The Kansas City Chiefs look like burnt ends. Now, this would be fantastic if we’re talking about wolfing down some barbecue … but it ain’t good if we’re talking about an NFL offense.
Metaphorically speaking, you don’t want your offense to be cubed and served with sauce and covered with a layer of bark to give the defense an easy snack in bite-sized morsels.
You need a tough offense. An offense that’s as hard to deal with as overcooked brisket.
Make the defense work. Make them chew on their frustration. Let them go hungry. After getting off to a 5-0 start in which they averaged 32.8 points per game, the Chiefs were celebrated as the NFL’s best team of 2017. Quarterback Alex Smith and the offense were aggressive and versatile and blinded defenses with the multipurpose speed of rookie running back Kareem Hunt, and the splendid sprinter-receiver Tyreke Hill.
Unable to sustain their blistering offensive pace, the Chiefs have gone to the opposite extreme: their offense is a little more than a cough these days … a nagging cough that won’t go away. It irritates anyone who is near it.
What’s wrong with you.
Can’t you take some medicine and get rid of that?
Have you seen your doctor?
The Chiefs need to visit the doctor.
In losing five of their last six games Kansas City has scored 17 or fewer points four times. The wheezing offense has never been in a weaker state than in the last two games. Coming off a bye week — a chance to recover, feel better — the Chiefs were smothered on the road in an ugly 9-6 defeat to the awful NY Giants, then came home to quiet and infuriate their crowd at Arrowhead in a phlegmatic 16-10 loss to the Buffalo Bills.
Through the first five weeks, Kansas City’s lead in the AFC West was said to be insurmountable. But now, with the Carson Chargers (5-6) pushing their way back from a poor start to win four of their six games, the division is up for grabs.
The Chiefs have scored one touchdown in their last nine quarters. This is the same team — but obviously not the same offense — that cavorted to 11 touchdowns in the opening nine quarters of the season.
And this offensive brown-out came against two opponents, Giants and the Bills, who had been cut to ribbons by opponents for a combined average of 37.2 points in their four games (two each team) prior to playing KC.
What’s happening exactly?
There are several theories:
— The Pittsburgh Steelers, who became the first opponent to defeat the Chiefs, played a soft zone instead of blitzing and attacking to set up quick-strike plays for Smith. The Steelers showed the rest of the league the secret to stopping Smith and friends.
— The offensive line is the main culprit behind the unexpected slow down that’s stalled the Chiefs.
— Kareem Hunt hit the rookie speed bump … he’s lost spark … he wasn’t as good as he appeared.
— Alex Smith stinks. His play is deteriorating by the week. His big plays are drying up. And big plays hoisted the Chiefs to that 5-0 breakout at the start of the campaign.
— Head coach Andy Reid is stubborn, averse to change, too ponderous, too set in his ways to make quick corrections that could renew a famished offense.
There is truth in each of the described symptoms.
But I go with Smith and Reid as the top two reasons for the demise of something bold and beautiful.
Reid is clever. He’s creative. But throughout his career, he’s been a step slow to adapt and adjust … maybe two or three steps slow.
In his 18+ seasons as the head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles (14 years) and Chiefs (4+ years), Reid has a .600 winning percentage during the regular season. But he’s 11-12 in coaching 23 career postseason games (.478). Reid has lost five of his last six playoff games, and that includes a 1-3 postseason record with Kansas City. Despite guiding his teams to the postseason 12 times, Reid has claimed only one conference title (2004.)
When the St. Louis Rams were preparing to play the Eagles in the 2001 NFC Championship, I asked a Rams’ coach if Reid was difficult to go against. The answer was no. Why? Because with Reid, you pretty much know what to expect. It’s just a matter of stopping it. The coach added: Andy is really, really good. But with some of these guys, you lose sleep at night because you just know they’re up to something. They’ll surprise you. Catch you off guard. But not Andy.
Evidently that assessment hasn’t changed much through the years.
This can be spotted in Reid’s dismissiveness in answering Smith-related questions, quarterback-related questions. The coach all but bristles at the increasingly desperate fan and media entreaties for a quarterback change.
Reid created this by creating a buzz when he aggressively moved up in the draft to select QB Patrick Mahomes II out of Texas Tech. Reid was so enamored of Mahomes, he enthusiastically parted with two first-round draft choices, plus a third-round pick, to get in position to choose Mahomes 10th overall.
This was not a typical Andy Reid move. This was a break from Reid’s passive (if thoughtful) manner. But it says something — says a lot, actually — about his belief in Mahomes’ talent and potential. Reid thinks “The Gunslinger” (Texas Tech nickname) can be special for many years. The epitome of a franchise quarterback.
Except that with Reid’s 2017 season cratering under his famously slow-moving feet, the coach is keeping Mahomes secured away in a protective bubble. Mahomes isn’t ready to hatch into the world and find his place as an NFL starting quarterback. Papa Reid is shooing the crowd away.
That’s fine, except for a few things:
1. Kansas City’s offense is dormant.
2. Kansas City’s season is slipping away.
3. Alex Smith reeks right now. As Sam Monson wrote Monday at Pro Football Focus: “The issue is that Smith has just been playing worse across the board … over the Chiefs’ undefeated streak, Smith ranked No. 1 or 2 in adjusted completion percentage, passer rating under pressure, passer rating on quick passes, and passer rating using play action. Now the highest he ranks in any of those categories is 22nd.”
4. Kansas City was willing to sacrifice part of the future to land Mahomes because Mahomes is cast as a substantial part of that future. But as the old saying goes, the future is now … or it CAN be now.
5. In the olden days, coaches could let rookie quarterbacks incubate for three years, maybe four. But the NFL is a ready-set-go league now. With salary caps, free agency and the limited life of rookie contracts, the young arms need to play. They can’t sit and watch. Going back to 2003, there’s a long list of rookie quarterbacks who have started from the first day — or have taken over as the starter during their rookie years.
This is by no means a complete list, but: Byron Leftwich, Matt Ryan, Joe Flacco, Carson Palmer, Philip Rivers, Eli Manning, Matthew Stafford, Cam Newton, Andrew Luck, Andy Dalton, Sam Bradford, Marcus Mariota, Jameis Winston, Derek Carr, Teddy Bridgewater, Russell Wilson, Deshaun Watson, Robert Griffin III, Carson Wentz, Jared Goff, Blaine Gabbert, Ryan Tannehill, Mitchell Trubisky, Blake Bortles, Dak Prescott …
In some cases, pushing a rookie too quickly can do damage to his career. That was certainly true of our town’s Blaine Gabbert, who was irresponsibly thrown into the fire after being chosen 10th overall in 2011. Some of the young quarterbacks get broken (Griffin III) and are never the same. But there have been many success stories too.
There’s no good reason for Reid to get wimpy about going with Mahomes.
Barring a sudden, remarkable turnaround by Smith, few envision a reason why the Chiefs would keep him for 2018 at a salary-cap cost of $17 million. All signs point to Mahomes being the No. 1 quarterback next season. But the Chiefs don’t have to throw away the 2017 season. They don’t have to wait. Play Mahomes now, see if he can jolt a tired offense, and see how his teammates respond to the change. The kid might be able to change KC’s downbound direction. And if nothing else, using Mahomes now gives him valuable experience and a head start on 2018.
Thanks for reading …