KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Magician never reveals their secrets and, in the case of the Kansas City Chiefs, no one has yet found the wizard hats or magic wands they must be using to cast a spell over the NFL while racing to the top of the AFC West with the league’s most perplexing and underachieving offense.
“I think we all want to get back to our form and play the way we’re capable of,” quarterback Alex Smith said.”
The Chiefs (7-2) host the Tampa Bay Buccaneers (4-5) for a noon kickoff Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium. The Bucs record reflects who they are – a mostly average NFL offense with an ineffective defense. But Kansas City stands an aberration.
The team sits atop its division and positioned as the potential No. 2 seed in the AFC, thanks largely to an opportunistic defense boosting the team to the best turnover margin in the league. Yet the team’s offense struggles to achieve mediocrity in most week.
The Chiefs rank in the bottom third of the league in yards per game (26th), yards per play (24th) and third-down conversions (29th). The only top offensive measures where the team ranks in the top 20 are points (tied for 17th) and turnovers (tied for seventh).
The Chiefs offense struggles even by its own metrics. The number 54 poses as a magic number for the team’s offense. Any combination of 54 or more pass completions or rushing attempts and the team feels it should win.
The offense broke that barrier just twice this season. The 53 advances in week one required overtime. Only the week six performance against Oakland, fresh off the bye week, stands as the team’s signature offensive breakout with 59 advances.
The offense’s efficiency appears to have hit rock bottom the last two weeks. Despite wins over Jacksonville and Carolina, the offensive mustered just one touchdown drive while settling for eight field goals.
“I felt like we’ve been out of character the last two of weeks,” Smith said. “I think everyone on offense would agree. I feel that way about myself as well.”
Center Mitch Morse said the team must find the end zone.
“Just have to work on putting seven instead of three and we’ll be in better shape,” Morse said.
Yet despite the offensive struggles, the Chiefs own several success stories. Running back Spencer Ware averages more than five yards per carry and remains on track for more than 1,600 yards from scrimmage.
Wide receiver Tyreek Hill sits on a pace that could put him just behind the likes of Jeremy Maclin and DeSean Jackson for rookie pass catchers in Reid’s version of the West Coast offense. The offensive line anchored by Morse continues improving.
Yet the offense still cannot find a way to make like easy for itself. Each week seems to include a self-imposed degree of difficulty, with obstacles created just to keep things interesting.
Last week against Carolina, for example, the Chiefs converted just two of 12 third-down opportunities. Tampa Bay ranks fourth in the NFL in third-down conversion defense, the only area they shine on that side of the ball.
Smith does not necessarily believe third down a problem for the offense. He points toward failures on first and second down and in the red zone that puts the offense in a deep hole.
“If you play well on those downs, your chances of winning greatly increase,” Smith said. “We need to be better, put ourselves in better situations and when we get there, we need to execute.”
Reid said his offense must improve on third down.
“Normally, we’ve been pretty good at that, and they are very good at it,” Reid said. “We concentrate on it every week. I don’t want to say we don’t, that’s a loaded question there, but we try to focus on that every week and we have to do better than we did last week.”
The Buccaneers defense presents an opportunity for the Chiefs offensive to find itself. The Bucs rank in the bottom third in most key defensive categories, allowing 386 total yards per game, nearly six yards per play and 26.9 points per game. Those numbers all outpace the Chiefs’ typical offensive output.
Reid believes the answers to the team’s offensive riddles lies within themselves.
“These are good teams, and we have another good one coming here, but we have to take care of our business, which is No. 1,” Reid explained. “Take care of our jobs individually and then it will work out collectively that you play better.”