Shakira's hips don't lie and neither do the stats in the National Football League. And the key one here is this: the Chiefs are flirting with setting a new low for this decade in third down completion percentage.
That particular stat might sound a little ridiculous or misleading to pull out, but it's really not. It's the stat that keeps the chains moving. It's the stat that keeps the offense rolling and, therefore, the defense well-rested. It's the stat that eats the clock so you can actually control the time of possession game. And it's the stat that allows execution to expose mistakes in the opponents scheme and play-calling.
Instead, the Chiefs are doing none of that. There's no rhythm. There's no offensive sync. Instead, there's (usually) two go-nowhere plays followed by a desperation third down pass that (usually) doesn't work. The glaring stat: 20.3. That's the percentage of third down completions for your 2009 Chiefs.
Of course, you knew it would be bad. The won-loss record will tell you that much. But a bad team is bad for certain reasons and you have to search to figure out what those things are. And the inability to develop an offensive rhythm will cripple the team in all kinds of other areas:
*The Chiefs continue to give up the big gain every week. Yet a defense that's constantly on the field will become gassed as the game goes on - even with Haley's emphasis on conditioning
*We'll continue to question the development of our younger players on offense simply because there's not the allowance of any rhythm with the unit.
*And ultimately, Matt Cassel needs to be able to execute with a full hand, rather than being forced to think downfield all the time.
More on the stats and what to do after the jump.
In fact, you have to go back to the 2005 season to find a team that's been even close to Kansas City's ineptitude in third down situations. And that year was Alex Smith's rookie year at QB for a Niners team that finished with a 24% completion rate.
So what do the Chiefs do with this information? Well, a few things come to mind:
1. Certainly this cannot continue. At least I'd hope not. We think the toughest part of the schedule was on the front end, but that percent might drop even lower after Pittsburgh this week. And that end of December game against the Bengals now looks as menacing as any other game on the slate this season. Two against the Broncos, one against the Chargers and that means it might be tough. But a number that low is just so bad that you have to believe it can't continue. (Gulp)
2. The offensive line and running game *have* to become an off-season priority. You simply have to be able to move the chains on first down to balance the offense. The investment we made in Matt Cassel has to be only the first half of it. The second half of the investment must be in protecting the first half. And this is where Pioli's long-term plan comes into play. After all, you cannot fix every hole on a team in one season.
Thus, I would assume that three of our first four draft picks (one 1st, two 2nd, one 3rd) will focus on the offensive line and/or running game. And if not, then that means we probably picked up a solid FA on the O-line.
3. Re-think the importance of the tight end. It's been noted several times (here and other places) that Haley simply doesn't care too much for the tight end position - at least in the ways the Chiefs have been used to it. And you can afford to have Leonard Pope-like levels of stats at that position when you have Anquan Boldin, Larry Fitzgerald and Steve Breaston in your WR corps. But it's going to be a few drafts before the Chiefs have that luxury.
The cheapest and quickest way to fix some of the problems is to adjust the offense to include a dynamic pass catcher into the offensive game plan. Wide receivers are so hit and miss and, at this point, we honestly need two more. The latest news from Camp Bowe doesn't help and makes it even more of a priority. Plus tight ends come cheaper and easier to find comparatively.
It's not pretty to live through. At the same time, dire statistics like this usually lead to quicker answers - the squeaky wheel gets the grease mentality. Let's hope we're able to confront the problems head-on this offseason with maximum resources and effort.