The Kansas City Chiefs were a fun, scrappy team to watch in 2013. Under new head coach Andy Reid, his Kool-Aid wall busting ways, and a shiny new quarterback in Alex Smith, there was suddenly life in KC after only two wins the year before. And following nine straight wins to start the season there was hope for something far more than just franchise rejuvenation, however false it may have been with the five backup quarterbacks Chiefs pass rushers were able to chew up.
The source of that life was a west coast offense that didn’t ask Smith to do much, putting games almost entirely in the hands of Jamaal Charles who shattered his previous career touchdown high of eight while scoring 19 times. He also set career highs in total yards (1,980), receptions (70), and receiving yards (693).
He did all that on 329 touches, while the Chiefs averaged only 208.8 passing yards per game (24th) and 6.5 per attempt (27th). That formula for offensive success which ran through Charles with gashing runs and short passes needs a strong and stable offensive line to be successful.
That may not exist in Kansas City anymore, which is why the Chiefs are a leading drop-off candidate.
Of the Chiefs’ 988 plays last year, 33.3 percent of them ran through Charles, and that’s only counting the successful ones, and not incompletions in his direction. It’s a focus which may become a little more exaggerated following the departure of Dexter McCluster, who was also a frequent target on short, high-percentage screens while catching 53 balls for 511 yards, both career highs.
That means Charles and McCluster combined to account for 1,204 receiving yards, in addition to Charles leading an offense that averaged 4.7 yards per carry. And he did all that behind an offensive line that’s now been dismantled through free agency, losing signifiant continuity.
Gone are Brandon Albert, Jon Asamoah, and Geoff Schwartz, a cabinet emptying largely the product of limited cap space. Those three played a total of 2,249 snaps in 2013, and now Albert is no longer protecting Smith’s blindside, and Charles won’t benefit from Schwartz’s run blocking which was assessed thusly by Pro Football Focus, as their esteemed film watchers called him the best guard not named Evan Mathis:
While he had a superb year in pass protection with a pass blocking efficiency of 97.3 (ranked 11th), Schwartz’ calling card is his run blocking. He has elite power at the point of attack, but he also rarely gets beat cleanly. He had the sixth-lowest percentage of run snaps that took a downgrade among all guards.
Schwartz eventually took Asamoah’s starting job last year, through the latter still started nine games, and during that time he allowed only one sack. He proved to be far more effective while blocking large humans than 2013 first overall pick Eric Fisher, who’s now Albert’s replacement at left tackle after giving up a team-high seven sacks and 35 hurries.
Here’s to hoping Fisher will feel more comfortable in his natural position after playing right tackle as a rookie, because as the Chiefs discovered while losing five of their last seven games to end the season, playing from behind means having to move the ball through the air. And that requires time, and a few sets of trustworthy hands.
Right now Smith may not have much of either, though one of those problems should be addressed immediately in the first round of next month’s draft with the Chiefs’ 23rd overall pick. In a draft rich with wide receiver talent the likes of Brandin Cooks and Odell Beckham Jr. will likely be available. But without a second-round pick after the Smith trade last year, addressing O-line depth with talent ready to start immediately if needed won’t happen.
The hope is clearly that the offensive line blow can be mitigated by a system which asks Smith to do little, having him release the ball quickly on short drop backs. If that’s the case then I’ll gladly gnaw on delicious crow, because an offense that runs through Charles entertains me. But about that: he still needs running lanes which might not be there anymore.
Nearly every year there’s a team that does the flameout, smoking spiral thing, failing to qualify for the playoffs after doing so the previous season. A year after rising from the dead, that could be the Chiefs in 2014.