The bye week is coming at a good time for a Chiefs team that needs to regroup and reset for a playoff run. The defense has struggled to find an identity all season, and the offense seems to have come back to earth after a fast start. The Cowboys controlled last week’s game and ground out a win against a helpless Chiefs team. Let’s see how Andy Reid’s guys respond, coming out of the bye week.
The Chiefs run defense: Chiefs DC Bob Sutton made a couple of personnel changes in the last couple of weeks, and as noted by the broadcast team, stuck with the base 3-4 defense more in this game. While they weren’t dominant, they were much better against the run, especially considering the opponent. Dallas has arguably the best OL and RB combination in the league. Keeping Elliott under 100 yards, and under 3.5 YPC was a small victory for a team that’s been near the bottom of the league defending the run.
Kevin Pierre-Louis: KPL led the Chiefs in tackles this week and was a big factor in the improved performance defending against the run. He had a tackle for loss and a couple of other run stops. Seeing any Chiefs ILB attack the line of scrimmage and filling the right gaps is a welcome sight at this point. Hopefully, KPL keeps getting opportunities and continues to be productive. It looks like he can help.
The ‘Hill Mary’: Why haven’t they tried this before? I was surprised to see the Chiefs even attempt to score with time running out at the half. I thought they’d run a draw or screen and go into the locker room. But this play was amazing. As Romo said, we’ve never seen anything like it before. Anytime you can get Hill deep down the field with blockers, you have a great shot to score. Let’s hope Andy Reid and Alex Smith can find more ways to do that going forward.
Demarcus Robinson the blocker: Speaking of the Hill Mary, Robinson made that play work by taking on two guys inside the 10 yard line. Robinson isn’t seeing a ton of passing targets, though he’s converting most of them when he does. But, Robinson appears to be a pretty good blocker (not just on this play, but throughout games) and he’s on the field for nearly every snap now. Conley and Wilson are valuable (when healthy) primarily because they can block and secondarily because they can pick up some yards when called upon. Now that it’s Robinson’s role, he’s contributing.
Others trending in the right direction: Travis Kelce, Reggie Ragland, Mitch Morse, De’Anthony Thomas
The Chiefs offensive line: They are healthier than they’ve been all season, but they did not get the job done against Dallas. Kareem Hunt hasn’t had room to run for at least three weeks now, and Alex Smith was uncomfortable all day. The hope is that their issues are fixable, and will improve as this unit gets more time on the field together. They’ve never been a strong power blocking group ... but they should be able to pass protect, zone block and get to the second level. Hunt shouldn’t be getting hit in the backfield or running into walls of defenders on every running play. This OL is too talented to be the reason the Chiefs struggle on offense.
Chiefs on third down: Chiefs were 4/11, Cowboys were 7/12. I suggested that whoever wins third downs could win the game. There were certainly other factors, but it’s pretty clear that Dallas was able to sustain drives by converting and the Chiefs weren’t able to stop them or sustain their own drives. Reid pointed at third downs as a factor in his post game comments. A couple of these plays go the other way, and the outcome is much different.
Andy Reid: The Chiefs are the better overall team. They’ve beaten better opponents than Dallas. Injuries aren’t an excuse, as several injured starters returned to the lineup in the last couple of weeks. It all comes down to coaching. The Chiefs weren’t ready to play, looked a little ‘flat’, and playcalling was predictable. Even the first couple of drives, where Reid famously ‘scripts’ plays, it appears Dallas had a copy of the script. Reid is quick to put the blame on himself after a loss, and say that they’ll get it fixed. We may not know for sure it’s “fixed” until the playoffs, given a relatively easy 2nd half schedule. But, for this week at least, Reid got outcoached.
The third down pass to Ross Travis: This might be the most symbolic play for Chiefs fans’ frustration. Big third down, momentum and game potentially on the line, and they force a difficult pass to the third TE. Whether it’s Harris or Travis, Reid and Smith seem to look for these guys way down the depth chart when it really matters. It feels pretty obvious to say we’d rather see them force it to Kelce or Hill than one of these other guys, unless someone is wide open. Get the ball in the hands of your best playmakers past the first down marker. Ross Travis is not that guy.
The Chiefs in the fourth quarter: When the Chiefs were winning, they owned the final quarter. Through the first six games, KC outscored opponents by more than a 2-1 margin (84-41) in the fourth quarter. In their last three, they’ve been shutout in the 4th quarter twice, and been outscored by a 23-9 margin. This is a big part of the dropoff in overall offensive production, and a clear reason they only have one win in the last four games. The difference between a good and a great Chiefs team might just be how they finish games.
Alex Smith: Still having a great season overall, but he’s not an MVP at this point. an MVP QB doesn’t throw an interception in the fourth quarter when his team desperately needs points to come back. Too many passes short of the first down marker, and too many shots missed. Smith looked uncomfortable all afternoon. This looked a bit more like Alex Smith 1.0. This loss, along with the others, is not entirely on the back of the QB, but Smith certainly wasn’t able to carry the team or right the ship when they struggled.
The Chiefs pass rush: Frank Zombo got turned around by Tyron Smith and Prescott was in his arms for a sack. Allen Bailey whiffed on Prescott, and he turned into a 10 yard touchdown on third and goal from the 10. That’s about it for the pass rush this week. Unless you have an elite secondary, you’d better get pressure on the QB every week. The Chiefs secondary has struggled, and the pass rush isn’t helping matters. Bye week homework for Mr. Sutton: figure out how to manufacture some pressure. The entire defense will continue to struggle until they can get to the QB.
Others trending in the wrong direction: DJ, Dan Sorensen, Kenneth Acker, Eric Murray, Demetrius Harris
Kareem Hunt: I don’t blame Hunt for his stats being down the last couple of weeks. He’s still running hard, but there isn’t anything there. Teams are keying in on him, and he’s being met by multiple defenders before he can get into space. He’s not getting the ball enough when he’s productive, either. They have to find the right balance, and use play action to make teams pay for keying on Hunt. Kareem will bounce back.
Chiefs Fans: I don’t blame fans for being frustrated with this team. It’s demoralizing to see them go through struggles that appear to point at another season that ends in disappointment in the playoffs. We’re a loyal group, but one that’s been burned before. Some will remain optimistic, and believe the team will get back on track. Others will complain and be furious that their team can’t get over the hump. Both are valid opinions, which is why we are all here.
Others who are who we thought they were: Anthony Sherman, Chris Jones, RNR, Allen Bailey