Greg Trott - Getty
By John Viril
Warpaint Illustrated Columnist
Posted Oct 23, 2007
This season, offense is in fashion. Leading the way are the re-imagined New England Patriots, who added four receivers in an offseason makeover. The Patriots now routinely crush opponents with a flurry of touchdown passes (27) and points (39.9 per game).
New England quarterback Tom Brady isn't alone on the runway. In Dallas, Tony Romo is hurling the ball all over the field. Peyton Manning has led his Colts to their third consecutive 6-0 start. New England, Indianapolis and Dallas each average over 30 points per game and enjoy a combined 19-1 record.
Then we have the Chiefs.
Kansas City has eked out a 4-3 record behind an offense that averages less than 15 points per game (14.6). The Chiefs are the only current division leader that has given up more points (113) than they have scored (102). The offense has been held to more three-and-out possessions than any team in the league.
Head coach Herman Edwards doesn't seem too concerned with style points, however.
“It goes in the win column, but yes it was ugly,” said Edwards, referring to his team's 12-10 victory over the Raiders. “Right now we are a 4-3 team. But we are .500 on the road, and to get two wins on the road is pretty good.”
Edwards cares more about how the Chiefs play at the end of the season.
“We've got four wins,” he said. “But the key is what we are going to look like in December.”
Yet, I find it difficult to imagine how the stodgy Chiefs can compete with the NFL's trend-setters. The defense has shown signs it could possibly emerge as a dominant unit, but the Chiefs lack the strong ground attack that an “ugly” team needs.
Last Sunday, matched against an Oakland defense that was surrendering more yards per carry than any team in the NFL (5.6), the Chiefs still were not able to establish a consistent ground attack. Aside from one 54-yard burst, the Raiders held struggling running back Larry Johnson to 58 yards on 23 carries.
Furthermore, KC’s running game was not able to hold the ball with 4:03 left on the clock in order to protect their 12-10 lead. The Raiders stopped the Chiefs with ample time (1:46 and one time out) to get in position for a game-winning field goal. The Chiefs needed an interception by their emerging defense to preserve the victory.
The obvious lesson: Kansas City’s offensive line is incapable of dominating even the worst run defense in the NFL.
The Chiefs feature an offensive line with five starters over 30 years of age and lack any viable replacements on the bench. Expecting a sudden performance increase from the current personnel is unrealistic.
If Edwards intends to field a playoff contender by December, his coaching staff must to re-invent the team's running game during the bye week. When you can't blow the other team off the ball, the only option is to out-think them.
The biggest problem is that linebackers and safeties hit Johnson behind the line of scrimmage far too often. Through seven games, he’s been tackled for a loss more often than any running back. At times, Johnson can barely get out of his stance before a defensive player hits him.
One solution is to run out of more spread formations. By forcing defenders away from the box, linebackers and safeties have less opportunity to attack the offensive backfield. Priest Holmes could prove useful in such a tactic. By pairing him with Johnson in the backfield, the Chiefs could shift Holmes into the slot to spread defenses.
A Holmes/Johnson backfield pairing could also breathe life into Kansas City's short passing game. With defenses keying on Johnson, the Chiefs could set up screens to Holmes after play fakes.
And there’s no doubt the short passing game needs more deception. Johnson is averaging just 5.3 yards per reception this season, sharply down from the 10.7 he averaged in 2006.
Depending on the rusty Holmes to rescue the running game is a risky move, but at this point, he’s the only wild card the Chiefs have left to play.