A win is a win. I get that. But there was something that just didn't feel right about the Chiefs' win against Buffalo on Sunday. I responded to the win the same way I responded to the Chiefs backing into the playoffs several years ago under Herm Edwards: "I'm really excited that things worked out for us in the end, but I just don't feel like we deserved it." I get that Buffalo is a better team than their record indicates, but if the Chiefs play like they did on Sunday and Oakland plays like they did on Sunday, I don't think the Chiefs walk out of Oakland with a win.
What's disconcerting is that the Chiefs we saw on Sunday are not the Chiefs we saw the weeks prior. In some cases, it is what it is. Our receivers are who they are. Our pass rushers outside of Hali are who they are. But in most cases, we've seen that the Chiefs are capable of better. That's great news, because the Chiefs can get back on track just by doing the things they have been doing.
And to me, this is a statement game. The Chiefs have proven to the world they are legit, but they need to step up and beat an ascending team. The Chiefs are once again a dominant force at Arrowhead; now they need to prove they can win a tough road game. I believe that if the Chiefs get back on track, they have a very good chance at beating Oakland.
Reduce Stupid Mistakes
35, 30, 40, 38, 35, 37, 92 (37), 50. Those numbers represent the total penalty yards the Chiefs had per game (in order of games played). Note that I have 37 in parenthesis for the Jacksonville game, since 55 of those yards came off of questionable Pass Interference penalties. The Chiefs got rung up for 50 yards in penalties against Buffalo, which is uncharacteristic for them.
The Chiefs can't afford to make these kinds of mistakes. It's not like we're talking about a team that is oozing with talent. It looks like the Chiefs are going to win a lot of close games and their advantage is that they're going to win by playing really tough, mistake-free football and they're not going to hand their opponent any kind of advantage. The Chiefs nearly shot themselves in the foot several times. They ran into the punter after a key stop and got tagged with a Roughing the Passer call later in the game. Both of those plays occurred on 3rd/4th down and extended drives that shouldn't have been extended. You can do that against the Bills and the Jaguars. You can't do that against the Raiders or the Titans.
Third Down Efficiency
I've talked about this for several weeks straight and I'll continue to harp on it because, to me, this is absolutely critical for the Chiefs. For the Chiefs to win games, they have to be efficient on third down. The Chiefs' gameplan is built around draining time off the clock and winning the Time of Possession battle. They aren't a vertical team like the Saints or the Colts nor should they be.
When you're not attacking vertically, your strategy is to chip away at the field. You love those makeable third and shorts. I would venture to say that the Chiefs would rather move the ball 50 yards on 9 plays than move the ball 50 yards on 1 play. The casual fan will suggest that 50 yards is 50 yards. That's simply not true. A team like the Saints loves the former approach because they have the firepower to consistently score points. The latter approach eats up more clock, wears out the defense, and keeps the defense fresh.
Against Houston and Jacksonville, the Chiefs were over 50% in 3rd down efficiency. Against Buffalo, they were at 27%. A 27% 3rd down efficiency rate aien't going to get the job done against a better team. Considering the kind of football team the Chiefs are, that absolutely has to improve.
Better Punting and Special Team Coverage
Joel pointed out earlier in the week that Dustin Colquitt looked pretty good on Sunday. After looking at his stat line, I was actually surprised that he had pinned that many punts within the 20. However, he also had 2 touchbacks. Maybe you can chalk that up to the wind. I don't know. But Colquitt, to me, isn't having even close to the outstanding season he had last year. When you look at his season stat line, he has the highest touchback percentage he's ever had and in only 6 games, he's only one touchback away from matching last year's levels. All the while, his seasonal net punt average is at 37.4-he hasn't finished a season below a 40 net since his rookie year.
And maybe a part of that is due to lackluster play in the coverage unit. The signing of Mark Simoneau leads me to wonder if Todd Haley is unhappy with his Special Teams play. Colquitt stepped up with some very nice punts when it mattered most, but we need to see more of that. We can't afford to continually give the opposing team 5-10 yards of advantage on a given punt.
Risky Game Time Decisions
On this point, I prefer to defer to the experts, so I'm not going to say that it's a problem per se. Haley and Weis are risk-takers. Couple that with whipping winds and I can understand why they'd be hesitant to kick a long field goal. Call me conservative, but in a close game, I think you take the points if you have a field goal within 40 yards and if it's anything longer than 4th and 1. And while I understand the desire to mix things up on 3rd/4th and short, I also wonder if they're trying to be too cute at times in those situations.
I was excited to see Jackie Battle get the ball in these situations. Again, I like Haley's aggressiveness, so I don't want to say this is a problem. But I think there are more than a few people who wonder if the risks we took came close to costing the Chiefs the game on Sunday.
Now to inevitably open the can of worms. I really liked the progress we saw in Matt Cassel against Jacksonville and Houston. I thought he took a big step back on Sunday. It was great to see him piece together a brilliant Overtime drive to seal the game and I hope that's a momentum shifter for him. But prior to that drive, he's been shaky this season in the clutch. He had several opportunities in regulation and overtime to seal the game, but didn't. To me, the fundamental requirement in this system is that you make plays when you're asked to and you consistently convert on 3rd/4th downs. Big Ben and Brady operated in similar offenses very early in their careers. They were inconsistent at times, but when they needed a big play or a key 4th quarter drive, those guys were nails. Cassel's goal this week should be to focus on that third down efficiency and if asked to lead a late-game charge, to make some pretty big plays down the stretch.
Because here are a few things I'm sure of: 1) for the next few years, we're probably going to be involved with a lot of close games where one missed third down conversion or one failed 4th quarter drive could lose the game for us; 2) playoff teams like the Steelers and the Ravens are going to be a lot more difficult to move against in those situations; 3) a Quarterback can be "outclutched." Not only does our Quarterback need to step up in big situations; he also needs to step up even bigger than a clutch Quarterback on the opposite side of the fence. If we're squaring up against Big Ben in the playoffs and we're up by one score in the 4th quarter, we better be prepared to outduel Big Ben late in the game, because unlike Ryan Fitzpatrick, he's not going to squander opportunities.
So yeah, strange to say, but the Chiefs' best shot at beating Oakland is to move backward from the Bills game. They need to re-find that momentum they had going into the Bills game. I have no doubt that Todd Haley will get his team to do just that.