It took 11 weeks for all of the Kansas City Chiefs imperfections to show up as a number in the loss column. The Denver Broncos 27-17 victory over the Chiefs Sunday night, exposed some of the glaring weaknesses that the Chiefs had overcome against lesser teams in weeks one through 10.
The game plan wasn’t all that different from what Andy Reid had employed in the first nine games. The Broncos were just better than the teams that strategy had worked against prior to last night.
Denver didn’t play particularly well, but yet again, the Chiefs’ offense was a problem. The receivers had numerous drops that led to Alex Smith’s numbers to look worse than they actually were. Smith was about the same as he’s been all year, average. No glaring mistakes, but no winning plays either. I was critical of Smith two weeks ago, arguing that the Chiefs had been winning in spite of Smith, a thought that many disagreed with.
But Sunday, even though he completed just 21-of-45 passes for 230 yards and a paltry 5.1 yards per attempt, it’s tough to be too hard on him. He actually tried to stretch the field, attempting 12 passes of 20 yards or more, completing four and drawing a Denver penalty on two others.
His 47% completion percentage looks bad, and it was, but it would have been slightly more respectable had his receivers and running backs not dropped at least four passes. If those catches are made, Smith’s night likely would have ended with him having over 300 yards passing and two touchdowns.
The offense started the game with three straight three and outs. It followed that up with a one play drive that ended when Anthony Sherman was absolutely crushed and fumbled on the first play after a Peyton Manning botched handoff, giving the Chiefs the ball at the Denver 18 yard line. This was the biggest stage and the biggest game the Chiefs had played in in several seasons, and they simply weren’t prepared for the bright lights of NBC’s Football Night in America. One first down in the first quarter isn’t good enough to beat anyone, let alone the team with the best offense in the NFL.
Many in the media outside of Kansas City used the Chiefs bye week to argue that that the 9-0 start was a fraud. The record was due to an easy schedule and perhaps luck they said. The Chiefs had the opportunity to prove any and all naysayers wrong, including me, but it wasn’t to be. Perhaps because the 9-0 start was a little fraudulent. But that isn’t fair to the Broncos. They’re just good. This was the most talked about game of the weekend and the Chiefs looked like all of the hype got to them. After not trailing by double digits all season, 12 minutes into the game they were down 10-0.
Peyton Manning never had to pull himself up off of the ground. The defense never got close enough to even breathe on him let alone knock him down. It wasn’t what everyone thought we would see from the Kansas City pass rush, but the Denver gameplan, by focusing on short and quick routes, totally neutralized Tamba Hali and Justin Houston. Despite that, the defense did it’s job for the most part, holding Denver to its lowest point total this season. Trailing 17-10 at the start of the second half, the defense held the Broncos to 19 yards on the first three drives of the second half and Manning connected on just one of seven pass attempts in that vital stretch of the game.
It was an opportunity missed for the Chiefs. The game was there for the taking at that point, but the Kansas City offense managed just 16 total yards on its first three drives of the second half. Smith completed just two of seven passes in that span. The game was lost in that portion of the game. The first quarter was bad, but the third quarter, when the defense was doing its job of getting Manning and friends off of the field, the offense went silent yet again. As it has countless times this season. Only this time, against this opponent, the Chiefs couldn’t overcome it.
This wasn’t Denver’s best effort of the season. Their strategy was simply to make sure Manning got rid of the ball as quickly as possible to avoid any unpleasant meetings with Hali and Houston. It worked but Manning finished with his lowest completion percentage of the season (60.0%) and his second lowest quarterback rating in a game (94.1). And yet the only time Manning’s uniform touched the playing surface was when he tackled Derrick Johnson after he fumbled.
On paper, this weeks matchup with San Diego looks like one the Chiefs should handle with relative ease. But this has all the makings of a trap game. The Chargers are talented, but couldn’t possibly have been any worse late in games. The Chiefs will no doubt be dealing with a combination of a hangover from Sunday’s loss in Denver, and the temptation to look ahead to a rematch with the Broncos next Sunday at Arrowhead. The Chargers sit at 4-6, and are good enough offensively to score points against the Chiefs. San Diego is a few possessions from being 7-3. This isn’t a game the Chiefs can sleep-walk through.
Philip Rivers is prone to make mistakes, so the Kansas City pass rush that was so good in the first seven weeks of the year needs to find its groove again. The pass rush that amassed 35 sacks in the first seven games has only one in its last three. If the Chiefs want to keep up with the Broncos for the AFC West title and home field advantage throughout the playoffs, that attack has to return. If not, the one-and-done playoff appearances that have plagued the Chiefs since 1993 will once again be the final result of an otherwise successful season.