The numbers 27, 25, and 32; do you know what they represent? You might want to be seated for this – those are the 2013, 2014, and current 2015 rankings of the Kansas City Chiefs efficiency on third downs. That’s right, since Andy Reid and Alex Smith decided to call Kansas City home, the Chiefs have been horrid at converting on third down.
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Let me throw another number at you: 0. That is how many third down conversions the Chiefs had in the first half of their Week 3 matchup with the Packers. If you watched the game on Monday, you didn’t need numbers to tell you the Chiefs stunk on third down – they failed the eye test miserably.
To determine the cause of the Chiefs’ third down ineptitude, I went back to the Packers tape. After watching our ten third down plays, other than nausea, here is what I came away with:
1) The Offense Is Setting Itself Up For Disaster
Seven of the ten third downs required at least nine yards to get a first down. NINE YARDS! With an offense built around picking up small chunks of yardage at a time, asking your quarterback to convert third & 9+ on a regular basis is begging for failure. Play-calling and execution has to improve on first and second down.
2) An Abundance of Questionable Play-Calling and Decisions
If we exclude one play where Alex was forced to scramble to avoid a sack, six out of nine third down throws were targeted at receivers behind the first down marker. Listen, I get not wanting to risk a turnover by attempting a downfield shot on erd & 27. What I don’t get however, is throwing the ball seven yards behind the line of scrimmage on a 3rd & 4! The onus of this falls on the shoulders of Andy Reid and Alex Smith (no matter how hard Andy tries to shoulder the blame).
3) Inadequate Line Play Impacting Quarterback Awareness
Protection was sub-par on third down plays, which shouldn’t come as a surprise since protection is sub-par pretty regularly. When protection was decent, Smith’s pocket presence was seriously lacking. For example, take a look at this play:
When Alex Smith completes his dropback, he recognizes the pressure coming from each edge. However, what Smith fails to recognize is that the middle of the line has held up well and there is room for him to step up and buy time.
Smith lets the pressure fluster him and immediately gets the ball out to the checkdown (Kelce in this case) while falling away from the pressure. Stepping up in the pocket would allow the receivers more time to gain separation downfield, and it would also enable Smith to step into a throw. Just look at how poor his feet are when throwing this ball.
This is a direct consequence of having a leaky offensive line. We’ve all seen and heard it before – once a quarterback is sacked multiple times he begins to hear footsteps, and rushes decisions. That holds true with Alex Smith.
4) The Receivers and Quarterback Took Turns Letting The Offense Down
Finally, let’s talk about the receivers. On third downs in the first half, KC’s receivers weren’t gaining any separation downfield. Here’s a picture that is a good depiction of what I am referring to:
This is a 3rd & 9 play and nobody is open. The two receivers farthest downfield are covered so well it’s actually hard to see the Packer corners blanketing them! The two receivers running the flats are pretty well covered too. Kelce, the bottom right receiver, is the most open out of the four, but it’s unlikely he’s getting a first down if that throw is made. Throw-in the fact pressure is coming up the middle, and you have a certified disaster.
In the second half, when the receivers did a better job of getting open – I’m sure the scoreboard had a little something to do with that – Smith too often stared-down a single target. Take this play in the fourth quarter for example:
In the picture above, the ball has just been snapped and Smith is dropping back to pass while looking at the Kelce-Avant route combination (from the tape, it appeared that Kelce’s route was designed to clear out space for Avant). Meanwhile at the top of the screen, Chris Conley’s man is playing extremely soft coverage leaving Conley fairly wide-open.
Rather than losing his man, Avant loses his footing when Smith decides to throw him the ball. Unsurprisingly, this resulted in an incomplete pass. Conley was still wide-open at the top with enough room to run for a first down. Not once was he, or any other receiver, even looked at.
This is the kind of habit you would expect an 11-year pro to have shaken by now. Yes, the play may be designed to go to Avant, but if it’s not there look to another option!
My conclusion is this: while every facet of the offense deserves blame for the Chiefs’ third down woes, it starts with Alex Smith and Andy Reid. Andy Reid has to start calling plays that put this offense in a position to succeed, not predictable first down runs and third down passes seven yards behind the line of scrimmage. Alex Smith needs to have better situational awareness of what’s going on around him – from where the pressure is and isn’t coming from, to looking past his first read on key downs.
Without these changes, the 2015 Chiefs will undoubtedly carry-on the unfortunate trend of finishing near the bottom in third down efficiency.