Chiefs’ conservative offense won’t get job done

PFF's Neil Hornsby explains why the Chiefs can't expect success against quality teams when employing a dink-and-dunk offense.

| 1 year ago
(AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

(AP Photo/Mike Roemer)

Chiefs’ conservative offense won’t get job done


If you went to bed with the score at 31-7, Packers lead, late in the third quarter, having watched the Chiefs amass a truly pathetic 91 yards up until that point, you likely woke up wondering what in the world happened in the fourth quarter last night to get to 38-28.

Okay, so the Chiefs still lost by 10 points, but somehow they managed to grab another 235 yards and three touchdowns. Alex Smith had nearly 300 yards and an almost-respectable QB rating of over 80. More shocking was the fact that one of those touchdowns was to WR Jeremy Maclin (first touchdown pass caught by a Kansas City wide receiver since the 2013 season).

So, what happened?

Unfortunately, the bane of most people’s existence (unless you play fantasy football, that is) occurred: garbage time. It’s like watching preseason football—knowing nothing really matters—but worse, still having things entered into the record books as fact.

At PFF, for our NFL customers, we have a number of specialty products; one such product is a button labeled “remove garbage time.” It is used quite often among our clients.

It was fun having the Chiefs “no touchdowns to wide receivers record,” but now it’s gone. Not broken—as records should be—but stolen away in the night, like a burglar, taking your kids toys.

Play it that way if you wish, but anyone actually watching the first 38 minutes of the game knows just how bad this was for KC. They understand the full ineptitude of the two minutes before halftime—56 seconds, two timeouts, and then: trap, trap, shallow cross, trap, scramble rather than throwing a Hail Mary, half.

If this sounds like I’m vaguely mad at the Chiefs, you’re perception is correct. I completely understand the idea of not turning the ball over and playing things close to your chest, but this is the Packers you are playing; probably the greatest quarterback ever, on his home turf, and you think you are going to dink-and-dunk a win?

It’s not even as if Rodgers was at his very best. He had an interception dropped that could have easily been a pick-six, fumbled on a sack while being clumsy, and benefited from Randall Cobb taking full advantage of the Chiefs’ cornerback injuries.

And, yet, the Packers still they blew them away.

The real question here for Kansas City is: “Is the lack of offensive ambition a clear strategy, or a function of the personnel they have?”

Currently, Alex Smith throws the ball shorter than any regular starter in football (Brandon Weeden is the only QB below him), with an average depth of target of 5.8 yards this year. The NFL average is 8.5. In 2014, he was 39th of 39 qualifying quarterbacks, and the year before that, 42nd of 42 QBs.

Here’s the thing, though—despite being the last (or next to last) ranked player every year since he came to the Chiefs, his numbers are actually going down. Every year, come what may, he’s throwing shorter and shorter passes.

Year Average depth
of target
2015 5.8
2014 6.0
2013 6.9
2012 7.7

That 7.7 yards depth of target in 2012 would put him just below the middle of the pack this season. Fueled by the success of Tom Brady’s short passing genius, the Chiefs are leaving no stone unturned.

Maybe it’s more a function of the fact Smith just isn’t very good on deep throws. Last year, on passes over 20 yards, his QB rating of 62.5 was 32nd out of 38 quarterbacks. The NFL average is 93.1

It could possibly have to do with the offensive line. Through three games, they do look like they have a keeper in second-round rookie Mitch Morse, but the others constitute a poor group (22nd in pass protection).

Regardless, the team is now 1-2, with the high-flying Bengals waiting for them after a shortened week. Given the weapons at the Bengals disposal, Kansas City can’t wait until garbage time to start playing.

| PFF Founder

Neil founded PFF in 2006 and is currently responsible for the service to the company's 22 NFL team customers. He is constantly developing new insights into the game and player performance.

  • crosseyedlemon

    Some good points made in the article but I’m inclined to think that Andy Reid hasn’t survived as an NFL head coach for 17 years by being lucky or dumb. He knows that asking players to do things beyond their limits usually fails to achieve the results you want.

  • Harm Williams

    Is it true that Alex Smith had 3.02 seconds last night on average? 2nd most time in the NFL in week 3? Is that what you guys are claiming this morning?

    • Lotstosay

      I’ve asked for confirmation on that one as well, still no answer

  • toomanyrappers

    Captain checkdown!

    FWIW, Kansas City had one dangerous quarterback on the roster in the last 40 years; they sent him to Oakland. :)

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  • tomjefferson77

    Alex Smith plays as scared as any QB I’ve seen in decades of watching the NFL. Also, he can’t throw and makes stupid decisions. Other than being a coward, not being able to throw, and making stupid decisions, he’s a pretty nice little game manager.

    • Anthony

      How does someone who makes stupid decisions turn it over 33 times in his last 56 games?

      Oh right, I forgot. You don’t have any idea what you’re talking about.

      • Rodman89

        Honestly I can kinda see why he would have said that. Only because Alex Smith is so scared to look down field, he’s always looking for that short route or the checkdown. And he makes the occasional throw downfield once or twice a game. So, in terms of “stupid” decisions… Never looking downfield is stupid in itself.

  • The Mysteries of Bob

    Alex Smith annoys me, he’s extremely gun shy, props to Harbaugh and Reid to make him work in their systems and keep him out of being a straight up bust, but he is just mediocre, if you need a 2-minute drill to win a game with him, you’re dead.

    Football Outsiders calls their stat of average air yard thrown minus yardage needed for a 1st down ALEX now thanks to him throwin bazzilions of passes behind the line of scrimmage, on third down he is the only QB in the league who throws behind the first down marker on a regular basis, screens on 3rd and 10 are the quintessential Alex Smith play.

  • cyberry

    The line that he had all training camp came down with injuries right before the season opener. Eric Fisher (who looks like he was made some positive strides in the offseason)..high ankle sprain, then Jeff Allen injuired.. So opening day.. he had Donald Stephenson who lost his RT job during camp, starting at LT. Jah Reid who had been cut by Ravens 6 days before playing RT. Mitch Morse, rookie 2nd Rd pick, first career start at center. Laurent Dur-Tardif, 2nd year 6 rd pick, making his first career start at RG (he hadn’t been there all camp).. And Ben Grubbs making his first start as a Chief at LG..

    So.. Fisher had a good showing at RT, Monday Nightt.. he needs to go back to LT and Jeff Allen can play RG or RT so who knows… and that it part of Alex’s problem.. Remember he missed the last game of the season because in week 15.. he was hit so often and hard he had a lacerated spleen..

  • Anthony

    Umm, what?

    PFF is literally saying the Chiefs have no excuse for being blown out because 1) a pick-six was dropped, 2) Rodgers fumbled but it was negated by a defensive penalty and 3) most of their CBs were injured. That’s PFF logic at its best. Somehow all these things suggest to PFF that the Chiefs should have won. What??

    How in the world does Rodgers picking on backup CBs suggest he wasn’t at his best? That shows that the Chiefs werent at their best. And apparently that is all somehow related to the offense?

    Wow, learn to support your argument coherently next time.