Fixing third-down woes a priority for Chiefs heading into game against Bengals

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KANSAS CITY, Mo. – There are a lot of problems that have shown themselves in the Chiefs performance over the first three games of the season.

Sept. 28, 2015; Green Bay, WI; Packers defensive lineman sacks Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) and forces a fumble during the second half at Lambeau Field. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)

Sept. 28, 2015; Green Bay, WI; Packers defensive lineman sacks Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) and forces a fumble during the second half at Lambeau Field. (AP Photo/Matt Ludtke)

The biggest has been poor pass protection for quarterback Alex Smith; he’s been sacked 13 times, more than any quarterback in the league. As a team, the Chiefs have allowed 14 sacks, again the worst pass protection in the NFL.

Hand-in-hand with those ugly numbers is the work of the Chiefs offense on third down.

They’ve picked up the first down just five times on 30 opportunities, or 16.7 percent. That’s ranks them No. 32 in the league where the average conversion rate is 40.1 percent.

What’s the problem? Just about everything when it comes to the 2015 Chiefs on third down.

“I think there’s a lot of things to point to on third down,” Smith said. “Certainly I think the biggest one is a lack of execution, just lack of playing good football. I think we’ve had a bunch of mental errors, we’ve had penalties. We’ve put ourselves in third-and-longs – and all those things kind of play into it.”

Normally the more yards needed on third down to move the chains, the longer the odds on success. But over three games the Chiefs have had problems whether it’s short or long yardage needed.

They have had six snaps where they needed five yards or less on third down. They did not convert any of those, in fact the Chiefs went minus-8 yards on those attempts.

So even third and short hasn’t worked out for the Chiefs.

“It’s a variety of things,” head coach Andy Reid said of the third-down problem. “We’ve gone through and obviously looked at it and studied … it’s a variety of things.”

There have been 18 third-down snaps where the distance needed was 10 yards or less. The Chiefs converted twice, with an 11-yard gain on a third-and-six play and a 9-yard play when facing third-and-eight. Overall though, those 18 snaps produced just 17 yards.

That’s a sign that everything is suspect in how the Chiefs have approached third downs. They have faced the two best third-down defenses in the league so far this season: Denver and Houston.

The Broncos allow the chains to move just 18.8 percent of the time. The Texans login at 21.1 percent. Of course, those numbers have been helped by playing the Chiefs offense.

Without converting third downs, an offense struggles to stay on the field.

The Chiefs have had 41 possessions in three games and 21 of those were three plays or less. It’s visible in the nine offensive touchdowns the Chiefs have scored. That leaves them tied at eighth in TDs, but they are the only one of those top 10 teams sporting a losing record.

“We have to do a good job of moving the chains,” Smith said. “I do think it comes down to execution. More often than not, those are the little details.”

In a different way, Reid agreed that it’s about taking his offense and going back to the basics.

“You go back to the fundamentals,” Reid said, “make sure you take care of that.”

It’s imperative that they take care of third downs if they hope to win in Cincinnati.

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Bob Gretz is the senior editor for ChiefsDigest.com. Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @BobGretzcom.

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