The Kansas City Chiefs had seven three-and-outs on Sunday. Their offense managed just 236 total yards, and only gained 55 of those yards on the ground. In a must-win game against the floundering Buffalo Bills, the Chiefs continued their putrid offensive performance that has manifested itself over the last several weeks.
While quarterback Alex Smith is a main contributor to the problem offensively, this is not an article bashing him. The time to remove him from his starting quarterback role has come, but head coach Andy Reid has been steadfast that he will maintain his starter status. Dissecting and exposing all of Smith’s downfalls in this game is of moot point, and instead it is important to discuss the areas in which the Chiefs can improve.
The Chiefs must get better in the running game. Much has been documented of rookie running back Kareem Hunt‘s decline in production over the last several weeks, but he is actually not the problem. According to Pro Football Focus, he still ranks first in the NFL at the running back position, and much of that is because of his ability to prevent negative plays from happening.
The problem with the Chiefs’ running game is twofold, the offensive line has struggled in protection of late, and defenses have adjusted their schemes to focus on preventing the run.
On the topic of the offensive line, according to Football Outsiders currently the Chiefs rank 18th in the NFL in pass protection, with an adjusted sack rate of 7.2%. When looking at the offensive line when it comes to run blocking, they don’t rank much better, as they rank just 13th in percent of runs where a player is hit behind the line of scrimmage. As evident on Sunday, Hunt is being given no room to run, and is constantly being hit before he even reaches the line of scrimmage. Smith has become trigger-happy in the pocket, and because of constant pressure, has not been able to see many plays develop.
In order to improve the Chiefs’ running game, adjustments must be made to the run schemes. While nothing can be done to immediately improve the offensive line–outside of a personnel change–the team can compensate by changing the direction of its runs. At the beginning of the season, Hunt was very successful receiving shovel passes, and running the ball to the outside of either the left tackle or the right tackle.
In the team’s first three games (where Hunt was the most successful), backup running back Charcandrick West had only six total touches, compared to the 17 that he has had in the last three weeks. This is of significance because West has seen most of his touches on misdirection plays, or screens where he has been targeted in space. Hunt would be much better suited to get these sorts of touches, as he has demonstrated a heightened ability to make big plays in these schemes. While West has been adequate in his performance as a change-of-pace back, his opportunities should not come at the expense of Hunt.
When it comes to the passing portion of the offense, other teams have reacted accordingly to the Chiefs’ passing woes. Continuing on a trend that has developed over the last couple of weeks, the Bills played mostly Cover 2 defensive sets on crucial third downs for the Chiefs. They dared Smith to throw the ball over the middle of the field for the majority of the game, and outside of a 25 yard Travis Kelce reception, and a 28 yard Demetrius Harris reception, Smith did not rise to the occasion.
From this point forward, the Chiefs should make a conscious effort to help Smith deal with pressure. They should add designed rollouts to their play call, and add three tight end sets to running plays.
Fortunately for the Chiefs, they still lead the AFC West. They are still in a great position to make the playoffs, and with a few adjustments, they could be back to the team they were a couple of months ago.
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