The Chiefs return from the bye week with a number of question marks still remaining. Luckily they face a team right off the bat that can help them get well. The Chiefs need to take advantage of the turmoil in New York and dominate the Giants. As this seven-week stretch rolls on, the most important goal for this team may be gaining confidence.
Winning helps everything on a football team. Confidence will help the cornerbacks and inside linebackers as well as the offensive line and young wide receivers. The Chief schedule gives them a shot to build up a head of steam for the postseason. Head coach Andy Reid must focus on giving this fragile team the best chance to build itself up internally.
Here are the top things that strike me as most important as this team starts the second half of its season
Tyreek Hill needs to be the tip of the spear for this offense. Reid must use Hill as a weapon more effectively. Rather than using jet sweep motion and go-routes outside, Reid should scheme Hill to attack the zone coverage they are likely to see and to get the ball in his hands quickly. I would like to see Hill in the slot more and would use the two-wide-receiver stack to help get him open on quick-hitting routes. Keep running the slants and digs until teams prove they can stop it.
On defense, Justin Houston maybe the key to the 2017 season. He’s still nursing a leg injury and his production remains inconsistent. If the team can get him some help on the opposite side of the defense, he may be in a position to truly get back to 100 percent as the regular season nears its end. That’s a tall order with both Dee Ford and Tamba Hali potentially out of action. Young-buck Dadi Nicolas could bring some spark, but it’s a long road back from his injury as well. They need something to click into place. Houston must serve as a force in the postseason for this team to advance to a divisional playoff or AFC championship game.
Get the offensive line going in the run game. Nine carries for Kareem Hunt won’t get the job done in this offense. With the return of Mitch Morse and Laurent Duvernay-Tardif, there’s no excuse not to emphasize the running game more. If teams are going to stack the box against the Chiefs can use fullback Anthony Sherman and multiple tight end sets. Let the bigger formations wear down the defense and get Hunt to the second level.
Stick with the two inside linebacker big nickel until teams go to four-receiver sets. The first glimpse of the true big nickel in Dallas proved positive. Using young players such as Reggie Ragland and Kevin Pierre-Louis is important as they need to develop. They may become the future of that position group. In the meantime, they need as much experience on the field in game situations as possible. Come January they will need to defend the likes of Le’Veon Bell and Leonard Fournette.
Use four-wide formations more and to better effect. The Chiefs can use the small-ball technique to get its speed on the field to press vertical route combinations. Travis Kelce can make plays inline or out wide. Shifting him to various outside positions draws defenders out of the box.
Find the shovel pass again. Reid used the play design with fantastic results early in the season but seems to have shied away from that gadget in his toolbox. It was not only effective but also served as a solid base from. which to expand by developing the run-pass option off of it. It gives the defense something to think about. The play-action pass remains a viable evolution beyond that as well.
Creative defensive coordinators are what can hurt the Chiefs down the line in the postseason. This staff can’t forget that. Dallas defensive coordinator Rod Marinelli created a blueprint on how to slow down the Chiefs offense that New England’s Matt Patricia Jacksonville’s Todd Wash can draw from in January. The balance of this season relies upon a productive offense. Reid must continue developing enough diverse attacks that can withstand experienced coordinators putting the emphasis on rushing Alex Smith and stacking the box against Hunt. This Chiefs defense cannot pull a struggling offense through to wins. The defense needs the offense more than it has in years past if they are going to progress to next step in the postseason.
No magic bullet exists for rescuing the pass defense. The Chiefs must hope benching cornerback Terrance Mitchell will pay off in a visible improvement in his on-field performance. Kenneth Acker may not have the upside of Mitchell, but he has the coaches’ interest.
“We thought (Kenneth) Acker had done a good job at practice. He’s still got areas that he needs to improve. He’s done a good job and we just thought we had to take a look at another guy at that position.” — Chiefs defensive coordinator Bob Sutton
If one of these players cannot emerge as a solid No. 2 cover corner, Sutton will have to experiment with mix coverages playing Marcus Peters in man coverage and the right corner in a mixed coverage with Steven Nelson. This is a level of complexity that will burden the Chiefs’ secondary.
The Chiefs have some horses up front on the defensive line. They need to turn them loose. Watching Chris Jones and Rakeem Nunez-Roches against Dallas, we saw a glimpse of what a more attacking defensive style can do. Both these players are well-suited to attacking gaps in the offense of line rather than reading or taking on double teams. Sutton needs to find a way to use his players’ strengths more effectively. Let the defensive lineman cause havoc like they’re capable of doing.
The team has a chance to take a step forward. They have seven weeks to figure this out.