Through the first four games, the Chiefs hadn’t pushed the ball downfield much in the passing game, especially not early in the game.
The net result was that defenses loaded the box against Jamaal Charles and bottled him up in the first three quarters, as the Chiefs’ offense more often than not floundered without any chunk-yardage plays.
That changed in the first half of a 26-17 win against the Titans on Sunday at LP Field.
Alex Smith connected twice on passes of more than 40 yards to wide receiver Donnie Avery, adding a new dimension — the explosive element — to the Chiefs’ attack.
“You’ve got to threaten them,” Smith said. “With the style of defense they were playing, it is going to be a give-and-take, but you’ve got to get yours. You’ve got to be able to make the plays, and when you do, they’ve got to be big plays and game-changers. We had some there in the first half.”
Smith started the game four of 12 for 43 yards on the Chiefs’ first three possessions before throwing a 44-yard post to Avery late in the first quarter.
That completion set up the first of four Ryan Succop field goals. It also forced the Titans to play the Chiefs a little more honest.
“We can throw the ball short and we can run the ball, but it adds a lot to the offense when defenses have to be prepared for those deep balls and quick wide receivers,” said Charles, who finished with 22 carries for 108 yards.
The second bomb to Avery, who also had the Chiefs’ only reception longer than 34 yards during the first four games, might have been even more important.
The Chiefs’ defense had just stonewalled the Titans on four consecutive plays at the 1-yard line, forcing a turnover on downs. With Tennessee expecting the Chiefs to pound the ball in an attempt to gain a little breathing room, Avery released on a go route up the sideline and made a leaping 41-yard reception.
“Every team wants to go down the field,” Charles said. “That sparks the team and sparks the bench even more. Donnie Avery caught two crucial passes today, especially backed up like that. That was two crucial passes.”
But Avery was injured on the play.
“He had a shoulder contusion,” coach Andy Reid said. “The x-rays were negative, but he was having a hard time raising his arm.”
Avery’s injury took away the Chiefs’ best deep threat, but he shouldn’t be out long and his emergence plugs at least one hole in Reid’s offense.
It helped that Smith seemed to have more time to throw — and actually held the ball too long on a couple of occasions, perhaps trying to drive the ball downfield.
“They play a lot of man coverage, so we thought we matched up OK there,” Reid said. “I thought the line did a good job, gave us an opportunity to throw it down the field.”
Smith didn’t have a great day. He was only 20 for 39 for 245 yards with no touchdowns and an interception, but the long plays were the kind of game-changer the Chiefs have been missing since Trent Green lined up under center.