what I feel is least to most problematic, and offer up some solutions. Feel free to post your thoughts in the comments.


It’s hard to blame Andy Reid for implementing a horizontal passing attack. We’ve seen by this point that the Chiefs’ passing game consists mostly of slants, hitches, running backs dump-offs, and screens. West Coast offenses aren’t based on vertical passing, but up until the Arizona game, Alex Smith hadn’t completed a pass over 40 yards.

Somehow it took about 10 games for teams to figure out the Chiefs couldn’t throw downfield. All Reid has done is make ways to get his best playmakers the ball in open space. The problem is that the more tendencies Kansas City has shown, the less their opponents respected the deep routes. Reid has failed to get the ball to Jamaal Charles in some situations, but everybody knows Charles is the Chiefs best offensive weapon. He has been beat up this season, averaging five less touches per game.

The biggest problem since the Seattle game has been finishing drives, particularly in the red zone. According to Team Rankings, the offense is now ranked seventh in red zone touchdown efficiency after going 0 for 4 against Pittsburgh. On the season, the Chiefs have scored touchdowns on 61 percent of their red zone trips, but only 29 percent of the time in the last three games.

Even more telling is that they’re tied for 20th in red zone attempts, averaging 2.9 trips per game through the season and 2.3 in the last three games. They may have a high scoring rate, but they don’t get there as much as the best teams. Reid blames himself for these failures, but there also have been untimely turnovers, penalties, and sacks that have ruined drives.

Moving ahead, there is simply a need for more consistent playmakers. The more time that is put into the roster, the better the play-calling will become. Then we will see whether or not to blame…

The Quarterback

Dec 21, 2014; Pittsburgh, PA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) is sacked by Pittsburgh Steelers outside linebacker Jason Worilds (93) and defensive end Cameron Heyward (97) during the fourth quarter at Heinz Field. The Steelers won 20-12. Mandatory Credit: Charles LeClaire-USA TODAY Sports

Through 15 games this season, Alex Smith has slightly lower numbers than in 2013, averaging three less attempts, and three less yards per game. He’s thrown five less touchdowns and one less interception. With the schedule the Chiefs have played this year, I’d say there’s actually been improvement. He’s completed 65 percent of his passes (up from 60 percent in 2013), and accumulated a 93.4 passer rating (up from 89.1 last season).

By this point, I think we know who Smith is. He will make smart football decisions, but won’t take many risks. What we don’t know is how he and Reid will continue to evolve together, and what they can do with better blocking and receiving. Next season will be the an important one for Smith.

The Receivers

There seems to be far too many pass plays where Smith gets sacked or throws a pass into the flat for minimal gain. This could play in part to play-calling or quarterback play, but the two former options at least have proven they can guide teams to playoff success.

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Before Donnie Avery was injured in week four, the passing game looked to be gaining some ground. When AJ Jenkins and Frankie Hammond replaced Avery, any threat opposite Dwayne Bowe dissipated until the recent rise of Albert Wilson.

With the exception of Bowe, Avery, and Jason Avant, this is a very young group. Of that youth, Wilson, Travis Kelce, and De’Anthony Thomas have shown the most promise.

Bowe is making a lot of money for such little production, but what receiver in the league would completely outplay Bowe in this system? It’s understandable that his release could free up quite a bit of cap money, but are the Chiefs that much better off without him? Only free agency and the draft could tell, but it’s hard to say it’s all his fault when he’s not being thrown at enough and the offense survives on short passes.

Moving ahead, there is a real decision to be made on Bowe. It’s less about money and more about production. The Chiefs need to target another Emmanuel Sanders-type receiver in free agency, and see what John Dorsey can pull out of the draft.

The o-line

Nov 2, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs guard Mike McGlynn (75) and tackle Eric Fisher (72) return to the line of scrimmage during the second half against the New York Jets at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs won 24-10. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

When you think about it, everything leads back to this unit. Regardless of how limited the quarterback is or isn’t, and no matter how bad the receivers are at getting open, you can’t successfully move the ball if there’s no time to do so. It’s been offensive to watch. Rodney Hudson (the No. 4 center according to Pro Football Focus) is the only solid starter. Right tackle Ryan Harris cannot be the long-term answer. Year three will tell us a lot about left tackle Eric Fisher (72nd of 82 tackles in PFF’s ratings).

I would not be upset if the Chiefs drafted an o-lineman in the first-round, particularly at guard. The left guard position is the messiest. Jeff Allen was poised to get a real look as the long-term option, but landed on injured reserve early in the season. He rated as PFF’s 60th rated guard in 2013, behind fellow Chiefs Geoff Schwartz (9th) and Jon Asamoah (21st). He has one more year on his contract. Rookie Zach Fulton hopefully will continue to develop into a reliable option at right guard, but he has rated out 64th on PFF this year. Left guard Mike McGlynn comes in dead last at 79th.

It also says something that Donald Stephenson could never get the right tackle job back, considering he was regarded as one of the team’s top offensive linemen coming into the season. Something must change with this unit during the offseason, whether it is growth or new parts. The biggest problem with new parts is rebuilding continuity, but it’s hard to think better players wouldn’t make the line immediately better.

If this part of the offense gets better, every other position does. Alex Smith doesn’t get beat into oblivion and Jamaal Charles may not show up on the injury report every week.