Chiefs must break through offensive comfort zone
By Kurt Hixson
They often say that life truly begins at the end of your comfort zone. That may also ring true when talking about the future success of the Kansas City Chiefs offense.
Whether or not this team can venture outside of it, may determine just how far this team can go this year. We all know by now what the comfort zone is for Reid and company. Quick reads, intermediate routes, and screen passes; the clear mainstays of his offense. All of that is great when you have the weapons to, not only make plays after the catch, but more importantly to keep the defense guessing.
That last part, the chess match element to an offense, is maybe the most important factor. Unfortunately, it also seems to be what the Chiefs offense lacks the most at this point in the season. Simply by watching the Chiefs this year, most can tell that the offense has struggled to move the ball with any regularity. However, you have to look a little deeper to start to discover why that is.
According to Football Outsiders, the Chiefs’ offensive is ranked 20th in points per drive and their “offensive drive success” ranking. Meaning that to this point in the season, the Chiefs’ offensive success, per average drive, has been in the lower two thirds of the league. To make things worse, the Chiefs have the 18th-ranked time of possession, per drive, in the league. So, not only are they not scoring at a level that you would hope, their average time of possession also tells us that the Chiefs’ average offensive possession is ending much quicker than most teams around the league.
This points to two major areas of weakness on the offensive side of the ball. Red zone scoring and third down conversion ratings, since they are ranked 2nd best in turnovers per drive, per Football Outsiders. While the lack of offensive performance has widely been placed on the shoulders of Alex Smith, it’s clear that this combination of inefficiencies is the symptom of something greater than the play of one individual, regardless of position.
This leads us back to that age old saying about comfort zones. While the season so far has been a general success, with a 7-3 record and being a game out of first place in the AFC West, an improved offense is a must if the team expects to continue that pace throughout the remainder of the season, and into the playoffs. While one could argue that this same offense led the Chiefs to their first playoff victory over two decades, it would be missing the point that the offense was able to find success last year where it has not been able to this year.
Using the same source and statistic as earlier, Football Outsiders shows us that in 2015 the offense was ranked ninth in average points per drive, a full 11 spots higher than this year without a major upgrade in time of possession per drive or yards per drive, where the Chiefs ranked 13th and 19th respectively.
All of these statistics tell us what we as fans already felt. While we were able to manage more scoring last year, the issue of finding ways to consistently move the chains has been around for more than a few weeks. The lack of scoring is a symptom of a larger issue that we are unfortunately seeing the brunt of this year.
Fortunately, we don’t need a major overhaul on offense in order to have a unit that can support this defense and put the Chiefs in a position to win now, and into February. Reid, Childress, Nagy, and the rest of the offense needs to be able to reach outside of their collective comfort zone and use some creativity in order to use the skill players they have, keep defenses guessing, and build success on third downs and in the red zone.