The AFC West’s most expensive offense resides in Kansas City. Yet strip away Week 1’s second half and there hasn’t been too much to show for the investments this season, one that looms as crucial for the franchise.
Denver features two well-paid receivers, a dearth of experience at quarterback and no high-priced offensive linemen. Oakland has an incredibly well-compensated offensive line but little experience or cap hits elsewhere, aside from Michael Crabtree. San Diego employs the division’s premier quarterback and a veteran-laden offensive front and would otherwise qualify for this arbitrary distinction, except the Chargers have lost a lot of said performers due to injuries.
The Chiefs don’t have excuses for being No. 23 in total offense — behind each of their divisional brethren. They’ve doled out big contracts at right and left tackle, wide receiver, tight end and at running back. Their quarterback commands $17 million per year, but that’s just 22nd in the league on average.
What occurred against the Steelers could be brushed off as a bad night. Kansas City probably won’t be that poor again this season, even if the the Chiefs likely will induce NBC executives to put up a fight not to include them on the network’s 2017 docket. But unlike Pittsburgh, which bombed against a similar-looking offense to the Chiefs’ in Week 3, K.C. doesn’t have obvious strengths that can make moving on from rough outings easier.
Kansas City does not have a good quarterback, at least not one people would consider putting in the upper third of the league, and as of now doesn’t rush the passer or block particularly well. The Chiefs have a high-level tight end, but Travis Kelce is dependent on Alex Smith.
So, those looking to point to the Patriots’ 2014 bounceback — after being immolated by the Chiefs at Arrowhead Stadium — or the Steelers’ more recent turnaround as evidence these nights can be written off are a bit off base. Rob Gronkowski’s return to health aided the ’14 Patriots, and having Tom Brady didn’t hurt. The following year’s Super Bowl champion, the Broncos, could move on from the worst game of Peyton Manning’s career thanks to their relentless defense bailing their offense out repeatedly. Ben Roethlisberger, Le’Veon Bell and Antonio Brown are arguably the best at what they do, so their Eagles disaster doesn’t sting as badly.
Those teams had quicker escape routes than the one available to the Chiefs.
They’re more dependent on scheming, and while Andy Reid’s done a quality job coaxing career-best play from Smith, the quarterback’s limitations will restrict the offense.
And until Justin Houston comes back, Kansas City’s defense — one that has been quite good at points during the past few years, hence the franchise’s efforts to re-sign key players in free agency — can’t pressure passers on the same level. The two quickest ways to shake off these kinds of defeats aren’t things the Chiefs do well, so what happened in Pittsburgh is a bigger deal than it would be for a team more equipped in these areas.
Smith did not receive much help, with Spencer Ware contributing to two turnovers — the emerging running back’s inability to get into his screen route triggered the tipped interception, even if Smith shouldn’t have thrown it — and Zach Fulton being dominated. Passes sailed, and the Chiefs’ playmakers were non-factors. Chris Conley being the bright spot shows how badly things went. And the No. 23 ranking includes a second half filled with garbage-time yards.
The Chiefs won’t face much tougher assignments than trying to beat the Steelers on a Sunday-night road tilt, but what’s unfolded for most of the season is a reflection of an offense that is not as far along as it should be.
The nucleus makes too much money and has too many collective seasons of experience to have struggled like this.
Smith being in Year 4 under Reid should be better, and it’s uncertain how much Jamaal Charles’ return will help. Kansas City’s delayed the soon-to-be 30-year-old back’s re-emergence as much as possible, so the ninth-year man should be fresh. It’s just unlikely he’s going to be where he was before the second ACL tear.
If the offense can’t do more to compensate until Houston comes back, the Broncos will run away with the division again after many picked the Chiefs to win it. Failure to even compete for the West title would represent a step back at a time the Chiefs should be one of the best teams in the league, considering the kind of money they’ve handed to their core talent.
Their cap situation in 2017 (less than $500,000 worth of space, with not many avenues to create it without dead money being involved) would look kind of terrifying if the Chiefs don’t hang in the division race all season.
Reid and Co. did well to craft one of the league’s greatest resurgences last season, so the Chiefs are in good hands there. But that run came against a spate of bad teams or good ones with bad quarterback situations on the day they faced Kansas City. The franchise under Reid has an interesting breakdown against the NFL’s top teams, with the two best wins of the Reid/John Dorsey era coming in a 2014 season that featured the worst of the past four Chiefs’ teams.
Since those triumphs over the Patriots and Seahawks, the Chiefs saw playoff teams mostly put them in the 1-5 hole last year — and their latest letdown on national TV against prime competition continues this problem.
Reid’s 15-2 record after bye weeks makes the Chiefs a good bet to beat the Raiders in Week 6, and considering Oakland’s standing, it’s fortunate the Silver and Black are K.C.’s post-bye opposition.
But the Chiefs will have to be significantly better on offense after the bye to be a realistic threat to make a deep playoff run. Or the questions that persist around Smith and Reid will return for a team built for a home playoff game.