Red Zone

Ask Terez: Q&A about the Chiefs’ 19-17 loss to Tennessee

Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith was tackled for no gain by Titans linebacker Avery Williamson on third and 2 in the fourth quarter Sunday. The Chiefs had to punt and ended up losing 19-17.
Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith was tackled for no gain by Titans linebacker Avery Williamson on third and 2 in the fourth quarter Sunday. The Chiefs had to punt and ended up losing 19-17.

In this week’s postgame mailbag, The Star’s Terez A. Paylor answers postgame Twitter questions about Tyreek Hill, Travis Kelce, the offensive play calling and much more. Read on for all that, plus the number of the day.

1. What adjustments need to be made in order for our offense to be more consistent, and to get Hill and Kelce more involved? – @RoyalfaninTexas

Tyreek Hill had a 68-yard touchdown run early in the first quarter, but it was his only offensive touch all day (though he was targeted three times). Travis Kelce, who was coming off four straight games of 100-plus receiving yards, only had three catches for 41 yards, though he was targeted twice more. Hill’s lack of touches on offense was unacceptable — period. He’s been the Chiefs’ most explosive playmaker, and generally coach Andy Reid will hand him the ball on jet sweeps or throw him some screens to get him involved. The fact Hill didn’t touch the ball again after it became clear the Titans couldn’t run with him is odd. And although Reid did try to use him as a decoy — he was motioned multiple times Sunday — the criticism about his lack of touches is fair. As for Kelce, he was targeted five times and is coming off a terrific run. It’s probably a little unfair to say they’ve had a problem getting him involved, though he certainly could have used a few more touches Sunday.

Chiefs tight end Travis Kelce was frustrated with team's 19-17 loss to Titans on Dec. 18, 2016.

2. Why does the offense seem to start fast but take their foot off the gas, allowing the other team back in the game? – @Brent102Fire

The Chiefs have an opportunistic defense, one that has answered the bell time and time again this year. You have to play to your strengths, and the defense has certainly been better than the offense this year. That said, the offense has not been productive enough in the second half of games recently, and that problem was exacerbated Sunday because they lost. Zero second-half offensive touchdowns in three games is a problem, one Reid is accepting responsibility for. But let’s also remember that the offense got clutch first downs to close out the Falcons and Raiders, and also came up huge against the Broncos when the defense faltered down the stretch. Things in the NFL are not black and white, folks — it’s always a shade of gray. The Chiefs lost Sunday because the offense wasn’t quite good enough on that day. That does not mean they can’t be better next week, or in the playoffs, for instance. But the frustration is understandable.

3. Who is holding the Chiefs’ offense back? – @3GravyCats

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Everybody takes turns. A screwup here, a screwup there. When you don’t have an elite, alpha quarterback like Tom Brady or Drew Brees, there’s a shared responsibility on offense. To have a positive gain, you need a good play call and good execution. Sometimes Reid’s play calls are sniffed out by defenses, but more often, at least to my eye, there’s an execution breakdown somewhere, whether it be a skill player, or the quarterback, or up front. Look, if the Chiefs won more consistently up front in the running game, it would be easier to score … just like it would be easier if Alex Smith was the type of quarterback who could consistently uncork darts downfield and throw people open like Brett Favre or something. But that doesn’t mean you can’t win in the playoffs with Smith; it just means the margin for error is smaller. And the offense needs to improve its execution everywhere to improve its production in the playoffs.

Kansas City Chiefs coach Andy Reid and quarterback Alex Smith commented on the team's loss to the Tennessee Titans during their postgame press conference on Sunday at Arrowhead Stadium.

4. Why doesn’t Alex audible out of terrible play calls? – @VWoodin

Before the season, Reid touted the improved trust he has in Smith to do just what you’re asking, which is audible out of plays. That’s a big step for Reid, who trusts his play calls and likes his quarterbacks to run what’s called. Both publicly and privately, the Chiefs have indicated their trust in Smith has not changed. However, there have been times — like Smith’s red-zone interception against the Bucs a few weeks back — where Reid admitted Smith didn’t have the option to audible out of it. But you know which plays are called, it will always be difficult to get an accurate gauge on.

5. What would the narrative be about Alex Smith right now if they hadn’t eked out the Denver win? – @kent_swanson

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Well, they’d be 9-5 … and there would definitely be a ton of heat on him about his ability to make big throws and deliver when needed this year. That Broncos game did a lot for him; in prime time, against an archrival, he delivered — and had his defense’s back — after it’s mainly been the other way most of the season. But people will still keep a close eye on his performance down the stretch, because Smith turns 33 in May, and it would at least make sense for the Chiefs to start thinking about grooming someone they’ve invested a high draft pick in for the future. Smart teams always, always, always stay ahead of the curve at quarterback.

The number

0 — The number of offensive touchdowns the Chiefs have scored in the second half of their last three games, against Oakland, Atlanta and Tennessee.