Third down an Achilles heel for Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. – The Chiefs inability to sustain drives throughout the season came back to haunt them in Week 11’s 27-17 loss to the Denver Broncos.

And during Monday’s media session, coach Andy Reid pointed out the team’s slow starts.

November 17, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid (left) talks to quarterback Alex Smith (11) during the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Chiefs 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

November 17, 2013; Denver, CO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid (left) talks to quarterback Alex Smith (11) during the fourth quarter against the Denver Broncos at Sports Authority Field at Mile High. The Broncos defeated the Chiefs 27-17. Mandatory Credit: Kyle Terada-USA TODAY Sports

“I want to make sure that I get us in the right position to start games,” Reid said. “We’re not starting fast enough right now.”

Entering Week 12, the Chiefs have numerous concerns on offense, including ranking 24th overall in yards per game (320), 27th in yard per play (4.8), 26th in passing (198.5 per game), 25th in red zone touchdown percentage (48.5) and 16th in points per game (23.2), among others.

But one glaring hole that could help kick start the offense is converting on third downs, an area where the Chiefs currently rank a mediocre 22nd (35.6 percent).

Making the team’s third-down conversion rate even worse is they’re second to last among the 13 current teams with a record above .500. Only the Arizona Cardinals (6-4) are inferior at 31.5 percent.

So where would Reid prefer the Chiefs when it comes to converting third downs?

“I want to see it at 100 percent, but that’s not realistic,” Reid said during Wednesday’s media session. “That’s what we’re shooting for. You want to be able to continue to move the chains and be efficient with that. When you get above 50 and into the 60s, normally you’re doing pretty good.”

Hitting the 50s or 60s is a high goal, especially when considering the Carolina Panthers, the league’s leader in third-down efficiency, converts at 48.4 percent.

The Denver Broncos, owners of the league’s No. 1 offense, are a close second at 48 percent.

While Reid said there are factors that go into analyzing how a team does on third down, including distance, here’s how the Chiefs compare overall in third-down efficiency among the teams above .500:

Third-down efficiency

Rank

Team

Record

Made-Attempt

Percentage

1

Carolina Panthers

7-3

62-128

48.4

2

Denver Broncos

9-1

60-125

48

5

New Orleans Saints

8-2

60-135

44.4

8

Detroit Lions

6-4

56-134

41.8

10

Seattle Seahawks

10-1

55-139

39.6

12

Indianapolis Colts

7-3

50-127

39.4

13

Philadelphia Eagles

6-5

58-149

38.9

15

Cincinnati Bengals

7-4

61-160

38.1

16

Chicago Bears

6-4

48-127

37.8

17

San Francisco 49ers

6-4

51-135

37.8

21

New England Patriots

7-3

49-137

35.8

22

Kansas City Chiefs

9-1

53-149

35.6

31

Arizona Cardinals

6-4

39-124

31.5

Despite a 9-1 record, third down has been an issue for the Chiefs the entire season and only twice has the offense achieved a 50 percent conversion rate.

The Chiefs have been in the 40 percent range once.

Week   1 5-15 (33 percent) Week   6 4-14 (29 percent)
Week   2 4-13 (31 percent) Week   7 7-15 (47 percent)
Week   3 6-19 (32 percent) Week   8 10-19 (53 percent)
Week   4 9-16 (56 percent) Week   9 3-13 (23 percent)
Week   5 1-12 (8 percent) Week   10 4-13 (31 percent)

Of course, the offense’s inconsistency could be attributed to learning a new system, a point offensive coordinator Doug Pederson made last week.

“These guys are still learning this offense, it’s not like we’ve been around for five or six years, they’re still learning,” Pederson said. “As coaches, it’s about being able to put our guys in a position to be successful, so we’re learning as well.”

Tight end Sean McGrath said for the players it’s about getting walk-through and practice repetitions. McGrath adds there are growing pains with any new system, but he said the Chiefs are close to fully understanding the intricacies of Reid’s version of the West Coast offense.

Still, McGrath said it ultimately boils down to implementation.

“The coaches do a great job of putting us in situations that we’re seeing in the game and so it’s just comes down to execution,” McGrath said. “What we have to do on our end is just make the play when it comes down to it.”

Starting left guard Jeff Allen agreed, adding there has been improvement.

“There’s a lot of details within this offense, a lot of little things that you have to execute for everything to come together,” Allen said. “Each week we’re getting better.”

Allen said the goal during each offensive possession is to score points.

“As coach Reid is saying to start fast, that’s on the kickoff, that first possession you want to drive down the field and score points on a field goal or a touchdown,” Allen said. “That’s what we want to do every possible time we have the ball.”

Quarterback Alex Smith said during Wednesday’s media session getting into an offensive rhythm also helps with a fast start.

Smith adds the ability to pick up first downs allows the offense to have better field position to produce points on the scoreboard.

“Certainly once you’ve changed some field position and you have some first downs, that carries in then, ‘Hey let’s get into field goal range, let’s get in the red zone, let’s score a touchdown,’” Smith said. “Those are kind of the consecutive steps that I look at as far as offensively. It starts with that first, first down, let’s get a first down, let’s move the chains, let’s put a chunk of plays together, get into a rhythm offensively. I think if you have a few three-and-outs it’s tough, you never get into a flow.”

Meanwhile, the only game this season when the offense appeared to fire on all cylinders in the fashion Smith describes came in Week Eight during the first half against the Cleveland Browns.

The Chiefs produced 20 points on four of five possessions and finished the half converting 9-of-12 third downs, a whopping 75 percent. However, inconsistency reared its head in the second half, as the offense converted just 1-of-7 third downs en route to a 23-17 win.

And there appears to be a correlation between sustaining drives among the 13 teams above .500 and points per game.

Of the top five teams in points per game, three of the five – the Broncos (9-1), Saints (8-2) and Lions (6-4) – convert third downs at 41 percent or better. The Seahawks (10-1), ranked fourth in points per game, barely miss the mark at 39.6 percent.

Points per game

Rank

Team

Record

PPG

Third down   %

1

Denver Broncos

9-1

39.8

48

2

New Orleans Saints

8-2

28.8

44.4

3

Chicago Bears

6-4

28.2

37.8

4

Seattle Seahawks

10-1

27.8

39.6

5

Detroit Lions

6-4

26.5

41.8

8

New England Patriots

7-3

25.4

35.8

9

Indianapolis Colts

7-3

25.2

39.4

10

Philadelphia Eagles

6-5

25.1

38.9

11

Cincinnati Bengals

7-4

25

38.1

12

San Francisco 49ers

6-4

24.7

37.8

15

Carolina Panthers

7-3

23.8

48.4

16

Kansas City Chiefs

9-1

23.2

35.6

22

Arizona Cardinals

6-4

21.4

31.5

With playoff discussions and scenarios already appearing on the radar, the Chiefs ability to sustain drives will play a large role in how well the team does down the road.

And this is especially true when noting four of the teams excelling in third-down conversions – and among the league leaders in points per game – are in the AFC.

Notes: The Chiefs on Wednesday released fullback Toben Opurum and signed guard Chandler Burden to the practice squad … Burden was previously released on Nov. 12.

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