By John Camera
The Chiefs find themselves drifting further away from contender and closer to pretender following an embarrassing 12-9 loss in overtime against a 2-8 New York Giants team that had all but quit on its coach. Make no mistake, the Kansas City team that has dropped four of its last five is not the same team that started 2-0 against the Patriots and Eagles respectively, arguably the two best teams in the league right now. Kansas City has very much lost its way.
The Chiefs are not yet in danger of missing out on the playoffs thanks in large part to an AFC West full of underachievers. The Chargers look average, although have rebounded well from a 0-4 start, the Broncos can’t find any offensive momentum to break a six game losing streak and the Raiders looked especially listless in an embarrassing 33-8 loss against New England. This has allowed the Chiefs to remain on top, two games ahead of everyone else, at 6-4. But the most concerning thing is not their ability to take home an AFC West title, it is their place in the AFC hierarchy of power.
After racing out to a 5-0 start, Kansas City looked like the best team in the league, especially after trouncing the defending champion Patriots in Foxborough on opening night. They did it with a potent offense, a QB in Alex Smith that seemed reborn without the shackles of being a game manager and a running game led by rookie Kareem Hunt. They lost WR Jeremy Maclin but it seemed to be addition by subtraction with the way the passing game soared in his absence. Smith was more confident and took deeper, more aggressive shots against defenses with speedy and talented WRs like Tyreek Hill, Albert Wilson, Marcus Robinson and Chris Conley. Travis Kelce remained their number one target and thrived in the role, the big, athletic TE able to stretch the field and be equally effective both short and deep down the seam.
Alex Smith’s performance in the first five game compared to the last five are stark and telling of the struggle that the offense has had. Smith has had less chances to do what made the Chiefs so surprisingly dominant in their passing game; attack downfield. Smith’s yards per attempt went from 8.71 to 7.35, indicative of the more conservative approach that the air attack has been relegated to and has used in past seasons. His other passing stats have dropped as well. Passing yards are down from 278 per game to 257, TDs are down from 2 to 1 and completion percentage from 76.5% all the way down to 62.3%. And after throwing zero interceptions in the first five games, Smith has thrown three in the past five.
While the running game has also struggled in the Chiefs four losses, it’s been the passing game’s sudden impotency that has ultimately made Kansas City fall from the top of the league to the third or fourth best team in it’s own conference. The Chiefs will absolutely need to get back to a downfield, deep-shot, aggressive passing game if they expect to make a significant playoff run. Reverting back to the check down, conservative passing game and trying to win with a running game behind an average offensive line and a defense that has looked weaker than usual is not going to get it done for Kansas City.
Its not surprising that fans and media want to sound the alarm after that embarrassing loss to a Giants squad that looked lost. I don’t think its that time, at least not yet. The Chiefs still have a solid lead in the AFC West and can essentially make the playoffs just by taking care of business against their divisional opponents. However, they will need to recover their early season form in the passing game if they can expect to challenge the Patriots or Steelers and be considered true title contenders.