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What killed the Kansas City Chiefs drives?

Brace Hemmelgarn-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs have a bad offense.

Like, a really bad offense. One that was bad enough that I was somewhat embarrassed Sunday among the horde of Vikings fans (only not too much, given they did the freaking wave WHILE Jeremy Maclin was on the ground injured. Sheesh). After the game the primary focus of Chiefs fans was how inept the offense looked much of the day.

Even when the Chiefs moved the ball between the 20s, they were unable to come away with any points. And let's face it, even moving the ball between the 20s was a chore.

So what's the problem? The popular answer is Alex Smith (and if you check my Twitter timeline immediately following the game, I was none too thrilled with him). The other popular answer (there are lots of them when an offense is THIS bad) is Andy Reid's play calling. Finally, a lot of fingers are being pointed at the offensive line.

Naturally, I couldn't trust any of my opinions following a live viewing of a game. Without being able to watch replays or view things without the distraction of screaming Vikings fans who don't know how to yell "first down" when prompted (seriously, how hard is it to yell "first down" when the announcer prompts you? Real hard, apparently. Yes, I'm bitter), there's no way I could adequately figure out what was torpedoing the Chiefs drives.

And so to the All-22 film we go. I looked at all 11 of the Chiefs drives, focusing specifically on the end of the drives to try and discern what went wrong.

Let me give you a clear warning; this is by no means exhaustive as to what's wrong with the offense. It won't cover missed opportunities earlier in drives. It covers only last few plays. Also, some of you aren't going to like what I found. I don't know what to tell you other than "tape don't lie." I saw what I saw. Finally ... this is ugly, guys. Real ugly. But fanhood isn't for the faint of heart. Let's do this.

First Drive

This drive was probably the most pathetic of the day by the Chiefs (yay for being the best at something!). I mean crap, it started with this throw...

Sweet mother of all that is good and pure, Alex.

It's really not a surprise this drive went nowhere. I'm amazed the refs didn't make the Chiefs hand the ball over after that. Anyway, the next play the Chiefs ran a pretty similar play to Jeremy Maclin. Seeing as the Vikings had JUST seen a receiver screen, it was well defended and lost 2 yards. Maybe running nearly identical plays that rely on surprise back to back is a bad idea?

Final play of the drive is basically a heave toward Maclin (Smith threw outside as Maclin turned inside, a pretty clear miscommunication) as Grubbs gets beat and holds. Like I said, UGLY.

Second Drive

Here, the Chiefs moved the ball a little to get near midfield. Then the offensive line got zero movement on a 2nd and 2 to get Knile Davis stuffed. And on the next play this happened.

Smith killed the first drive by and large. The offensive line took care of the second one (between failing Davis on second and two and then doing The Matador Polka on 3rd down).

Are we having fun yet?

Third Drive

A pair of penalties put the Chiefs in the hole immediately. They managed to get to a "manageable" third and 10 (compared to, you know, third and 20). Hey, I bet this ends well. Let's get a look at the whole field as Smith plants his back foot on the third step of a three step drop.


Donald Stephenson gets beat immediately, and Smith is forced left. The defender actually beats Stephenson so cleanly that he's able to get a head of steam toward Smith and force him to turn and run rather than sliding his feet. Doesn't matter anyway, as he runs Smith down.

Smith had a pair of underneath options here (the superior one IMO shown by the arrow), but the pressure was instantaneous. As I said, this is as Smith plants his back foot in his drop. There's no time here to even survey the field.

Fourth Drive

This was another 3 and out. It didn't have to be that way, though. The Chiefs got to 3rd and 1 and had a shot at, you know, at least pretending to move the ball. Unfortunately, Mitch Morse (who has done a really solid job for the most part) decided it was his turn to join the party.


Morse badly whiffs his block, giving the defender a free shot at Davis, a runner not exactly renowned for escaping free shots in the backfield. It's a shame, too, because the rest of the line (for a change) had done its job and Davis was going to get a solid gain out of this if Morse could seal off his man.

There's something of a pattern here, guys. Also, I'm gonna take this moment to note that Andy Reid's play calling has only once been a main problem on a drive. It's been all execution issues. Yeah, I know, I was surprised too.

Fifth Drive

The Chiefs were moving the ball here to end the first half. They were in Viking territory with a couple of timeouts and a minute left in the half when this happened.

I like Chris Conley's potential, and he's shown the ability to create consistent separation at the pro level. That's wonderful for him. But he's got to lock up his hands if he's going to contribute anything to the offense. The fact that they targeted him as much as they did Sunday drove me to distraction (especially with Maclin consistently in man coverage without any special help from the safeties).

Of all the failed execution that had occurred in the 1st half, this one hurt the most. The Chiefs are in field goal range with this completion alone and could have maybe done more than that. Points were almost certainly lost with this drop. And when you struggle on offense the way the Chiefs do, you cannot afford to lose points.

Sixth Drive

The Chiefs were again moving the ball on this drive. And again, they shot themselves in the foot with execution issues. The last two plays of the drive were just ... so Chiefs.

First, on second and seven from the Minnesota 46-yard-line Conley again makes us wonder why he's being targeted so much, dropping this pass.


Now, Conley had a safety closing in and took a shot. BUT... it wasn't too terrible a hit due to Smith putting the ball in a decent place (on his body rather than leading him). He took a hit, but not the kind of hit that should jar the ball loose from an NFL wide receiver. The Chiefs are within spitting distance of field goal territory with a fresh set of downs if Conley makes this catch.

Of course, the drive didn't end there. The Chiefs had third and seven still, and chose to call ... a stop-and-go to Chris Conley. Um, OK then. I guess I can respect the aggressive nature of the call? The problem is that the corner doesn't bite at all on the route and so stays in front of Conley the whole time. So Smith ends up forcing a deep ball (which is overthrown, as he basically just lays it up there) to a well-covered receiver when, well...


I'm not someone to say "well, Player X was open and the quarterback never even looked at him!" very often. The simple fact is that open wide receivers get missed when they're the second or third or fourth read. That's just the nature of the beast. If the QB sees an option he likes with the first read, he's never going to look at the third read.

The problem here is that the first read (Conley) isn't open. Smith isn't under heavy pressure. The smart move here is to move down the progressions or look to the checkdown guy. Hey, look, it's a wide open Charcandrick West with nary a defender in sight!

Yes, you're reading this correctly. Smith made the mistake of making a too-aggressive throw to a covered receiver when checking down was the right call. No, I never imagined typing those words in that order.

Long story short, execution kills them again. We having fun yet?

Seventh Drive

The Chiefs AGAIN move the ball, this time all the way to the red zone. They end up in a third and one at the Minnesota 7-yard line. It's then they decide a run to Anthony Sherman out of this formation is a good idea.


Look, I like Anthony Sherman as much as the next guy. But you set him up for failure by putting everyone at the line of scrimmage. Now, the Vikings can jam all 11 defenders into the box. Also, you've got Jeremy Maclin lined up as essentially a tight end. Does no one else see the problem with this?

Additionally, at what point has the offensive line shown it can overpower any defense expecting the run? Maybe Chicago? For, like, one drive? The results are predictable, as the Vikings are able to chuck 8 guys at the line of scrimmage immediately at the snap and stop Sherman for no gain.

The very next play is the controversial West "tackle." I've re-watched a million times and still couldn't tell you with absolute certainty whether he was down. What I CAN tell you is that he never should have been hit in the backfield in the first place.

Either Stephenson or Harris messed up badly here. Really, both of them did. It's their job to communicate with each other and be clear on assignments. Instead of doing that, both seemed to hone in on the linebacker. That's a player and coaching failure at such a basic level, and mistakes like that are happening way too much.

Eighth Drive

ANOTHER drive that stalls (seriously, they moved the ball a ton in the second half. Just had squat to show for it), though the Chiefs at least get a field goal on this drive.

The final play of this drive really demonstrates the lack of flexibility in the offense (at least in my opinion). About five full seconds before the ball is snapped, the Vikings have their safeties roll back DEEP in coverage.


I circled to highlight all that real estate available in the middle of the field. The Vikings were also blitzing here, leaving every defender in man coverage with the safeties way too far back to affect any throw within 15 yards of the line of scrimmage.

Did the Chiefs audible at all? Change thing sup to take advantage of the mismatches? Mess with the routes to put multiple guys in the middle of the field in their 1-on-1 matchups?

Nope. Only Kelce ran a route over the middle of the field, a seam route straight at the safety. I can't even. I understand football is complicated and you've got various plays drawn up, but when the defense gives you THAT kind of space you need to have audibles available to change receivers' routes. They didn't do so, and the play resulted in nada (Stephenson is beaten quickly and no one gets very good separation. Incomplete pass to Avant).

Ninth Drive

I ain't mad about no touchdown.

10th Drive

Ah, the fumble. Also known as the moment I sat down and laughed hysterically as the Vikings fans around me stared and wondered if they should call security.

First and foremost, what a waste of the best throw of the day. Smith absolutely stuck that one. I should have known it was too good to last more than a minute (kinda like after the deep pass to Maclin. You just knew something bad would follow).

A quick note on that fumble. It's bad enough that Stephenson ran into West, causing the fumble. That happens as an offensive lineman. West made a quick cut and Stephenson had nowhere to go. He was just trying to get to his defender. That said, the travesty of this play was how quickly Stephenson got beat by his man. The play itself had potential to go somewhere if he even slows his man down.


See that red arrow West is supposed to use as a guide? Well, there happens to be a gentleman in purple standing right in the middle of it. That's less than ideal.

Stephenson blew up multiple plays Sunday on his own. This was one of them. And of course, because Chiefs, it was fumbled and we all vomited in our mouths a little.

Here, before we go to the final drive, watch this throw and enjoy a play in which Smith appeared to audible into a deep ball to Maclin, then dropped it between the corner and the safety (just a hair underthrown, but still well-placed to avoid Harrison Smith). He even threw it well before Maclin had gained separation! Take it in. Enjoy the nice moment. Because it's about to get bad for Alex. Like, real bad.

11th Drive

Smith did multiple bad things on this drive. First, he completely misses the fact that West's defender blitzes and leaves him tons of open space in the flat. Instead, he locks onto a well-covered Travis Kelce (well-covered by both the defender and the official, turns out).


Again, sometimes open players are going to get missed. But this is a pre-snap and post-snap read issue. Smith needs to see that the blitz is coming and be able to deduce that West is going to have tons of room. The safety is watching West, but a quick throw gives him tons of space to work with and a great likelihood of getting out of bounds to stop the clock.

Kelce had neither of those things going for him on his route. Poor read.

The next play Smith had a bad throw to Avant (who stumbled out of his break, but still). Not much to say other than "he made a bad throw."

And then there were the final two plays. Albert Wilson (who, in one writer's opinion, earned his starting spot back Sunday) got separation two plays in a row on identical routes.



On both plays, Wilson has separation. On both plays, there's room to lead him to the outside. And on both plays, Smith throws the ball about a yard (or two) short of where it needed to be placed.

The second ball was catchable (with a great catch), while the first one wasn't barring a miracle. But missing both of those throws is just unacceptable. Smith had his shot to be a hero, and he underthrew it.

In a fun twist, on both snaps Smith did a great job moving around the pocket, evading pressure, and keeping his eyes up the field. You know, the things we've been screaming for all year. Of course he did. Because it wouldn't be the Chiefs if they didn't get as close to possible as doing something positive before everything falls to pieces.

So there you have it. All the ugliness. What can we really take away from this? Well, the offense is a mess. Basically, the offensive line torpedoes multiple plays a game. And when they don't, Smith seems to pick that particular time to do something that infuriates us. And when neither of THOSE things happen, we get guys dropping passes or the coaches make a head-scratching decision.

Overall, the biggest problem throughout the game was the offensive line. However, the biggest culprit on the most important drive of the game was Alex Smith.

So for those of you looking for someone to blame and came here asking "was it Alex Smith or was it the line," the answer, unfortunately, is "yes." It's Alex Smith, or the line, or the receivers. And I'm not sure if there's change coming any time soon. Buckle up.

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