The Kansas City Chiefs dropped their 3rd consecutive game at home Sunday, losing 16-10 to the Buffalo Bills. This loss, not only marked the 3rd straight defeat for Kansas City, but also marked their 5th loss in their last 6 games. They finished the month of November winless to join the Cleveland Browns, Denver Broncos, Miami Dolphins, and Chicago Bears as the only 5 teams to go 0fer the month. This is/was supposed to be the “easier” part of the Chiefs’ schedule. This was supposed to be the the time of year where the team starts its long winning march into the post season. Instead, it has been the worst football the team has played since the first 6 weeks of 2015, and THAT, is the only solace we can take from this situation. Yes, we all thought the Chiefs were past this; that after the first 5 weeks of the season, there was no way the Chiefs could look this bad for this extended a stretch. Apparently we were all wrong in that line of thinking. The picture featuring the half empty stands at Arrowhead Stadium shows where the fan base is at right now. There are multiple problems to go over with this team, and through it all there are also a couple causes for optimism. There is also a massive elephant in the room which I’ll eventually address as well. For now though, let’s diagnose what we can about this team:
- The Defense is playing better – This is big for the Chiefs. The last 2 weeks, despite the losses, the defense has done its job for the most part. They held the Giants to 12 points and gave the team a chance to win. Sunday, they held the Bills to 16 points and LeSean McCoy (one of the best RBs in the NFL) to an anemic 2.2 yards per carry. True, both the Giants and Bills have been struggling on offense this season, but the Chiefs’ defense was putrid for a few weeks there. This team has made some strides already, and the addition of Darrelle Revis stands to help as well. Defense isn’t perfect but it is getting better.
- Harrison Butker – This kid has been a huge find for the Chiefs. Lost in all the atrocities of yesterdays game, was the bright note that Butker set a Chiefs’ all time franchise record with his 23rd consecutive made field goal. Since being signed off the Panthers’ practice squad a few weeks ago, Butker has made all but his first kick in Kansas City. His play has been a huge bright spot for this team, and shouldn’t go completely unnoticed.
- Reggie Ragland – The Chiefs traded a 2019 4th round pick to the Bills a little over a month ago for Reggie Ragland. The former Alabama standout had been having a disappointing start to his career with the Bills, but has been great for Kansas City. Playing in the middle next to Derrick Johnson, Ragland has lead the team in tackles since he arrived and appears to be regaining the form that made him a first round pick a couple years ago. He’s a good fit for the Chiefs’ scheme and has been a big reason the defense has been playing better in recent weeks.
- Offensive Line – The line has gotten worse over the course of the season instead of better. They did have some injuries to deal with, but they’re healthy again and it still hasn’t translated into better play. The much maligned Alex Smith (who I’ll get to in a minute) has lost all faith in his line and it shows every time he drops back to pass. I don’t even think their pass protection is the issue truthfully however, run blocking is. This line isn’t opening any holes for Kareem Hunt. Teams are killing the Chiefs with delayed blitzes and the line seems unable to identify them. That’s a problem, and an inexplicable one. Mitch Morse is supposedly a great signal caller on the line, as the center it’s his job to call the blocking assignments, he has to be better than he’s been recently, it’s getting ridiculous.
- Run Game – Kareem Hunt hasn’t gained a hundred yards on the ground since week 5 and hasn’t scored a TD since week 3. As I mentioned above, the offensive line gets some of the blame for that, but the back has to take some too. Hunt hasn’t been the same player that he was early in the season. Teams have adjusted to him and his game hasn’t adjusted to those adjustments yet. He also hasn’t picked up pass blocking concepts which is why Charcandrick West is in on every 3rd down and 2-minute situation. Hunt is an amazing talent, and the first few weeks he looked like the ultimate steal of the draft, but lately he’s been showing why he was in fact a 3rd round draft pick. Andy Reid is often made the scapegoat for this, but it’s not on him. Does Hunt need more than 11 carries in a game? Probably. But how can you justify it when he’s only averaging 1.1 yard per carry? I’ll say it again, the offensive line is a problem, but there is still more the running back(s) can do to make the run game better.
- Return Game – One of the great equalizers in football is Special Teams, and for so long the Chiefs were dominate in that aspect of the game. They still have an amazing punter in Colquitt, and I already mentioned Butker as a bright spot; however, the return game has just not been there this season. Tyreek Hill is one of the most dangerous players in the NFL, but the Chiefs can’t seem to get him loose on punts anymore. Add to that, whenever he has had a good or decent return, it has been called back by a penalty. Kickoff returns are almost antiquated by the constant touchbacks, but Akeem Hunt hasn’t been great back there either. Both he and West had kick returns on Sunday that they just should have taken knees on. The return game (or lack thereof) is putting the offense in poor positions that they just aren’t able to overcome right now.
- 3rd down efficiency – The Chiefs cannot convert 3rd downs. Sunday, they were 2-13 on 3rd down, and against the Giants they were just 3-11. It doesn’t matter whether it’s 3rd and long or 3rd and short, this team cannot figure out away to turn 3rd down into 1st down. Play calling goes into it for sure, but I think the biggest issue is the players they choose to go to. You have, arguably, the best Tight End in the NFL in Travis Kelce. You have, arguably, the most explosive player in the NFL in Tyreek Hill. Yet constantly, at the most crucial points of drives, you choose to get the ball to Demetrius Harris and Albert Wilson. I can’t explain that. It is something that has driven me nuts for the last couple of years, it seems every time on 3rd or 4th down, or in key situations the first look isn’t to Kelce or Hill it’s to Wilson or Harris. It would be one thing if Kelce and/or Hill was covered and those guys were your 2nd or 3rd options; but it seems the first place Alex looks is to Wilson or Harris in those moments and I think that is really the primary reason for the inefficiency. Play calls haven’t been great, but the choice of weapons certainly doesn’t help matters.
The Elephant in the Room
Now that all the other issues have been addressed, now we can address the biggest problem and that is the quarterback position. Alex Smith has been horrendous the last several weeks. Not just bad, not just inefficient, he has been horrendous. Alex started off this season by out performing the GOAT in prime time on the road. He came back in week 2 and out dueled the league leader for MVP in Arrowhead. He seemed to have turned a corner and in his age 33 season was suddenly looking like the #1 overall pick he was drafted to be in 2005! However, since those first 5 weeks, the wheels have come off and Alex Smith has turned back into a pumpkin. It would be one thing if Alex had just regressed to the mean of his career, the Chiefs would still be winning football games if that were the case, but he has fallen completely apart. He’s seeing phantom pressure, he’s getting happy feet on every snap, he’s turning the ball over, he’s, he’s frankly playing like a guy who has lost faith in himself. When the Chiefs traded up from 27th to 10th to draft Patrick Mahomes we all knew that if Smith struggled for a prolonged period of time, the Chiefs Kingdom would be clamoring for Mahomes to take over. Well, it’s been 3 straight losses, and 4 straight weeks of poor QB play from Smith and the kingdom is more than clamoring; at this point they’re demanding Mahomes take over. Last week, I argued against making the move; however this week, I can’t make an argument against it anymore. I would like to make my own argument but, it would pale in comparison to the one put forth by Arrowhead Pride which can be read here. However, I can’t see it actually happening and here is why:
Andy Reid was steadfast after the game in saying that making a switch at quarterback never entered his mind. Reid is going to stick with Smith until the bitter end; and here’s the thing. Remember when I said “it has been the worst football the team has played since the first 6 weeks of 2015” back at the start of this? Yeah, here’s the solace. In 2015 the Chiefs were 1-5 and had just lost their best player to a season ending injury; they went on to win their next 10 regular season games and even got the first playoff win they’d had in 22 years. They turned it around by banding together, believing in themselves, and working hard. Despite all the terrible things the month of November brought to Kansas City; at the end of the day the Chiefs are still in 1st place in the AFC West and they still have a favorable schedule down the stretch with 3 of their last 5 at home and their 2 road games being against a Broncos team that has quit on the season and the New York Jets this Sunday. I’m not giving up hope, I’m not totally writing this team off. As Derrick Johnson said after the game “We need to get one win”, the team gets 1 win, it turns into 2, then 3, and it snowballs. Just like losing snowballs, so can winning. They just need to get 1 win and the rest will begin to take care of itself. That quest begins this Sunday against the New York Jets. Pregame at 11 AM and kickoff at high noon on Topeka’s Rock Leader, V100.