The Kansas City Chiefs are who we thought they were
By Britt Zank
The Kansas City Chiefs are looking like they’re headed for what we’ve grown used to under Andy Reid: a playoff team who won’t go far.
Former NFL head coach Dennis Green said it best when he said, “They are who we thought they were.” That statement fits the 2017 Kansas City Chiefs like a tailored suit through the first nine games of the season.
Through the first 5 weeks, most of us fell for the jig. We put a beatdown on the New England Patriots that nobody saw coming. We beat good teams in Philadelphia and Washington and did what we needed to against a bad divisional foe. Then the Chiefs dominated a shootout against the Houston Texans and their scorching hot rookie Deshaun Watson. Alex Smith was playing at a top five quarterback level for the first time in his 12 year career. We all had the thought that maybe he can change, that maybe Smith can be the top quarterback we need to reach the Super Bowl. Add to that an unstoppable Kareem Hunt and the Chiefs offense was giving flashbacks to the days of the Dick Vermeil-led Chiefs offense.
Then came the Chiefs kryptonite, the Pittsburgh Steelers. The Chiefs were 5-0 and playing in Arrowhead in a revenge game against the team who knocked them out of the playoffs the year before. The Chiefs had everything to play for, including their reputation. They proceeded to fall flat on their face. The defense did their job holding the Steelers to just 19 points, seven of which came on a fluke pass through the hands of Philip Gaines. The offense however returned to their old form.
Smith only threw for 246 yards and one touchdown with a 55% completion rate. He had a passer rating of 88 and the offense didn’t get into Steeler territory until the fourth quarter. He also missed three wide open touchdowns, two of which he never threw after ignoring wide open targets. Andy Reid got predictable with his play calling for the first time all year. Like the playoffs Reid seemed to be frozen, overwhelmed by the moment.
This game brought many of us back down out of the clouds we’d been in. The Steelers game was almost identical to the playoff game, causing many to question what had really changed from 2016. For those still living in the clouds of hope, they could say it was only one game. The Steelers are just a bad matchup but the previous five games still meant more than the one game. However, that thought only lasted a few days as the Chiefs went to Oakland to face the Raiders on Thursday night.
Against the Raiders the offense returned to their dominating form scoring 30 points and Alex looked like a league MVP again, but the defense was horrible giving up 31 points and 505 yards of offense. They did stop the run, which fans screamed for, only allowing 88 yards on the ground. However that left the secondary all alone on islands and they clearly aren’t good enough for that as they gave up 417 yards. The biggest issue for the rest of the season coming out of that game, though, was Reid’s decision to sit on the ball with 4:06 left in the game up six points. Despite Smith’s amazing game of the season where he threw for 342 yards and three touchdowns, Reid refused to put the game on his soldiers. He handed the ball off on obvious run plays twice because he was playing not to lose. He wanted to just eat clock and hope the defense could get one stop. Can anyone think of any other MVP level quarterback whose coach doesn’t trust him enough to go win the game?
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The team rebounded well at home on Monday night against the Denver Broncos, but it wasn’t what fans needed to see in order to bring the hope back. The defense played about as good as they can. They gave up 177 rushing yards but shut down the passing game and got five turnovers. The offense, however, sputtered for the second time in three weeks. Despite bad stats, Smith actually played pretty well. He missed Tyreek Hill on a wide open touchdown throw but made a handful of other dime level throws. However, his receivers let him down as the lack of talent at tight end was on full display. Reid also returned to his outsmarting himself ways when he slowed down a fast start with a wide receiver pass on the five yard line that was intercepted. The team won 29-19 but the game was a lot closer than it should have been. This was a game that Super Bowl contenders put their foot on the other team’s throat and beat them 43-14, the way the Steelers did the Chiefs in early 2016.
After three subpar games in a row, this week’s game against the Dallas Cowboys was important to get some good vibes back in KC before the bye week. The team proceeded to do what this team has done under Reid for five seasons in K.C.—they fell flat. The offense didn’t get a first down until their third drive of the game. The offense only scored 17 points and frankly only really scored 10 against one of the worst defenses in the league. (Yes, they scored 17, but the Hill fluke touchdown at the end of the half doesn’t really count in my idea of a solid offensive drive.) The Chiefs have only scored three touchdowns in the last eight quarters of football. Everyone is worried about the defense. Forget the defense, however, since the reason this team can’t make it to a Super Bowl is because of the offense.
The high powered offense of the first five weeks of the season has become the same Chiefs offense we’ve seen in five years of Reid and Smith. Against bad teams they can look dominant and put up big numbers. But when they come against good teams they just aren’t the same guys. Reid doesn’t coach the same and Smith doesn’t play the same. Their confidence level in those games for some reason seems to drop off the table. And as their confidence goes so does the rest of the team. The offense is the strength of this team and if they can’t be consistent than it doesn’t matter if this defense is 30th or 15th, they won’t get to a Super Bowl.
Related Story: What offensive changes are needed for the Chiefs
Now this isn’t a “we suck and the season is over” article. We are still a good team and we have the easiest schedule in the league the rest of the year. We should finish the year at worse 12-4 and real possibility of being 13-3. We will win the West division and most likely earn, at worst, the AFC’s No. 2 seed heading into the playoffs. But the players on the team aren’t going to change between now and then. The coaches aren’t going to be changed between now and then.
This team is exactly what we thought they were at the start of the season. On their best night they can beat anyone in the league home or away. At their worst, they can get beat by anyone in the league home or away. Most of the time they will be a slightly above average team that should win the division but will most likely not be able to advance in the playoffs. It’s a good team that will fill the stadium and give Clark Hunt a bonus playoff check, but will likely end with an early playoff exit and fans hoping for next year. If you are happy with making the playoffs, then it’s another good year and you can be happy. But if you’re like me and are desperate for a Super Bowl, then it’s maddening and frustrating to continue doing the same thing every year while expecting different results.