The five-year span with quarterback Alex Smith at the helm seems like so long ago.
Do you remember what it was like when the Kansas City Chiefs putting up 24 points was a good game? Or when the offense had to depend on head coach Andy Reid to scheme open big plays? What about when the ball would be forced to an insignificant player rather than one of the stars? Or when Reid would trust a defense to get a stop in the fourth quarter?
If you do, then you probably got Deja vu from watching the past two Chiefs games — and you weren’t the only one.
The team is 4-2 after losing consecutive home games and fans have gone into full panic mode. Going into Week 6, fan confidence was unsurprisingly down — but the shock was in just how far it dropped.
#Chiefs fans confidence went from 94% to 55% following the loss to the Colts.#FanPulse pic.twitter.com/BOlxYTt3He— Arrowhead Pride (@ArrowheadPride) October 10, 2019
This loss of confidence is an over-exaggeration of the 2019 Chiefs performance — but a natural reaction for the common Chiefs fan. They have seen this story before. A hot team with rising expectations exposing their vulnerabilities in ugly losses:
- In 2013, the team started 9-0. That was followed by three consecutive losses that were highlighted by bad defense.
- In 2014, a 7-3 record turned into 7-6 quickly — and then elimination from playoff contention.
- In 2016, two awful late-season home games were lost 19-17 against non-playoff teams. They ran the ball at will against the Chiefs.
- In 2017, a 5-0 start was great — but they proceeded to drop six of the next seven games with embarrassing offensive output.
All of those weaknesses became the reason why the team failed in the corresponding postseason. While those are the broad comparisons to the past Chiefs seasons, the similarities to the current squad get more specific. I pointed out aspects of the past two games that mirror some of the ugly traits Chiefs fans grew tired of from the era before Mahomes:
Reliance on opening play-calling script
Reid is well-known for the 10-to-15-play script he produces to start out a particular game.
Before Mahomes, the Chiefs offense heavily relied on this opening script. The formula for a win was getting out to an early lead, coasting the rest of the game without much urgency to score and hoping the defense could hold. With the change at quarterback, the offense has been able to create outside of that script due to pure talent.
In the past two games, the opening drives have featured some of the only points scored in those contests. Five of the seven Chiefs scoring drives have come in the first quarter. The other two drives were a fourth-quarter desperation drive that ended in a meaningless field goal during the Colts game — and the first drive of the second half against the Texans, which could be the result of a play script produced at halftime.
The health of the offense as a whole is obviously a contributing factor — and Reid is a great game-planner — but the offense will have to eventually get back to scoring consistently and more spontaneously outside of Reid’s premeditated play-calling.
Chiefs fans heard this term over and over during former defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s time in Kansas City. The acquisition of current defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo was supposed to reverse that trend with more aggression and more risky decisions to create big defensive plays and turnovers.
The transition in staff and personnel has not changed the result on the field yet.
The run defense has been the scapegoat for the last three postseason exits for the Chiefs — and it may be even worse than it was before.
The #Chiefs are the first team to allow 180+ rushing yards in 4-straight games since the 2012 Bills.— Brandon Kiley (@BKSportsTalk) October 14, 2019
They’re just the 2nd team to do so in the last decade, and the 4th team to do so in the last 30 years. pic.twitter.com/hG3Mr187cv
While time of possession should not be blamed solely on the defense, it is a stat that signifies how efficiently one team was able to move the ball. The Chiefs have been blown out of the time-of-possession battle in their last three losses — including the AFC championship game.
The “bend-don’t-break defense” allows opponents to gain yards, and then the defense will tighten up in the red zone. The Chiefs defense has done that well this year — but that cannot happen every drive. There have to be some quick three-and-outs — and they have not gotten them this season.
Here are the teams that have forced the highest 3 & OUT % so far this season. #GoNiners #GoBills #GoPats #Titans #FlyEaglesFly #Browns #KeepPounding #GoPackGo #Bears100 #BroncosCountry #LARams #HereWeGo #Seahawks @gregcosell | @MattBowen41 pic.twitter.com/BCO26kei48— NFL Matchup on ESPN (@NFLMatchup) October 14, 2019
This method of losing is eerily similar to the playoff losses against the Pittsburgh Steelers and the Tennessee Titans. Alex Smith and those offenses were not able to capitalize on the minimal opportunities they had — and unfortunately, the current offensive unit for the Chiefs has not been able to either lately.
While the defense shares the injury excuse with the offense, they are playing terribly. If they cannot tighten up against the run and get off the field, they could once again be a scapegoat for another disappointing postseason loss.
Questionable coaching decisions
There have been some maddening play-calls these past two weeks. Reid has always had a tendency to try and catch the defense off guard by getting the ball to a seldom-used player. The strategy starts to make less sense when you gather the talent the Chiefs have — but Reid would continue to manufacture plays for receiver Albert Wilson, backup tight end Demetrius Harris and even offensive lineman Cam Erving that one time.
The Chiefs tried to throw a pass to Cam Erving. pic.twitter.com/TjuHV4Vpny— SB Nation GIF (@SBNationGIF) December 3, 2017
In Week 6, Reid decided to involve special teamer De’Anthony Thomas in a specific package. Those eight plays were probably eight too many — including a drop on a swing pass toward the end of the game.
Reid has always had the occasional head-scratching play-call — but two of his worst may have been in the past two weeks. On second-and-30 late in the fourth quarter against the Colts, the Chiefs handed it off for two yards. Against the Texans, the Chiefs decided that second-and-14 on their last drive would be a good time to hand it off and get one yard. In fact, the Chiefs ran the ball on five second downs with 10 or more yards to go in the past two games — and earned nine total yards from those attempts.
Adding to that, Reid’s last meaningful offensive plays in each game were questionable. In Week 5, he decided to turn to a power run play with a backup lineman pulling on fourth down instead of putting the ball in Mahomes’ hands with the game on the line. Then, against the Texans, he went ahead and punted the ball away when down a touchdown with five minutes left. Yes — it was fourth-and-13 and they were backed up on their own 22-yard line — but can you really trust the defense to get you the ball back?
The criticisms Reid has faced his entire career have been on full display in the last two games.
These losses have been more painful to experience because fans thought the team was past some of these flaws. They were promised a better defense and an unstoppable offense, and Reid should be able to trust his quarterback. These weaknesses being brought back to light can be a buzzkill for a season with such high expectations.
Don’t let these two meaningless October regular-season games kill your vibe, though. This team is different from the teams of the Alex Smith era. An MVP quarterback improves everything — and he just needs to get 100% healthy. The rest of the team needs to join him. The defense seemed to be getting better until the injuries — so hopefully that gets taken care of sooner rather than later.
All of the aforementioned losing streaks of past Chiefs teams happened toward the end of the season. If this is this team’s skid, it’s better that it happens now rather than during the playoff push in December. Once this squad gets everyone back and shows the league the complete version of the 2019 Chiefs, the fans will be riding high once again and ready to cheer on a Super Bowl team.
I know it’s starting to feel like the same old story — but don’t close the book. Keep reading. The plot and all of its twists are just leading up to an epic final chapter.