The Kansas City Chiefs Are on the Verge of a Complete Offensive Meltdown
When a team kicks off the season against a below-average defense from the year before that has lost one of its key players in free agency and seemingly added very little, it's very easy as a fantasy player (or analyst) to target that matchup without considering the changes on the other side of the ball.
But in the case of the Kansas City Chiefs in 2014, perhaps there wasn't enough time spent on evaluating the Kansas City offense to see if it was worth targeting despite what appeared to be a great matchup.
And while it's too late to do anything about our Week 1 missteps, it's the right time to look ahead and ask the important question: What are we to expect from the Kansas City offense this year?
Charles Not In Charge
Perhaps the biggest shock of Week 1 was the performance of Jamaal Charles, who carried the ball seven times for 19 yards, and caught only four passes for 15 more. He failed to find any room to run, and wasn't heavily involved in the offense, seeing only four of the team's 31 targeted passes.
Running backs are difficult to evaluate with stats alone, so what does the tape reveal about Charles' performance? Well, on his first carry of the game, Charles' left guard (veteran Mike McGlynn) was driven into the backfield like a sled on a practice field, and wound up on the right side of the formation, desperately pushing away Jurrell Casey in his attempts to get to Jamaal Charles.
McGlynn being driven well out of position ruined the entire flow of the play, which was a zone run to the left, with a tight end coming back across the formation to block the cutback defender for what could have been a huge play (If you were watching the Seattle/Green Bay game on Thursday, the blocking scheme would be somewhat similar to the one on Marshawn Lynch's nine-yard touchdown). But instead, McGlynn's failure ruined the entire blocking concept, and the play ended with a short gain.
McGlynn isn't the man the Chiefs wanted at left guard this season. Their original plans were for Jeff Allen to start at that position, with Donald Stephenson at right tackle. But Stephenson is suspended, moving Allen to tackle, and forcing McGlynn to start at guard.
Add in this suspension-forced change with the loss of guard Jon Asamoah and tackle Branden Albert this summer, and the line that paved the way for Charles a year ago is now long gone. In its place is one of the leagues' worst blocking units.
So it's probably a good thing for your fantasy team that Charles wasn't asked to run the ball behind that line too many times, as he might have been hurt or quit football out of frustration were he forced to run into that brick wall over and over.
But his lack of involvement in the passing game is curious, and is something to keep an eye on. Alex Smith and the Chiefs offense were behind for most of the game, and were looking to push the ball down the field, but Charles is by far the best player on the offense, and should have been higher on the target list in the passing game.
Dwayne Bowe to the Rescue?
The Chiefs were without Dwayne Bowe on Sunday, as the receiver sat out due to a suspension. He'll be back next week, but will that be enough to get the passing game back on track?
Alex Smith finished with the fifth-worst per-dropback Net Expected Points (NEP) average of quarterbacks who threw more than one pass on Sunday, winding up nearly one-quarter of a Net Expected Point worse than his average in 2013. In other words, instead of adding 5% of a point to his team's expected total every time he dropped back (like he did last year), Smith's actions reduced his team's likely scoring output by nearly 20% of a point on every passing play.
Of course, his performance was capped by his lack of talent at receiver. Bowe's absence and the offseason loss of Dexter McCluster left the team without two of its four best receivers from a year ago according to our data, while Donnie Avery was the focal point of the offense, and picked up 84 yards on seven catches to lead the team in both categories.
But Bowe's return shouldn't been seen as a game-changer, as the veteran wideout was outside of the top-50 among pass catchers in Reception NEP last year, and among the 27 wide receivers to see 100-150 targets, he finished sixth-worst in per-target efficiency.
Fail to the Chiefs
In other words, with the loss of McCluster and key cogs along their front five on offense, Kansas City is less talented on offense today than they were at this time last year, when they were kicking off their surprising run to start the season.
Our metrics ranked the Chiefs 11th worst on offense in 2013, meaning there wasn't a long way to go before hitting rock bottom and being among the league's worst when in possession of the ball. They were above average running the ball a year ago but struggled mightily in the passing game, yet enter 2014 with less talent in both phases of the offensive scheme.
And with serious injuries on defense during their Week 1 loss, they're unlikely to see the cushy leads that helped them establish the running game last year and grind away at defenses for four quarters while scoring on defense and special teams.
In other words, this might not just be a drill. The Kansas City Chiefs offense could be really, really bad this year. And if they're unable to find a way to get Jamaal Charles in space, like he was so often last year, you can change that "could be" into a "will be."