Kansas City ranks 30th in the NFL in average yards per attempt (6.1), tied for 26th in passing touchdowns, and 31st in net yards gained per attempt. This is not a very good passing offense at all through the first nine weeks of the season. So what is the problem?
The three reasons bandied about the most are as follows:
2. Dropped passes by receivers.
3. Poor blocking by the offensive line.
Let’s break down the latter two and see how much of a problem those two area are in the Chiefs passing game.
Before the season started, and even now, we can probably come to a reasonable consensus the wide receivers position was the weakest on the team in terms of depth and total top end talent. Trying to find a playmaker from the Chiefs wide receiver depth chart is pretty difficult even when you include Dwayne Bowe.
So, yes, the Chiefs are handicapped in the passing game because they do not have very many big-play threat wide receivers on the roster.
However, the argument about the Chiefs passing game is that they drop too many passes for Alex Smith to be successful in the passing game. This is the play that fuels everyone’s perception.
Reality is that the Chiefs have one of the better wide receiver groups at catching the football.
It is important to judge drops based on rate statistics and not cumulative statistics. Dropping 20 passes in 350 targets is way different than dropping 20 passes in 250 targets. Percentages matter more here than total drops.
Through nine games Kansas City wide receivers have dropped only 7 passes. The team total is 20, but Jamaal Charles (6) and his running back friends account for nine of them.
Individually, Kansas City’s three primary wide receivers stack up very well against the rest of the NFL in drop percentage.
Dwayne Bowe: 3.5%
Donnie Avery: 4.2%
Dexter McCluster: 6.7%
Demaryius Thomas: 2.5%
Wes Welker: 6.4%
Eric Decker: 8%
Calvin Johnson: 4.2%
A.J. Green: 5.1%
Josh Gordon: 6.1%
Brandon Marshall: 6.5%
Reggie Wayne: 6.9%
Roddy White: 7.7%
Dropped passes by the wide receivers are not hurting the Chiefs any more than it is other teams around the NFL. This isn’t to say that the Chiefs don’t need more talent at the position – because they do – but the issues at wide receivers are not because they cannot hold onto the ball.
OFFENSIVE LINE BLOCKING
Trying to figure out how to measure the offensive line’s ability to pass block is very difficult considering the situation. On one hand, Alex Smith isn’t throwing the ball very far. Through nine weeks, Smith’s ball travels in the air an average of 2.6 yards per pass attempt, which has led to a league-leading 56.9% of his passing yards coming after the catch. Pass blocking does not have to be great if the ball isn’t going downfield.
On the other hand, Smith holds onto the ball longer than what his average pass air distance would indicate. For the most part he is not immediately dumping the ball off, but instead going through all of his progressions. This makes him more vulnerable to hits than quarterbacks who get rid of the ball quickly.
A sack isn’t always the result of poor pass blocking from the offensive line, but could be because receivers cannot get open, the quarterback held on to the ball too long or made a bad decision to not throw it a way, or it may be due to a secondary blocker – a running back or tight end – not picking up a blitz. There is too much involved in pass blocking to simply put all of the blame on an offensive lineman.
According to Stats Inc, the Chiefs starting offensive line of Branden Albert, Jeff Allen, Rodney Hudson, Jon Asamoah, and Eric Fisher have combined to allow 15 sacks all season. Primary backups Geoff Schwartz and Donald Stephenson have allowed zero sacks in their time on the offensive line.
Fifteen sacks among seven offensive lineman over nine games is a very solid number, especially considering nine of those sacks were allowed by Albert (4) and Fisher (5).
Overall, Kansas City has allowed just 26 sacks, a number that puts them in the same range as New England, Green Bay, Dallas, and Seattle. Should the Chiefs see improvements from secondary blockers like Jamaal Charles and the tight ends, then their pass blocking rating will only improve.
Yes, Kansas City could do better on the offensive line (specifically Allen and Fisher). And, yes, Kansas City receivers need to improve. But the simple arguments as to why the Chiefs’ passing game is struggling is more complicated than just pass blocking and dropped passes. It is much more about execution and scheme than anything else.
The good news is Anthony Fasano should be back to full strength, Fisher is showing improvement on a week-to-week basis, and time will only help KC’s passing attack get in sync.