The Chiefs season came to a familiar end, losing in the playoffs…at home. Leading 21-3 at the half, the offense ran just 21 second-half plays and witnessed the Tennessee Titans score 19 unanswered points to win 22-21.
Same song, different year.
Despite boasting the NFL’s rushing leader, Kareem Hunt, the Chiefs gave him only 11 carries, and five in the second half. Andy Reid said afterwards that was because of their usage of RPO’s and the Titans defense percolated more passes than runs. Tight end Travis Kelce left the game late in the second quarter after suffering a concussion, but any attempt to use his absence as an excuse for the offensive collapse is a bad one. The Chiefs ended that very drive with a touchdown, and the Chiefs have played this year without Kelce. The Chiefs defense, after four weeks of seemingly figuring themselves out, stunk against the run (156 yards by Derrick Henry, 201 total) and could not get off the field, especially on third and long. The Chiefs did not stop the Titans once in the second half, and the Tennessee was a perfect 7 for 7 on 3rd downs in the half. Overall, it was like the 5-0 and 1-6 Chiefs showed up to the same game. Big letdowns from every facet of the Chiefs organization led to another home playoff loss marring what seemed to be a serious chance at making a Super Bowl run, and forces Kansas City to ask some serious questions as they look towards 2018.
Firstly, the Chiefs need to address their coaching staff. They lost OC Matt Nagy to the Bears, and since promoted RB coach Eric Beniemy to Offensive Coordinator. Nagy’s takeover of the offense after Week 13 spelled a resurgence in Kareem Hunt and the big-play shots that made up their 5-0 start. Assistant coach Brad Childress is also reportedly retiring, and it seems unlikely the Chiefs talk him out of it.
On defense, Bob Sutton needs to go. I am aware that over the last couple seasons the Chiefs defense has not had a lot of talent, and injuries hit the unit hard this season, but that’s no excuse, and Sutton’s inability to counter offensive schemes, adjust at halftime, and call plays that suit the personnel have helped to undermine the Chiefs playoff efforts for years now. His aggressive, Cover-1 defense isn’t scaring quarterbacks the way it did in 2013. And, the Chiefs no longer possess the elite units of the past, although somehow they managed to have the third most turnovers and third fewest points allowed in the league over the last three years. Derrick Johnson should’ve never been brought back, and the Chiefs doing so kept them from looking for a serious alternative. Tamba Hali should not have been brought back either, and the last two years have been full of injury and discontent. The Chiefs have utterly failed in finding Marcus Peters a running mate, and the stench of Philip Gaines/Kenneth Acker/Terrance Mitchell still fills the nostrils of fans, media personalities, and (probably) their very own coaches alike.You can’t play man coverage with corners who track the ball as poorly as our non-Peters corners do, and their inability to execute basic press releases afford receivers hordes of field to operate and quarterbacks have carved the defense up two years in a row. Other than Eric Berry, Chris Jones, Justin Houston, and the aforementioned Peters, the Chiefs don’t have any quality defenders. With the key offensive players locked up, the time is now to remake an aging, expensive and poorly producing unit if they are ever to truly reward Chiefs Kingdom, Big Macs notwithstanding.
Speaking of remodeling, the Chiefs offense doesn’t need as much of a remake, but their most important position could be getting a facelift. Alex Smith has one more year left on his deal, but with KC tight against the cap, the $17 million ($20.6M cap hit) they could gain by cutting or trading him almost guarantees he’s in a different uniform come next September. 2017 was career year for Smith, but he too failed in the team’s biggest moments. He will likely be inducted into the Chiefs Ring of Honor, but it’s time to move on. Their first round pick, QB Patrick Mahomes showed he has what it takes to become a quality starter in the NFL. Between the preseason, and the regular season finale, he did display some of what had scouts questioning his readiness (too much trust in arm strength, questionable decision making throwing over the middle), but the skill set he brings to the Chiefs offense is undeniable. The sooner they transition to the Mahomes/Hunt/Hill trifecta, the better off everyone will be. The Chiefs offensive line is locked up with multi-year contacts, and along with the return of Chris Conley (and hopefully Albert Wilson), the Chiefs offense could look even better next season. The weapons are there for Mahomes.
Overall, the Chiefs have what it takes on the inside to field a winning team in 2018. However, they do need to take a hard look at themselves in a division that could be far better next season. Andy Reid must find other people to assist him in coaching, as his inability to adjust caused the franchise another back-breaking playoff loss (a team has come back from an 18-point halftime deficit only four times in postseason history, and Andy Reid has been the losing coach in two of those) . With Oakland and Los Angeles all boasting quality quarterbacks, and Denver still possessing a dominant defense, the Mahomes-era could induce a bumpy transition. Clark Hunt’s franchise must find balance to ease that transition.
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