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Film room: Kansas City Chiefs play calling in the red zone

The Chiefs almost pulled off an upset over the Broncos. If Andy Reid called a better game in the red zone, they would have.

Doug Pensinger

The Kansas City Chiefs controlled the ball for over 36 minutes in Week 2 against the Denver Broncos. Kansas City also converted 11-of-16 on third down and did not turn the ball over. The Chiefs rushed for 133 yards and Alex Smith threw for more yardage than Peyton Manning. The underdogs also committed fewer penalties and outgained the Broncos 380-325 in total yard, yet lost, 24-17.

How can a team lose when so much goes right in the box score? Simple, the box score fails to show missed opportunities, chances that should have been cashed in with relative ease. The Chiefs had two trips into the red zone that yielded a total of zero points, turning what would have been a crucial victory into another loss in a long line of heartbreaks in the Heartland.

Entering the third quarter, Kansas City trailed Denver 21-10 before embarking on a 19-play, 61-yard drive that culminated in a missed 37-yard field goal by Cairo Santos. The easy thing to do is blame Santos for costing the Chiefs and not making it a one-score game. While that is true, he never should have come onto the field in the first place.

After an illegal contact penalty was called on Chris Harris, Kansas City had 1st and Goal from the Broncos' 4-yard line. Keep in mind that this drive had already churned up 8 minutes and 53 seconds, along with 76 yards. Now consider the game is being played in high altitude, and run-stuffing defensive linemen weigh more than 300 pounds.

In fairness, the Chiefs had called six runs on the drive leading to this point and netted three yards. However, Kansas City had punched in a touchdown in the second quarter courtesy of a Knile Davis 2-yard run off the left side.

With all these factors, we go to the tape.

1st and Goal from the DEN 4


The Chiefs are in a two-tight end set with Anthony Fasano tight left and Travis Kelce tight right. Anthony Sherman is lined up behind Fasano, with Junior Hemingway split right and Knile Davis in the backfield. It's a classic run formation, but Reid decided to throw.


From the start, this play is in trouble. Zach Fulton is beaten quickly by his man, limiting Alex Smith's vision and the time for receivers to get open. Kelce and Hemingway are within six inches of each other, allowing the Broncos to cover both with a bracket.

My main issue with this play is the rollout. Why would you cut off two-thirds of the field when you are already dealing with such a small space to work? The Broncos defense is mediocre. Spread them out and force them to cover the entire width of the field.


Kelce breaks open in the back of the end zone, but it's much too late. Smith is getting drilled at the 15-yard line thanks to Fulton getting handled on the move. Nobody else opened up quickly, so Smith made the correct play and threw the ball away.

2nd and Goal from the DEN 4


Here we see a two-tight end set once again, this time with Kelce playing slightly behind the line next to Ryan Harris. Fasano is in a three-point stance to Kelce's right, with Avery split left ad Bowe right. Davis is straight away in the backfield.


Once again, Reid opts to pass. This play was not designed to be another rollout, but that is exactly what it becomes. Why? Kelce whiffs, BIG TIME, on his block. See Davis? Look right in front of him at the guy bent at the waist, looking to the ground. Kelce is beaten without any resistance, forcing Smith to run for his life.


Look at the bottom of the "O" in Broncos. Bowe is wide open, having slipped out through the offensive line. The design was beautiful, and if Kelce even touches his guy it is an easy score. Instead, Bowe and Avery (look at how open he is, above the "B") are rendered useless. Smith could have thrown to Fasano here, but it needs to be perfect, on the run, with a defender in his face.

Zach Fulton effectively ends the drive on the play, being called for holding. To be honest, I can't see the hold, but I'll defer to the men in stripes.


Now, let's move ahead to the final minutes. Kansas City is trailing 24-17 and standing at the Broncos' 2-yard line and faces 3rd and Goal. To the tape:

3rd and Goal from the DEN 2



Above are two angles of this play before it begins. In the first shot, you can see the Chiefs are trying to spread the Broncos out with trips left (the third receiver was cut off). In the second photo, you see eight Broncos in the box against six blockers. Seems like this isn't going to cut it.

My problem here is simple. Where the hell is Anthony Sherman? The guy is the best fullback in football and blocks like a bulldozer. Instead, Davis has no lead blocker and has two more defenders than blockers ahead of him, in a confined space. Also, where is Kelce? Yes, he whiffed badly on a block earlier, but he can block normally and his presence creates indecision for the defense. Why not line up with Smith under center, Sherman in the backfield and Kelce in tight?

Sometimes, there is no adequate replacement for good, hard-nosed football. If you can't gain six feet in two tries with a line that was playing great, the best fullback in football, a big, fast back and two tight ends who can block, you don't deserve to win.


On the handoff, it appears Davis has a clear lane. Frankly, if this is Jamaal Charles, it is a tie game. Unfortunately, Davis doesn't see the hole quick enough and DeMarcus Ware is crashing down the line anyway. When you watch the play in real time, Davis would have needed to make a phenomenal run to score here.

The other problem is Fulton, who is just flat destroyed. This will cause Rodney Hudson to get hit from the side and lose his balance, collapsing the integrity of the lane we see.


As you can see, Ware has come down the line to engulf Davis. Fulton is laying on the ground, learning what the NFL is like as a rookie.Hudson, luckily not injured on the play, has lost all of his strength after being run into from his left. The play results in no gain, and brings up 4th and Goal from the DEN 2.


We all know the rest, Reid runs another quick pass with little success. Terrance Knighton tipped the pass and it fell incompete. Smith had nobody open on the play anyway and likely would have simply forced a throw into coverage.

My take is once again, where is Sherman on these plays? A good coach takes advantage of his personnel, and Reid has a huge advantage with Sherman on the field Can you imagine Dick Vermeil not having Tony Richardson on the field in short yardage? It's a simple failure by Reid, who has been bad the first two games of this season.

I believe Reid is a good coach, because seven NFC East titles and a Super Bowl appearance don't happen by accident. People have bad days and make bad decisions, even the best of them. Still, Reid needs to step up going into Sunday's tilt with the Miami Dolphins.

It is supposed to rain in Miami during the game. With a grass field and a slick ball, Reid should be running the ball with authority. The easiest way to win a football game is to impose your will. The Chiefs have the tools to do that, even without Charles.

This Sunday is a must-win for Kansas City. Reid needs to be on top of his game.

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