GRETZ: First Things First
Oct 05, 2007, 8:57:05 AM by Bob Gretz - FAQ
There were a lot of smiles among the offensive players in the Chiefs locker room this week.
Thatís what winning and a strong second half performance last Sunday will do. Larry Johnson was smiling because he finally broke through with a long run that wasnít called back by a penalty. He was even able to joke Thursday about a rookie defensive back getting into the end zone before he did.
Eddie Kennison was smiling because heís going to get back on the field this Sunday against Jacksonville. Remember, he suffered a hamstring injury on the first offensive play of the season down in Houston a month ago. Dwayne Bowe almost always seems to have a smile on his face, as he dreams of more days like last Sunday. Tony Gonzalez was smiling too, because heís about to become the top touchdown catcher among tight ends in pro football history.
After their slow start, the offense deserved a little sugar for what happened against the Chargers.
But one thing did not get solved in the San Diego victory and itís one of the biggest problems standing between the Chiefs offense and productivity: first down.
When it comes to the first play of any possession, the Chiefs are not very good. In fact, they rank among the worst offenses in the league. If you want to zero in on this teamís offensive travails, the first and biggest domino is first down.
So far this season, the Chiefs have had 100 snaps on first down; a nice round number to work with. Of those 100 plays, 60 produced gains of four yards or less. On average, they gained 4.36 yards on first down. The league leader is Dallas, averaging 7.66 yards on first down. The league average is 5.29 yards on first down.
Thatís a pretty ugly number for the Chiefs. But dig under the surface, and itís even worse. On 83 second down plays, the Chiefs average down and distance situation was 2nd-and-8.6 yards to go. Only San Francisco (9.08 yards) faced a tougher task on second down.
Second and nearly nine yards to go is no-manís land for a play-caller. Itís an obvious passing down, and that makes it so much easier for defenses to decipher the offensive plan. Invariably, it leads to third down-and-long and then a punt. On those second down plays, the Chiefs gained enough for a first down 22 times. That means they faced third down 53 times, converting it 18 times for 34 percent. That ranks tied for 28th.
Although there have been examples (Minnesota game) where first down was dominated by either the run or pass, overall the Chiefs have been 55-45 on first down, run to pass.
OK, so what does all this mean? The Chiefs coaching staff must continue to handle first down as it did against San Diego, where it was almost 50-50 run to pass. Teams have spent the whole off-season preparing for the Chiefs running game. They knew little about the Chiefs passing game. If they want to crowd the line of scrimmage, then put the ball in Damon Huardís hands. If they backup, put the ball in L.J.ís belly.
Mostly what must improve is the offensive execution. Early seasons excuses like training camp injuries and a lack of time to work together no longer hold water. Four games into the season, itís time the offensive line and the entire offense pulls together and begins to work with some rhythm.
Only then, will the first-down problem find a solution.