Through the first four games of 2016, the greatest concern for Chiefs fans fans (and, I assume, the guys calling the shots) has been the offense. It’s been uneven at best, putrid at worst. It’s been bad enough that many have (rightly) questioned whether this will be yet another year in which the offense drags the ceiling of the team down regardless of what the defense does.
One of the biggest problems the offense has had is a lack of an identity. What do the Chiefs want to do well, and does it match up with what they CAN do well? What is their strength that they use to beat opponents when their backs are against the wall. What is their go to play? Who are their go to players? In essence, who are they as an offense?
Well, hopefully, against Oakland Andy Reid finally (perhaps inadvertently) stumbled upon the answer.
The Chiefs are (or, at least, SHOULD be) a team that will run the ball well with multiple talented backs, make almost no mistakes, and take advantage of your defense just enough times cheating toward the run to prevent you from going full-on stack at the line of scrimmage.
That’s it. It’s really that simple. Look at the stat lines from this game...
23 passing attempts, 40 rushing attempts (you know old-school fans were fainting at this run/pass ratio)
11 first downs passing, 11 first downs rushing.
183 yards on the ground at 4.6 yards per rush (a stat that doesn’t quite demonstrate the efficiency of the running game, due to some late runs against stacked boxes).
A cold-blooded 19/22 for 224 yards from Alex Smith that included a few beauties, including this throw to Maclin (who seems to be getting his groove back).
When Alex Smith is hitting this kind of throw, the Chiefs' offense's ceiling raises about 300% pic.twitter.com/8bdzlTWRuA— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 17, 2016
A time of possession advantage of 36:45 to 23:15 (normally, TOP is a somewhat overrated stat in my opinion. But if you can dominate the time by a full quarter, that’s a good thing).
It’s time this got said out loud: Spencer Ware is one of the better running backs in the league. The guy is a hammer out there, constantly getting an extra 3-4 yards (or more) than other backs could get on a given play. Take, for example, Ware’s 40+ yard run in the 3rd quarter. Yes, the blocking was wonderful, but Ware got hit at the 15-yard-line and didn’t end up going down until ELEVEN YARDS LATER. You cannot coach or train that kind of strength and toughness. Ware also shows great vision, exceptional receiver skills, and just enough burst to get to the edge. He the complete package.
And then there’s Jamaal Charles. Yes, Charles didn’t play quite as much as I would’ve liked. But in those few snaps it looked like he hadn’t lost a step, or a half step, or a tenth of a step. The speed with which he gets to and past the line of scrimmage is still breathtaking.
Charles looks like Charles to me. Still gets vertical and is 5 yards past the LOS before you have time to say "someone missed their gap." pic.twitter.com/K7d0BNkthF— Seth Keysor (@RealMNchiefsfan) October 17, 2016
They seemed like they had Charles on a snap count against Oakland (either that or the third-world-level field conditions in Oakland made Reid and company nervous), and his yards per carry weren’t at his usual demigod status. But Charles looked like Charles.
(On a side note, I have never been happier to see a player back on the field than I was to see Charles play. My sons only became passionate about football this year, and I was terrified they would only have YouTube highlights to watch of Charles at his peak. I didn’t want them to miss seeing one of the most special players I’ve ever had the privilege of watching. It looks like they won’t, and I’m thrilled for them and every other Chiefs fan, as well as for Jamaal himself. So, so great seeing him back)
What that means is the Chiefs are in possession of a pair of running backs who would both start on the majority of teams in the league. It means they can run the ball 35-40 times in a game without worrying about wearing down anyone. And as if that weren’t enough, the Chiefs also have Charcandrick West, a very competent back, to spell additional plays and provide a threat to get to the edge.
Any offensive coordinator would kill to have the weapons the Chiefs possess at running back. Andy has got to figure out a way to make such a wildly talented group the focal point of the offense, rather than a quarterback who has shown himself to be capable of contributing but flawed.
Alex Smith has always been at his best when he’s asked to complement a running game that’s clicking. Any quarterback has an easier time in that situation, but Smith in particular seems to flourish. He was carving up Oakland’s zones and pushing the ball intermediate and deep just enough to give the Raiders pause. In general, he looked wildly different than the quarterback we’ve seen so far in 2016 (outside of the Chargers game). He was accurate, made quick decisions, and led a passing attack that was, as I said above, brutally efficient. I could be wrong, but it appeared that Smith was more vocal at the line of scrimmage than previous weeks as well.
Of course, one could easily say it was Oakland’s defense that made all this possible. The Raiders, despite multiple free agent signings and a clear focus on their defense this offseason, haven’t been able to slow down anyone so far this season. The offense will need to perform as well against a more high caliber defense if it wants to prove it can help the team compete down the stretch.
But for at least one game, Andy Reid seemed to recognize what most believe is painfully obvious on the surface: the Chiefs are a team built to run the ball extremely well, and build off that.
The Chiefs offensive line is better when they are running the ball. The Chiefs quarterback is better when they are running the ball. And the Chiefs have the most dynamic, multi-faceted, dangerous backfield in the NFL. They got back to basics (which, interestingly enough, was something Jeremy Maclin alluded to on Twitter days before the game), and by doing so pounded a division rival that was rolling.
Run the ball well, pass efficiently, play hard-nosed defense, make few mistakes, and capitalize on your opponents’ errors. The Chiefs can build a very, very, VERY good team around that basic game plan. Keep it simple, Andy. Run the ball, force teams to respect it, THEN make them pay through the air. Rinse, repeat. Rinse, repeat. Over and over again.
The Chiefs went into the mud and the rain in Oakland and found an offensive identity. Hopefully it sticks.