Chiefs’ season-long struggles in red zone costly
Thursday, December 29, 2011
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs’ first three trips inside Green Bay’s 20-yard line two weeks ago netted them a pair of field goals. So did their first three trips against Oakland last Sunday.
Suffice to say, Kansas City’s red zone offense has interim coach Romeo Crennel seeing red.
There is little rhyme or reason to the Chiefs’ ability to move the ball downfield, then have everything come undone when they’re on the doorstep of scoring touchdowns. But their inability to come away with seven points instead of just three might be the biggest reason they’re playing for pride, rather than an AFC West title, when they visit Denver on Sunday.
“It’s never one guy in this business. It’s always part of a team effort,” Crennel said. “We’ve been able to get down to the red zone, we just haven’t been able to produce.”
It proved especially costly in an overtime loss to the Raiders.
Kansas City marched to the Oakland 12 late in the first quarter before a short pass completion and a pair of runs by Jackie Battle and Thomas Jones gained just 7 yards. Ryan Succop came on for what amounted to an extra-point try, though the Chiefs would have preferred that to be the case.
At least they got three points out of that trip.
Their next one was even uglier.
Kansas City had second-and-1 at the Raiders 8 when Jones was called for a false start. Now with a more substantial distance for a first down, Kyle Orton was forced to throw. His first pass was dropped by Dwayne Bowe in the end zone, and his next was intercepted by Matt Giordano, the second time in two weeks the Chiefs’ didn’t score any points on a drive inside the red zone.
Late in the third quarter, the Chiefs faced first-and-goal at the Raiders 6 and managed another field goal, leaving them in a 10-6 hole rather than a tie game.
“If we were able to get that touchdown, just a score sometimes changes the mentality on your team for that particular game. Instead of guys saying, ‘Here we go again,’ guys say, ‘OK, we made it happen,”’ Crennel said. “Getting down there is encouraging, so now what we have to do is refine some things so we can get points on the board rather than coming away with nothing.”
It’s unlikely the Chiefs will solve their red zone woes before facing Denver on Sunday. After all, it’s hard to figure out exactly who or what is to blame.
Besides, the problems have existed all season.
Kansas City has scored a touchdown on red zone trips just 33 percent of the time; the league-leading Jets have doubled that rate. By comparison, the Chiefs scored touchdowns on 59.62 percent of their trips last year, when they went 10-6 and won the division.
Inexplicably, the Chiefs are even worse at home, where they don’t have to deal with hostile crowd noise. They’ve scored TDs on only 23.81 percent of their red zone trips at Arrowhead Stadium.
Going deeper inside the numbers, Kansas City ranks 25th in the league in red zone attempts at 2.4 per game. That’s roughly half the number of trips of the league-leading Saints.
No wonder the Chiefs’ are 31st in the league in scoring.
“We’ve done a lot of good things,” Orton said, “but we have a lot to improve on.”
It’s easy to blame the play-calling of new offensive coordinator Bill Muir, or the direction of former head coach Todd Haley, who was fired a few weeks ago. It’s also easy to blame general manager Scott Pioli for not building enough depth to deal with season-ending injuries to Pro Bowl quarterback Matt Cassel, All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles and starting tight end Tony Moeaki.
But there’s still enough blame left over for the guys actually on the field.
The Chiefs’ running game, which led the league last season, has produced only four TDs rushing all year, and one of them was by defensive back Javier Arenas out of the wildcat formation. There are 37 players in the NFL with at least four touchdowns rushing, four of them quarterbacks.
Kansas City’s ground game averages 4.02 yards per carry outside the red zone, but that mark dips to 3.0 yards once the Chiefs cross the opponents’ 20. Jones is averaging just 2.3 yards on a team-high 19 carries inside the red zone, well below his career mark of 4.0 yards per attempt.
The struggles aren’t limited to the running game.
Orton is completing 47.2 percent of his passes inside the red zone. Bowe has only seven catches for 49 yards and three scores after piling up an NFL-best 15 touchdown catches last season, and free agent acquisition Steve Breaston has four catches for 30 yards in prime scoring territory.
“Guys have to look in the mirror and know they’re giving their best effort,” Crennel said.