Red Zone

Chiefs offensive film room: Five things to like and dislike from the Titans loss

Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith threw a fourth-quarter pass under pressure from Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey in last Sunday’s game.
Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith threw a fourth-quarter pass under pressure from Tennessee Titans defensive tackle Jurrell Casey in last Sunday’s game. The Kansas City Star

To check out part one, which was published on Thursday and focused on the defense, click here.

1. The Chiefs’ passing game: The good stuff

When Sunday’s game finally came to a close, people were tripping all over themselves to assign blame to the Chiefs’ dismal offensive showing.

While their struggles in the running game are pretty self explanatory — poor blocking and only seven carries for Jamaal Charles (I’m still incredulous about this) — the struggles of the Chiefs’ passing game are a little less so.

Was it the offensive line? Was it quarterback Alex Smith? Was it the receivers not creating enough separation? What about the Titans?

My stance? It was all four. Shocking, I know.

But before we delve into the ugly stuff, I’ll highlight a couple of positive plays Smith made in the passing game, and it’s probably no coincidence that both came over the first quarter and a half, before the Titans figured them out.

▪ See! Alex Smith doesn’t always check down! Check out the play below. He’s got Anthony Sherman wide open in the flat, but Smith sees Donnie Avery in single coverage and delivers a great throw.

▪ I thought this next throw was Alex’s best of the day. He executes the play-action, then stands in there and places a gorgeous ball on a corner route to Travis Kelce just seconds before he absorbs a hit from Jurrell Casey (more on him in a minute).

2. The Chiefs’ passing game: The bad stuff

Now, for my list of reasons of why the passing game struggled:

▪ The Titans had a good game-plan.

Tennessee mixed up its blitzes well in the first half, but the Titans really pulled away in the second half when they regularly dropped seven defenders into coverage. This can make life tough for an offense, especially when the defense can get an adequate amount of pressure with just four guys (as the Titans can).

Check out this second-and-5 throw with the Chiefs down 20-3.

In the above still, the Titans rushed three and dropped eight. Instead of hitting Charles, who is wide open underneath, Smith tried to connect with Avery on the comeback. The pass sailed way out of bounds.

By the way, this wasn’t the only time Smith eschewed an open Charles in favor of a downfield throw on Sunday. I saw this on at least two more occasions, though both came in the second half with the Chiefs down by a decent margin.

▪ Without Dwayne Bowe, the receivers sometimes had a tough time getting separation.

Here’s a play where the Titans actually sent seven, leaving on four players in coverage to defend three receivers. Look how well Hemingway, the intended receiver, is covered:

I just didn’t see a ton of open guys Sunday. Blame the stale playcalling — there sure weren’t a ton of shorter, easy throws open — and give the Titans credit for playing good coverage and flooding the intermediate and deep parts of the field with bodies.

▪ Alex simply made some bad throws.

Here’s another play where the Titans sent seven. Smith had Hemingway open over the middle and issued an errant pass. No real excuse for it.

▪ The o-line struggled in pass pro, particularly in the second half.

I found this following statement by Chiefs coach Andy Reid, which was made Monday, to be true (I asked him about the offensive line’s pass protection).

“I thought through the first quarter and a half, I thought we had a little bit of a flow going,” Reid said. “We had some penalties that took some things away. I saw some positives there. Do we need to get better? Yeah, we need to get a little bit better.”

Yes, I know Smith had the most time to throw among any NFL quarterback this week, according to Pro Football Focus. But guess what? Every single starting offensive lineman finished with a negative pass blocking grade, ranging from slightly below average (negative-0.4) to terrible (negative-2.7).

By the way, this happens to be the case despite the fact the Titans — at least by my count — sent four players or less after the quarterback a staggering 32 times (they sent five players or more 12 times).

That means the Chiefs, who have at least five players blocking every play, had a numbers advantage up front for most of the game and still allowed 14 quarterback pressures, the third-most in the NFL (behind New Orleans and New England).

Here’s two examples from the fourth quarter where the Titans sent four and still pressured Smith, thanks to some very effective stunts.

Well, this stuff is on tape now. So expect teams to send four, use twists and stunts up front and drop seven in coverage until the Chiefs prove they can exploit it.

3. Mike McGlynn vs. Jurrell Casey

Casey ate McGlynn’s lunch on at least two zone stretch running plays. The one below, which came with the Chiefs trailing 17-3 in the third quarter, was particularly rough because it was one of the few instances where they got pretty good run blocking everywhere else.

The Chiefs had seven men to block seven men in the box, which isn’t a bad matchup, and they still lost yards. Not good, folks.

This is an example of the trouble the Chiefs had creating movement in the run game. If they can’t achieve this in future games, and Jamaal Charles can’t do better than seven carries for 19 yards, then it’s going to be a long, long season.

I’m picking on McGlynn here a bit, largely because he’s the lineman that struggled the most on Sunday. But to be truthful, I could have picked out any number of plays where Casey absolutely gave it to another Chief.

Casey’s Pro Football Focus grade on Sunday was a plus-6.9 — an insanely high number, and the highest any defensive player has logged against the Chiefs since Houston star J.J. Watt racked up an ungodly plus-8.4 grade last October.

And when you consider Casey finished with a grade of plus-1.3 against the Chiefs last season, it points to progression on Casey’s part and regression on the offensive line.

4. Travis Kelce at WR

The Chiefs did this for the first time (I think) with 10:40 left in the fourth quarter, despite the fact they trailed the entire second half.

Kelce, who ran a slant on the above play and made the catch for 12 yards, only received eight second-half snaps, despite the fact the Chiefs spent most of it throwing the ball. Unacceptable.

5. Kelce’s bow-and-arrow first down celebration

Just a little levity after what must have been a dispiriting game for Chiefs fans:

To reach Terez A. Paylor, call 816-234-4489 or send email to tpaylor@kcstar.com. Follow him on Twitter at @TerezPaylor.

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