Kansas City Chiefs' Offense Needs to Learn How to Close Games

This is not a gut reaction to a loss. There are a lot of culprits for the Chiefs' loss to the Raiders. I hate it when I'm prophetic about things that go wrong, but let's look again at what killed the Chiefs against the Raiders: stupid penalties, inability to convert on third down, and horrible special teams play. 

But regardless of all the penalties, the Chiefs were in a position to seal the game in regulation and to piece together a game-winning drive in Overtime.The problem on Sunday is that they couldn't seal the deal on offense. When you look back at the season, this has actually been a recurring problem. In most games, they get away with it. But that's not going to happen for long and they can't expect to win big games consistently if that piece is missing.

Now, I get that the Chiefs' defense failed to stop the Raiders twice, but as I will highlight in this post, they were put in a bad situation because the Chiefs' offense didn't make plays when they had to. More after the jump.

As I've mentioned in previous posts, I'm okay with the Chiefs' direction to become run-focused. In fact, I'm excited about it. The Chiefs are going to win games by running the ball down the opponents' throat, inching their way down the field, and by keeping games close going into the 4th quarter where the offense can surgically attack a tired defense. In order to do that, you need two things from the offensive players:

  1. The player the Quarterback throws to has to make plays. You can't blame a Quarterback when a receiver drops a catchable pass
  2. The Quarterback needs to extend drives by making the makeable third down throws
  3. The Quarterback needs to be able to close out close games, and has to be able to "out-clutch" the most clutch QBs in the game (Big Ben, Brady, etc....)

To the first point, Dwayne Bowe has twice dropped a catchable ball at the worst possible moment. Against Indianapolis, he dropped a ball that would have swung the lead to the Chiefs and would have taken the Indy crowd completely out of the game. Against Oakland, he dropped a key third down pass that likely would have helped the Chiefs protect the lead. I know Bowe makes some big plays, but I can't help but ask myself: "is this a guy I trust to throw the ball to in the 4th quarter of a key playoff game?"

To the second point, while the Chiefs were 3 for 12 on third down efficiency, I wouldn't blame Cassel for that. The Chiefs' running game forced a lot of 3rd and longs and his receivers dropped a few makeable passes. But while this game is not on Cassel, many others were. The Cassel-led Chiefs have been wildly inconsistent on third downs and, to no surprise, their offense success seems to typically driven by their success at converting on this key down.

To the third point, if you look beyond the Oakland game, you have to be worried about Matt Cassel's ability to deliver in big situations. I thought he played a good game in Oakland and while he didn't make any big plays down the stretch, I don't think that was his fault. He closed the game in passable fashion. Not good, not bad. But we still haven't seen him consistently deliver when it matters the most. One of my favorite Quarterbacks of all-time was Joe Montana. "Joe Cool." Joe Montana had 31 fourth quarter comebacks in his career. He had 3 comebacks in Super Bowl games. No fourth quarter lead was ever safe when you played the 49ers and there was nothing more disconcerting for an opposing team than to put the ball in Joe Cool's hands with 2 minutes left to go. Big Ben is the same way, as is Tom Brady. I'm always bothered when analysts say that game managers are Quarterbacks who "play not to lose the game." Absolutely untrue. The game manager's job is to make plays when they matter. That means they have to be nails on 3rd down and in the 4th quarter/Overtime. I am not sold yet that Cassel is a guy who can do that.

Let's break down Cassel's history in close games this season (leaving out San Francisco and Jacksonville, since neither were close games):

  • San Diego: Cassel goes 1-1 for 4 yards to protect a 7-point lead (blame that on the running game).
  • Cleveland: Cassel goes 0-2 with 6 minutes left to protect a 2-point lead.
  • Indianapolis: with the Chiefs behind 3 with 14 minutes in the 4th quarter, Cassel goes 1-4 for 5 yards. With the Chiefs down 10, he goes 5-8 for 54 yards in a desperation drive that winds up in a field goal.
  • Houston: He goes 1-2 for 4 yards with the Chiefs up 3 with 3:30 left. The Chiefs punt and give up the go-ahead touchdown.
  • Buffalo, Cassel goes 1-2 for 7 yards with the game tied in regulation, which leads to a punt. In Overtime, he goes 0-1 with 5 yards rushing on the first drive, 1-1 for 16 yards in the second drive, and 3-3 for 45 yards in the game-winning drive. 
  • Oakland: Cassel goes 0-1 with a 3-point lead in regulation, though that could easily be blamed on Bowe. In Overtime, he goes 1-2 for 1 yard.

This season, Cassel has had two shining moments in the clutch: late in Overtime against Buffalo and late in the game against Indianapolis, in a game that was practically out-of-reach at that point. In both cases, you could argue it was too little too late. But compile all these stats together (by the way, I have excluded drives where Cassel only had 30 seconds to operate, in fairness to him), and here's the ugly picture.

  • When the Chiefs are in "protect mode" (protecting a lead of 7 points or less on the "final possession" of regulation), Cassel is 2-6 for 8 yards. And yes, several of those were clear misses.
  • When the Chiefs are either tied or behind one score (again, with a lead of 7 points or less in the "final possession), Matt Cassel is 6-9 for 74 yards + 5 yards rushing. If you exclude the final drive against the Bills, he's 3-6 for 24 yards with 5 yards rushing.

Long story short, Cassel has been put in a ton of situations this season where he was asked to make plays in key situations. And based on those results above, he has delivered at a below average rate. He's been very fortunate that in most cases, the defense bailed him out. We should expect more from the Quarterback.

As of right now,  you have to be very concerned about the offense's ability to win the close ones against tough teams if Matt Cassel doesn't become more effective in tough situations.

Let me paint the scenario for you: the Chiefs are down by 3 points with 2 minutes to go in the playoffs. It's 4th down and 3. Dwayne Bowe is open 10 yards down the field. Will Cassel see Bowe open? Will he deliver a good enough pass for Bowe to bring the ball in? And will Bowe secure the catch and extend the drive? I think you'd have to be really drinking the kool-aid if that situation feels comfortable to you based on what we have seen.

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