Chiefs offense is conserving points
By JOE POSNANSKI
Theyíre boring. Thereís no doubt about it. The Chiefs these days run an offense that could put Dick Vitale on three pots of coffee to sleep. Theyíre conservative, too. No doubt about it. Sam Brownback looks at this Chiefs offense and goes, ďWhew, now thatís conservative.Ē Theyíre predictable, too. No doubt about it. Thereís a rumor that Sunday, Minnesota defenders were wearing wristbands with the Chiefsí plays on them.
Also, they were very, very thin wristbands.
Yes, itís quite easy to pick on the Chiefsí play calling. It has been hard to watch. Last week, on first down, the Chiefs ran the ball 19 of 24 times (for a lovely 1.8-yard average). Thatís not just predictable ó thatís Swiss watch reliability. This season, with the game within reach, the Chiefs are running the ball just about 70 percent of the time on first down. Itís no wonder that Chiefs players are yelling at their coaches during games. They probably just want to make sure the coaches are still awake.
Hereís todayís question, though: Why? There has to be a reason we can understand. Weíre going to try to offer a reasonable answer. First, here are three basic premises:
1. The Kansas City Chiefs coaches are hard-working men who have dedicated their lives to football and want very much to win.
2. The coaches spend dozens of hours every week breaking down film, studying the tiniest details about both their offense and the other teamís defense.
3. The coaches then put together a play-calling game plan that they feel will give the Chiefs the best shot at winning.
Letís start with that. Yes, there are a few people who would disagree with those three ó every week people call or write in to say that all the coaches are idiots who donít want to win. Thatís usually emotion talking. Or alcohol.
Letís assume Chiefs coach Herm Edwards and offensive coordinator Mike Solari and the other offensive coaches are trying to win. Why in the name of Sid Gillman would they run the ball on first down all the time? Why would they build an attack around short passes to fullback Kris Wilson? Why would they construct an offense that has scored just 26 points all season? Heck, that was one quarter in the old Dick Vermeil days.
Why? Well, hereís what I think.
They honestly believe this is the only way to win with these players.
Take the first-down runs. Last week, first play, the Chiefs ran a pass play that was supposed to go deep over the middle to Tony Gonzalez. They worked on it all week. And Gonzalez was wide open. Huard missed him. Flat missed him. It was the NFL quarterback equivalent of missing a layup. Two plays later, the Chiefs punted.
Now, thatís OK, quarterbacks sometimes miss receivers. You canít expect them to be perfect. But the next time the Chiefs got the ball, first down, another pass play was called. Again Huard was supposed to throw the ball down the field. Only this time, he panicked in the pocket a little bit, barely looked downfield and dumped a 3-yard pass to Kris Wilson. Two plays later, the Chiefs punted.
Now what? Everybody likes Huard, heís a good guy, a team player, but letís not kid anybody. Heís 34, and heís been a backup in the NFL for a decade. Meanwhile, the Chiefs just paid Larry Johnson all sorts of millions. So the next time the Chiefs got the ball, first down, they handed it off to Johnson. He lost 4 yards because right now the right side of the Chiefs offensive line is getting plowed like Iowa fields. Second and long, the Chiefs wanted Huard to throw the ball downfield, he dropped back, panicked a little, barely looked down the field, and dumped off a 4-yard pass to Kris Wilson.
One play later, the Chiefs punted.
From that point on, sure, the Chiefs became a conservative think tank. Yes, I would say that Solari freaked out a bit, went into a shell (the Chiefs, in all, ran the ball on first down 11 straight times), but could you blame him entirely? Huard looked spooked. Johnson looked frustrated. Remember, this is an offense without much speed, without a big-play threat (everyoneís hoping Bowe becomes one), with an offensive line that looks older than Don Rickles. Edwards admits that he was seriously thinking about switching quarterbacks in the third quarter. Heck, he had to do something.
Then Huard finally started to do what he did last year ó he braced himself and boldly forced the ball into the hands of tight end Tony Gonzalez and Bowe. He showed some of the on-field confidence he had been lacking. And the Chiefs put together a long field goal drive, then a long touchdown drive. And they won.
Tuesday, people kept asking Edwards if the team called different plays in the second half. He insisted that it didnít. A look at the tape confirms it. Huard, he said, just started throwing the ball down the field like they wanted him to all along.
ďI want to score points, man,Ē he said. ďI really do. I know some people think I donít want that ó but you know, Iíve been around the game for a few years. I think Iíve got the basic concept that you need to score points to win. I want to throw the ball. I want to score touchdowns. We just call the plays. The players need to make the plays.Ē
Now, is that the whole story? No. The Chiefs coaches deserve blame. Of course they do. They fall into predictable patterns. They have not found ways to get Johnson into the open field. They have not kept up with the fast and changing rhythm of NFL games. Nobody is trying to let Edwards or Solari off the hook here.
But letís be realistic: When the line isnít blocking, when your quarterback is shaken, when your receivers canít get open, when your mega-star running back is moaning about the play-calling and also getting stuffed, heck, Bill Walsh didnít design plays for that. Players still play this game, and the Chiefs offensive players are just not making plays. The coaches have seen all this up close and decided their best bet is to try (and keep trying) to establish the run, avoid turnovers, get the ball to Tony Gonzalez and Bowe, and hope their improving defense (ranked fourth in the NFL right now) can win games.
Now, you may not agree. In fact, I know you donít agree. You want to see them mix it up more, throw more on first down, be more unpredictable, take more chances. I want that too. Some of that is coaching. Some of that is playing.
But itís probably worth hearing what one former football player said: ďItís easy for people to lose perspective because the Chiefs used to have such a great offense. But I look at that offense now ó they have LJ, Gonzalez and thatís it. I have no idea how they ever score. I wish Herm a lot of luck.Ē