Andy Reid carries a great deal of blame for the Chiefs' loss to the 49ers on Sunday. Many words (some of them my own) have been spent discussing the issues with Reid's decisions on Sunday. Not going to Travis Kelce / DAT / Knile Davis enough, moving away from the run, not going for it on fourth down ... we've dissected and re-dissected the role Reid played in the loss more than enough at this point.
With all that discussion behind us, I need to add something as food for thought; Andy Reid coached a good enough game for the Chiefs to win on Sunday. He was let down on several critical plays by the guys on the field.
That doesn't mean Reid is completely off the hook. Had he made some better decisions, that game is won. But, as with all close games, it didn't come down to just one issue. And frankly, there are some players who haven't received their fair portion of blame, as almost the entirety of the fans' wrath has been reserved for Reid.
Alex Smith, Eric Fisher, and Dwayne Bowe each had a single play Sunday that, had any of them executed properly, could have helped change that "L" to a "W."
Today, I come not to bury Reid, but to exonerate him (well, kinda). One by one, we'll examine three plays that could have changed the course of the game. Three plays where Reid made the right call but had to stand by helplessly while his players failed to get the job done.
7:30 left in the 2nd Quarter. 2nd and 1
One of the several now-infamous "Reid should've run the ball" downs. Fans have spent the last few days just EVISCERATING Reid for not handing the ball off to All-Universe Everything Jamaal Charles. And on the surface, that seems fair. After all, if Reid had chosen to run the ball with Charles, odds are he gets the first down. Right? So by choosing instead to throw the ball, Reid screwed the team over. Right?
Here's the funny thing about playcalling; the results dictate the reaction. No matter how well-called a play is, if it ends up not working out for ANY reason whatsoever, fans decide it was a bad call. This play has been no exception, and fans have been extremely critical of the decision to pass.
Here's the thing, though; the play call WORKED. Andy Reid did his job on this play. It was elsewhere the fault lies.
The playcall had Dwayne Bowe run a stop-and-go route, with Smith pump-faking in the hopes of getting the corner to commit to a shorter throw. And it worked like a dream. Bowe got open, Smith recognized it and made the throw.
Two things then went wrong on this play, one of which resulted in a failed play and fans calling for Reid's head. The first thing that went wrong is the pass protection didn't hold up as well as it could have. Though Smith was able to release the throw, it appears that his arm was hit at the very end, preventing a complete follow-through. This resulted in the pass being a tad wobbly.
That wasn't what doomed the play though. The ball still made it to Bowe, though he had to adjust to it in the air. Here are two shots of the ball arriving.
I watched, re-watched, and re-re-re-re-re-re-re-re-watched that play. Different angles, different speeds, wearing different clothes, eating different types of food ... I changed things up a thousand times trying to figure out just how catchable that ball was.
Bowe had to adjust with the ball in the air, that much is certain. But his adjustment was ... well, it wasn't great. Instead of getting his hips turned and running under the ball, Bowe contorted his body (some contortion was inevitable, but it didn't need to be to the extent he did it) and tried to catch it over the opposite shoulder of the one he was looking over.
The ball hung in the air long enough for Bowe to attack it differently. But leaving that aside ... that's a ball that should be caught. If Bowe even flips his head the other way it's a significantly easier catch. But even WITH the poor adjustment, that's a ball that should be caught. Any time a ball falls that close to you, and you're a wide receiver in the NFL, you should catch it barring some kind of disaster (you know, like Bane collapsing the field with explosives. But even then...).
Reid is taking a ton of heat for this play call. But he did his job on this play and called a play that worked. Alex Smith did his job on the play and delivered a very catchable ball in the face of pressure. But Bowe didn't reel it in.
I don't want to talk about Bowe's contract, or expectations, or any of that stuff. My only point is on this play, it wasn't Andy Reid who let down the Chiefs. If Bowe makes that catch, the Chiefs go on to score at least a field goal, and the Niners no longer take the lead with their next drive. In fact, considering it took the Niners almost the entirety of the time they had left in the half to score, it's reasonable to believe they don't have time to complete a TD drive if the Chiefs hang on for another minute or two and then score.
This drive was a chance for the Chiefs to either keep firm control of the game or really start pounding nails in the coffin. They didn't do either, and it was an execution issue, not a playcalling one.
But I'm not saying the loss was all on Bowe. It wasn't. Let's go on to the next play.
:52 Left in the 3rd, Chiefs leading 17-16
For the record, I'm not going to talk about Alex Smith's last throw. He clearly had a better read to Jamaal Charles and clearly overthrew the pass. No debate there.
If you want a play that had just as much significance but isn't getting nearly the press, travel back to the 3rd quarter. The Chiefs are hanging onto a slim lead and looking to move the ball down the field. The defense had just stepped up and delivered a three-and-out, and the Chiefs have moved the ball to San Francisco's 36-yard-line, threatening to add to their lead.
Fans have focused on the fourth down decision to punt that ended this drive as a Reid mistake, and I agree. This was a place to go for it. That said, the previous play is another example of Reid and the coaching staff putting the players in a position to succeed, and the players falling short. Here's the play after the snap and a little under a second.
Demetrius Harris is circled and is headed across the field with a linebacker in coverage. Smith is moving right as part of the play design (one which I despise normally, by the way. Why cut off half the field?).
Because of the routes other players are running, Harris is going to be left alone with a single linebacker to outrun. The good news on a play that ended poorly? Harris displayed the speed we've all heard about by rapidly getting a ton of separation. Here's a good "before and after" view of the play that shows just how much separation Harris gets in roughly a second.
That, right there, is something opposing defensive coordinators are going to look at. Regardless of how the play ended, any DC has to look at that play and say "84 just ran away from that 'backer. He could be a problem if we're not careful." I'm personally always in favor of giving opposing coaches one more thing to think about. Again, there's your silver lining in a rough article.
Because of course the play DIDN'T end well. And that ending is no fault of Andy Reid or the coaching staff. The play call worked, Harris ended up in man coverage against a linebacker and easily gets separation. All that's left is for Smith to make the throw on the run. Really, the ball can be put almost anywhere in front for the sprinting Harris, as he's got nothing but daylight in front of him.
Smith puts the ball in just about the worst place he could have put it absent chucking it into the stands. Not only is it thrown behind Harris (who, remember, was sprinting to get separation and not in a great position to stop and twist), but it's thrown about knee-high. And that's being generous. Shin-high might be more descriptive.
I'm not saying this ball was impossible to catch, but it was an exponentially more difficult play to make than the one Bowe missed out on earlier in the game. What should have been a solid gain (it's easy to imagine Harris, with a full head of steam, getting to at least the 20-yard-line) and a first down instead becomes a punt (granted, a silly punt, but a punt nonetheless).
Once again, we have a situation where Reid dialed up a solid play, and one that worked. And again he was let down, this time by Alex Smith. That's a throw you HAVE to make as a quarterback. Yes, throwing on the run is difficult. But the margin of error for that pass was HUGE due to Harris's great separation.. Putting it almost anywhere other than where he did means a completion. You could tell from Smith's reaction that he knew it, too.
Those plays are ones you probably remember. But we've got one more to re-live
8:36 left in the 4th quarter, Chiefs losing 17-19
The Chiefs had just lost the lead on a field goal by the Niners and are facing a pretty "do or die" situation. Fans who are screaming that Reid didn't run the ball off seem to have forgotten this drive to an extent, because the very first thing Reid tries is a run up the middle to Jamaal Charles.
Unfortunately, that run is stuffed by Patrick Willis for no gain. Two plays later, the Chiefs punt. Blech.
When I initially watched that play I figured it was just a case of Willis being Willis. He's a stud linebacker, one of the few as good as Derrick Johnson (hang on, I need to wipe the tears off my keyboard). It's no surprise he made a big play here.
Upon re-watching, though, it WASN'T Willis being Willis that made this play fail. Instead, it was a failure on the part of a single Chief: Eric Fisher.
On a side note, I'm not here to kill Eric Fisher. He's been vastly improved this season, especially over the last several games. But that doesn't mean he gets a pass when it's his failure that tanks a play. And that's exactly what happened here.
Again, the Chiefs absolutely needed to get some points on this drive, and Reid opened with a run up the middle to Jamaal Charles. Here's the play right after the snap.
The Chiefs are going to run a counter left, with Anthony Sherman leading the way for Jamaal Charles. In case you didn't know, the Chiefs have had quite a bit of success running the ball behind Sherman this year, because he's about 5'2 and weighs about 250 pounds (all numbers approximate).
I've circled Fisher, who is in the really, really unfortunate position to be going up against ManBearPig Justin Smith. Fisher acquitted himself pretty well against Smith the majority of the game (when he was matched up against him), but that's not the case here.
Smith is known for his ogre-like strength, and because of that strength Fisher (based on the way he lunges at Smith) is expecting a power move from Smith. But Smith is more than just strong, he's crafty. And he's been setting Fisher up all day to do this...
Smith goes full finesse on Fisher, side-stepping him to the right with speed I'm not sure any of us knew he still had. Fisher is taken completely by surprise and whiffs on his punch completely.
In the second picture you can see Smith has used Fisher being off-balance to get a clear shot at Jamaal Charles, who (being led by Sherman) is heading for the exact spot on the field Smith is about to be occupying. Sherman, being an exceptional fullback, does what any exceptional fullback who is built like a powder keg would do. He takes him on.
Sherman throws himself into Smith and prevents him from blowing up the play (seriously, Sherman is ridiculous). In the meantime, the oft-criticized Mike McGlynn, who had sent the blitzing linebacker (57) flying past the line of scrimmage with an initial shove, has re-engaged the LB and prevented him from making any kind of play. Nice plays by both of them.
Of course, you can see the problem between the two circles in the second picture; Jamaal Charles is now face to face with a fully-squared-up Patrick Willis. There are some linebackers that Charles might be able to shake in that situation, but not Willis, who absolutely pastes JC to end the play.
If you look at the rest of the line, you see they've done their job and given Charles a chance to gain positive yardage. In fact, if Sherman doesn't have to veer off to prevent Smith from making a tackle behind the line of scrimmage, this play has a wildly different result. Look at the view from the sky.
In the circled area you have Charles and Willis about to collide. If Sherman doesn't have to take on Smith, you'd have an image of Sherman barreling into Willis with Charles emerging from behind him into a wide open space.
The floor on that run if Sherman gets ahold of Willis is 6-7 yards. The more likely result is enough for a first down. The ceiling? Well, it's Jamaal Charles. The ceiling is almost always "touchdown." But, of course, that's not what happened. Because Eric Fisher DID get beat at the line of scrimmage and Sherman DID have to take on Smith instead of the only linebacker capable of stopping a solid gain on the play.
Blocking Justin Smith is harder than pretty much anything I've ever had to do. I'm not saying Fisher is a terrible player, or anything like that. What I AM saying is that his failure to execute on this play directly resulted in the Chiefs being stopped on a play where they could have picked up good yardage and some momentum.
Andy Reid didn't miss that block. Andy Reid didn't make an extremely poor throw on 3rd down. And Andy Reid didn't fail to to haul in a very catchable deep ball. Every one of those plays was designed well enough to gain positive yards, and any one of them had the potential to help swing the game in favor of the Chiefs (especially the first two). Players didn't fulfill their end of the deal.
Does this mean Reid is completely off the hook? Of course not. As I talked about earlier this week, Reid made some CRUCIAL mistakes that may well have cost the Chiefs the game. My only point is that there's plenty of blame to go around, and Reid isn't the sole reason the Chiefs walked out of San Francisco with a loss.
Alex Smith and Dwayne Bowe, in particular, need to make plays like the ones above. When you're a franchise quarterback and franchise wide receiver (or at least getting paid like one), you HAVE to come through on such critical plays. You just have to. Are those expectations unfair? Maybe. But with great money comes great responsibility.
To end things on a silver lining (because moral victories, yo); the Chiefs made some crucial mistakes from a coaching standpoint. They also suffered execution issues on key plays. Finally, they had some bounces go against them and were on the receiving end of a few atrocious calls by the officials. Yet despite all that, they took a solid 49ers team down to the wire in their house.
Andy Reid definitely needs to do some thinking over the bye as to what kind of identity this team wants to have on offense. But the players aren't exempt from soul-searching either. Smith and Bowe need to be better in key moments if the Chiefs want to seriously contend for a playoff spot. And frankly, with the talent on this team there's no reason they shouldn't be able to do so.
Here's hoping for some bye week adjustments and a stomping of San Diego to follow.