Kansas City Chiefs Performance Disappoints; May Reveal Path to Future Success


Jan 4, 2014; Indianapolis, IN, USA; Indianapolis Colts running back Donald Brown (31) breaks a run into the open field as he runs past Kansas City Chiefs safety Husain Abdullah (39) during the 2013 AFC wild card playoff football game at Lucas Oil Stadium. Indianapolis defeats Kansas City 45-44. Mandatory Credit: Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports

I’ve spent the better part of Sunday morning listening to Coach Andy Reid’s press conference, reading the mainstream press commentary, and looking at fan feedback in the aftermath of yesterday’s 45-44 loss to the Indianapolis Colt,s and I have to say that I am amazed at the dizzying array of folks calling for Defensive Coordinator Bob Sutton’s and/or even Head Coach Andy Reid’s head.

In my view, as Chiefs fans, we need to overcome the urge to respond emotionally to Saturday’s playoff loss to the Colts and look at it with some perspective.

I concur with the vast majority of the press and the Chiefs fan-base, as well as the Chiefs themselves I’m sure, in concluding that Saturday’s game was an epic disappointment. Not so much because the Chiefs lost but rather, as a result of how the Chiefs lost.

In a game eerily reminiscent of so many past playoff disappointments, the Chiefs somehow managed to grab defeat from within the jaws of victory in a last minute drive engineered by Colts quarterback Andrew Luck.  Elway flashbacks anyone?

Kansas City Chiefs cornerback Marcus Cooper (31)Mandatory Credit: Thomas J. Russo-USA TODAY Sports

From a statistical perspective, particularly on offense, the Chiefs turned in a dominant performance. They set or tied multiple franchise playoff records including most yards (518), most points (44), most passing yards (378), most TDs (5), most passing TDs (4), longest pass reception for a TD (set first by Dwayne Bowe’s 63 score and later surpassed by Donnie Avery’s 79 yards), most receptions in a game (8 catches by Dwayne Bowe), and most receiving yards in a game (150 yds by Dwayne Bowe).

The defense even turned in what appeared on paper to be an exceptional performance in some key areas forcing 4 turnovers (3 INTs and 1 fumble recovery) against a Colts squad that yielded the fewest turnovers in the league this season (14). So what went wrong?

I don’t know that one can, or should, attribute blame exclusively to one player or coach. It is certainly understandable and perhaps even expected that Chiefs fans would be calling for Defensive Coordinator Bob Sutton’s job as it was certainly on defense where the most glaring problems surfaced.  But in retrospect, I don’t know that it’s fair to lay the loss at exclusively at Coach Sutton’s feet.

A closer  look as Saturday’s game reveals a composite of the same issues that have plagued this team in most of it’s losses this year. Offensively, there is too much emphasis on throwing the ball. This has been a common accusation cast towards Coach Andy Reid by Philadelphia fans and media for more than a decade. Passing, even when successful, does not tend to run as much clock as is necessary to close out games.

When coupled with an inability to effectively run the ball (especially in the second half) you often get what we got with nearly every Chiefs loss. An ostensibly great defense getting lit up like a Christmas tree by opposing offenses. Great teams seize a lead by any means and then shut the door on opponents by executing long, ball controlling drives minimizing the opportunity for opposing teams to mount comebacks.

Kansas City Chiefs head coach Andy Reid Mandatory Credit: Andrew Weber-USA TODAY Sports

Defensively,  the Chiefs have one of the most dominant defenses in the league, when they’re healthy and when the offense works in concert with them. But they do have a weakness and it’s in the secondary. The Chiefs corners are good enough to suppress opposing receivers provided the front-seven is getting adequate pressure on the quarterback.

They are not good enough to cover those same receivers, particularly against gifted QBs like Indianapolis’ Andrew Luck, Denver’s Peyton Manning, or San Diego’s Philip Rivers, if the pass rush is not disrupting the timing of the passing game.

Football is the ultimate team game. For the Chiefs to get any deeper into the playoffs, the offense must help the defense by not putting them in a position where they’re on the field for long periods of time.

This means running the ball. It doesn’t mean a return to “Marty-ball” but it does mean the Chiefs need to emphasize the run more when they have the lead and allow the defense time to rest.

It doesn’t mean you can’t pass, but one must do so within the larger strategic objective of burning clock and possessing the ball.  One must find creative ways of running and varying offensive formations and personnel groupings to prevent defenses from getting the “three and outs” that spell disaster in the end.

Keeping the pass rushers fresh yields numerous benefits, the most important of which is that it prevents the secondary from having to cover opposing receivers for more than a few seconds.

Schematically, Chiefs fans have been quite outspoken in pointing out Defensive Coordinator Bob Sutton’s apparent inability to adapt to game situations. I share these frustrations in many respects but it’s important for us as fans to understand that it’s the coaches who are closest to the truth when it comes to the players.

The coaches see the players every day in practice and have a much better understanding of their respective strengths and weaknesses. As fans, we have to give them the benefit of the doubt that they are putting the players in the best possible position to succeed.

That said, it’s also important to understand that the coaches must work with what they have. One thing this team does not have is a shut-down corner. It is incumbent upon the coaching staff to find a way to compensate for that.

Coach Sutton has been slow to adapt to opposing offenses, particularly at the tactical level from one half to the next, but there may be reasons for that in terms of what he feels the players are capable of executing. The Chiefs did mix their coverages pretty well in the course of Saturday’s game. Well enough at least to fool Andrew Luck into throwing three interceptions.

The real problems stemmed from the pass rush failing to put enough consistent pressure on Luck in the second half. This was a byproduct of Andy Reid’s tendency to pass the ball too much on offense. The defense got tired, and Colt receivers were increasingly effective as the game wore on.

So what now? How do the Chiefs right the ship? I may be in the minority on this but I think the first thing the Chiefs need to do is retain the entire coaching staff. This was their first year in the saddle. While it is difficult as a fan to endure this loss, primarily because this is most emphatically not our first year in the saddle, history has shown that continuity is a huge force multiplier.

It’s clear the team has “bought in” to Coach Reid’s and Coach Sutton’s system. Now they need the chance to grow within it. History shows that players tend to realize their greatest improvements early in their careers. Certainly not all the Chiefs defenders are youngsters, but those in the secondary are, and they will get better. Changing coordinators will just result in taking a step back at this point as the players will have to focus more on learning a whole new scheme rather than on improving their coverage and general football skills.

Dec 1, 2013; Kansas City, MO, USA; Kansas City Chiefs offensive coordinator Bob Sutton watches play on the sidelines during the second half of the game against the Denver Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium. Denver won 35-28. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

It may also be worth noting that Bob Sutton has been around for a long time having begun his coaching career in 1972. He’s a good coach, as is Andy Reid. As frustrating as this loss is from a fan perspective, I can assure you it’s even more so for the Chiefs players and coaches.

It seems to me the smart course of action going forward would be to give them another year or two, to work with this group, fine tune their systems, develop and/or acquire talent that may be more suited to their schemes, make adjustments, and see whether they can get the job done. They did pretty well with just one season to work with.

All told, the Chiefs have a lot to be proud of this season. It is safe to say that this team exceeded all our expectations as fans and probably those of the coaches and players themselves. While it is difficult to put Saturday’s loss to the Colts in perspective, the fact is, the Colts outplayed the Chiefs when it counted.

The problems are correctable and I think Coach Reid and General Manager John Dorsey are smart enough to look at the game from a strategic perspective and realize what needs to be fixed.

I believe the Chiefs are a talented team but it can sometimes take a little experience to realize that talent. In the final analysis, I think the Chiefs will be a better team next season, in many respects because of Saturday’s loss. The schedule is certainly more challenging and that may even result in a setback in the team’s win-loss record.

I believe the team will be a better, more complete team going forward and that despite this setback, and I personally believe that this loss sheds light on those critical facets of the Chiefs roster and schemes that need attention.  In the long term, this loss may just have revealed the path to future playoff success that we so sorely needed.  Time will tell.