The Kansas City Chiefs are 11-4 in 2013 with one more game to go in the regular season. They have locked up a playoff spot for the first time since 2010. It has been an amazing turnaround from the disastrous 2012 season which say the Chiefs go 2-14.
It has been a pretty fantastic season.
So, why do I feel so uneasy about it.
The Chiefs had a fantastic start to the season, going 9-0 into their bye week. It wasn’t unreasonable to think Kansas City could lose at Denver and at San Diego on the road but beat those teams in Arrowhead. That would give the Chiefs a solid 14-2 record. Heck, they could even stub their toe against one of the other teams, and still finish 13-3. They had a good chance to win AFC West!
Things haven’t unfolded as hoped since the bye week. Kansas City has lost 4 of their six games, including defeats at Arrowhead to the Broncos, the Chargers, and after yesterday, the Indianapolis Colts.
What has gone wrong? Until their offensive debacle against the Colts, the Chiefs offense has looked much better since the bye. They had averaged 36.8 points an outing since their bye week, even scoring a combined 101 points at Washington and at Oakland the previous two weeks before the Colts game.
The offense, yesterday not withstanding, is better now than it was in the first part of the season.
So the culprit must be the defense.
The defense is to blame. Specifically the Chiefs inability to rush the quarterback. This was a problem that started to creep up in the two games prior to the bye week, but Kansas City played a couple of teams that weren’t very good, with quarterbacks that hadn’t played much at the time, in Cleveland and Buffalo. The Chiefs were able to win those games without a pass rush, but while it was a bit worrisome, no one dreamed the Chiefs would just stop applying to pressure on opposing signal callers.
In the first 7 games of the season, the Chiefs were on a NFL record setting pace for sacks. They tallied 35 sacks in the first seven games, with no less than 3 in any single game. On top of that, they put 48 hits on quarterbacks, meaning they were very close to a heck of a lot more sacks. The pressure was so intense, the secondary only had to hold coverage for about three seconds. Teams didn’t have time for their plays to unfold. The ball was snapped then BOOM! The pass rushers were in the pocket. They looked unstoppable.
Then Cleveland game to town with the immortal Jason Campbell at the helm of the offense. Campbell would take the snap with little to no drop back, and got rid of the ball quickly. The Kansas City pass rushers were unable to get to him. The next week, Buffalo tried the same thing, and Kansas City didn’t record a sack or even a hit on the quarterback, Jeff Tuel.
After the break, the Chiefs faced Denver twice and San Diego, teams with much better field generals. The lack of pressure on quarterbacks continued, and these games turned into high scoring losses.
Things looked to have righted themselves against the Redskins as the Chiefs torched Washington for 6 sacks and 4 more hits on the quarterback, but it turned out to be an aberration. Over the next two games against the Raiders and Colts, Kansas City only managed 1 sack and 5 hits on the quarterback.
In the last 8 games, the Chiefs have recorded just 9 total sacks, including those 6 in one game against the Redskins, and have only gotten close enough to even hit the quarterback 20 times.
Kansas City has been without Justin Houston for the past 4 games, and while it is nice to think he would have made a difference, the Chiefs had only 2 sacks and 8 quarterback hits in the last 4 games he played.
Since week seven, if you throw out the game in the snow against a horrible, unmotivated Washington team, the Kansas City Chiefs have recorded 3 sacks and 16 hits on quarterbacks in seven games. The Chiefs are 3-4 in those games, with the three wins coming against the likes of Jason Campbell, Jeff Tuel, and Matt McGloin.
The league adjusted to the Chiefs but it doesn’t appear as if Bob Sutton and the Kansas City defense have made any adjustments of their own, at least none that have been effective. The Chiefs under Sutton have become a one-trick pony defensively, and they can’t even perform that one trick anymore.
What is worrisome about the Chiefs chances of earning their first post season win in 20 years is that next week, they will finish out the regular season against Philip Rivers in San Diego, then will have to play either in Indianapolis against Andrew Luck again, or against Andy Dalton in Cincinnati. Without an effective pass rush, it is doubtful the Chiefs can beat these teams and their quality quarterbacks.
The pressure is on Bob Sutton to come up with an answer, and to prepare his charges in another way than he has so far. The Chiefs playoff hopes depend on it.