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Diving into Chiefs offensive woes

The elephant in the room for the red-hot Chiefs is the lackluster performance of the offense, particularly the passing game. Andy Reid fell on his sword again following the 24-7 win over the Raiders, taking the heat off his players and placing the blame on his shoulders.

“I didn’t think I did a very good job of putting the guys in position to make plays and I think that it was obvious at times,” Reid said this week.

Oct 13, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid watches play from the sidelines during the first half of the game against the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs won 24-7. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Oct 13, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid watches play from the sidelines during the first half of the game against the Oakland Raiders at Arrowhead Stadium. The Chiefs won 24-7. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Play calling, quarterback play, the wide receiving corps, injuries at tight end and a young offensive line have all received varying degrees of blame from fans and even at times the Chiefs themselves.

[Related: Chiefs offense remains a work in progress.]

Who is to blame for the offensive woes?

Quarterback Alex Smith has received much of the same criticism he received in San Francisco for ignoring down field plays and checking down short to running backs and tight ends.

Indeed, Smith has targeted running back Jamaal Charles with greater frequency than any other receiver. Charles leadings all NFL running backs with 54 pass targets. Wide receiver Dwayne Bowe ranks 60th in the league overall with 35 targets, followed by wide receiver Donnie Avery with 34.

Avery is not far off his career average – he’s on pace for 91 targets – and has averaged 108 targets in three years as a starter.

Meanwhile, Bowe is on pace for 94 targets, well below his career average of 125.

Without a doubt injuries at the tight end position have hampered the passing game. Chiefs tight ends featured prominently in training camp and the preseason. Yet, Sean McGrath leads the team’s tight ends in targets with 22, despite being claimed on waivers less than a week before the opening of the season.

As for Smith, despite a quarterback rating of 79.8 that would be his lowest since 2007, he is averaging a career-high 221.7 yards per game, putting him on pace for 3,545 yards for the season. That would be the eighth-highest passing yards for a season in Chiefs history.

Smith’s statistics that are lacking are his 56 percent completion percentage and just seven touchdown passes. Smith is throwing TD passes at nearly half the rate he did in San Francisco a year ago.

The passing game’s production is almost a mirror image of Reid’s early Philadelphia teams. Here’s how Alex Smith’s projected numbers for 2013 compared to the Eagles totals from 2000-2003:

Comp Att Pct. Yards TD INT Rating
Eagles 2000-03 307 532 57.7 3168 23 13 79.37
Alex Smith 2013 325 576 56.5 3546 19 8 79.80

 

The good news: The Eagles averaged 11.5 wins in those four seasons.

The bad news: The Eagles didn’t reach the Super Bowl until Donovan McNabb put up All-Pro caliber numbers in 2004.

Smith has been flinging the ball behind a below average pass-blocking offensive line. Football Outsiders, which compiles the most in-depth advanced metrics for offensive line play to be found anywhere, ranks the Chiefs pass blocking as 21st in the league.

Despite ranking fourth overall this season in adjusted line yards, the Chiefs running game is underperforming compared to 2012. The biggest reason is the Chiefs open field yards. Last year, the team ranked second in the league; this year’s line ranks 18th. Much of that is due to the lack of big run plays. Charles’ longest run of the season is 24 yards. Last year, he tallied seven runs longer than 24 yards, three of them coming in the first six weeks of the season.

The biggest disappointment for the Chiefs offense is clearly Bowe. The seventh-year player’s speed and effort has been called into question by some after signing a long-term contract last summer. Avery and the other receivers are largely accomplishing what their past records would indicate.

Certainly the injuries at tight end have impacted the team’s passing chemistry. Indications are tight end Anthony Fasano may return to the lineup this week, and it will be interesting to see if his return opens up any more possibilities in the passing game.

Through six games, the Chiefs lack a true go-to receiver. While Avery has delighted Chiefs fans with several big catches for first downs, the Chiefs currently lack a strong scoring wide receiver threat in the red zone.