What’s wrong with the Chiefs?

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Since their 5-0 start, the Chiefs have lost five of their last six games (including Sunday’s 16-10 defeat at the hands of the Buffalo Bills) to drop to 6-5 on the season. While the much maligned defense has allowed just 28 points the last two weeks, the Chiefs offense has failed to deliver against defenses had allowed an average of over 40 points before their meetings with Kansas City.

Looking at any Chiefs forum, be it Facebook or Arrowhead Pride, and you’ll see a lot of angry fans. They have every right to be. This team was supposed to have run away with the division, and potentially challenge New England for the number one seed. It seems that the Chiefs have gotten worse when their schedule got easier, which is frustrating to say the least. A team that handled the Patriots and Deshaun Watson-led Texans should have made quick work of struggling teams like the Giants and Bills. The last month and a half has been a story of Kansas City playing well enough not to get blown out, but too poorly to win.

When the question arises “who’s to blame for the Chiefs sudden struggles”, the defense should not be your first response. Yes, 2017 has not been a banner season for them, yet they’ve gotten key stops lately, only to watch the offense give the ball right back via punt (or, more alarmingly, turnover). You could also blame Kareem Hunt, but watch any one of his 11 carries from Sunday and try to find running room. The offensive line isn’t executing, and Hunt’s suffering.

The real problem with the Chiefs is Alex Smith. Normally, that would be a normal response, but this season was different. Smith was playing at an MVP-caliber early in the year, and the Chiefs offense was leading in the NFL in points per game. Now, they’ve regressed to levels of years past, and I’m talking Todd Haley era bad.

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The offense was good because Smith was (finally) pushing the ball downfield and the play-calling was more aggressive. But as of recent, his deep shots have dried up. Some of that credit has to go to opponents, who have thrown zone defenses and the Smith and company havent had an answer. The worst part? Everything else that made him a competent quarterback has also dried up. His accuracy under pressure has wilted, and his general accuracy has taken a nosedive as well. If he were a receiver or back, you just wouldn’t give him the ball. The problem Kansas City has is that he’s the quarterback; he touches the ball on every play, so he needs to be the best the Chiefs have to offer if the rest of the offense is going to succeed. It might be controversial, and it might seem far fetched given the AFC playoff picture (more on that later), but it may be time to start Patrick Mahomes. Smith doesn’t have a future in Kansas City, and if the Chiefs playoff hopes continue to wilt away, he might not last the season, although it seems Andy Reid seems determined to stick to his plan of “redshirting” the rookie. KC could risk missing the playoffs in a quarterback who isn’t going to get better, or start the man that possesses the skill set to thrive in an offense full of playmakers. How many times do we have to see Travis Kelce with his hands on his head because he ran down the middle of the field uncovered (the pouting is a bad look – don’t show up a teamamte), while Smith settles for a two-yard check down? The early knock on Mahomes was his propensity for risky passes, but Smith has thrown four interceptions in the last six games (although one was a dropped shovel pass by Kelce). The last 38 drives for the Chiefs have yielded TWO scoring drives, and only one touchdown. Smith, while he seems to be terrible right now, actually ranks anywhere from 13-16 – basically average – in every meaningful passing stat since week 6 (the Steelers loss). While, it’s not completely fair to put most of the blame on Smith, the Chiefs need him to be more than average. He doesn’t have to be the guy he was through the first 5 weeks, but he has to be better than average if they Chiefs will do anything in the postseason…if they can even make it there. Mahomes offense can’t get worse, but with his arm strength and willingness to make big plays, it could restore it to its September heights.

The Chiefs may still be in the playoff race (thanks to an abysmal division a 6-5 is still the best record), but even in a bad conference, they’re losing steam. The Chargers are right behind them, and fringe teams like Buffalo, Baltimore, and Tennessee are there as well. If they could win the division, it would limit their competition, but now it doesn’t look too promising. Even with three division games left, their margin for error is very thin. Kansas City needs to figure out how they’re going to end this season, and do it fast.

***

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