Chiefs’ struggles in red zone have been costly this season
KANSAS CITY, Mo. (AP) — The Kansas City Chiefs thought they had a touchdown when Travis Kelce hauled in a 10-yard pass from Alex Smith early in the second quarter of last Sunday’s victory over Oakland.
They wound up with a field goal.
The touchdown was wiped out when right tackle Mitchell Schwartz had wandered too far downfield, and a pair of incomplete passes bookending a sack by Khalil Mack nixed the drive.
The Chiefs had to call upon Harrison Butker for a 33-yard field goal for a 16-0 lead — the latest prime example of their futility when it comes to executing in the red zone.
Butker wound up kicking four field goals in the 26-15 victory over the Raiders, the fourth time in 10 games the rookie has attempted at least that many. Twice he’s gone 5 for 5 in a game.
“We would have loved to not have kicked so many field goals,” Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith said. “We’ve been moving the ball really well. ... Had a lot of drives that for whatever reason — the missed opportunities and negative plays in the red zone. We had chances I think to make plays and didn’t.”
That’s been a trend for the Chiefs the past couple of years.
They’re only converting 44.44 percent of their trips inside the 20-yard line into touchdowns this season, a modest decrease over the 47.37 percent of last season. That ranks 28th in the league, and is a far cry from the 67.39 percent of touchdowns that the Philadelphia Eagles have scored.
Oh, those Eagles are coached by former Chiefs offensive coordinator Doug Pederson.
As the cliché goes, that adds a bit of insult to injury.
Smith has been asked about the Chiefs’ red zone woes before, and he points out the inherent trouble in scoring close to the goal line.
The field gets compressed and a team that prefers to spread the field has a harder time accomplishing the goal, making it harder to get the ball across the goal line.
That issue is compounded by the Chiefs’ personnel. They have undersized speedsters such as Tyreek Hill and Albert Wilson at wide receiver, but none of the big, lanky wide receivers that would allow Smith to chuck the ball in the corner of the end zone in a one-on-one matchup with a cornerback.
Their biggest threat in the red zone is Kelce, their All-Pro tight end, and rarely does he drop a pass or come up short of the end zone. But he did both last Sunday, the drop leading to a field goal.
“There were two drives where we ended up with field goals where I could have gotten in the end zone and helped out the team,” said Kelce, his own biggest critic. “That’s the kind of accountability I put on myself to do better. And I will.”
It’s not just Kelce, though. It’s an offense-wide issue, one that has cost them dearly.
The Chiefs were 3 for 3 in the red zone in their season-opening rout of New England, and they were 2 for 3 in a win the following week against the Eagles. All told, they are 13 for 24 scoring touchdowns in the red zone in their seven wins, good for 54 percent — solidly middle of the pack.
In their six losses? The Chiefs are 3 for 12 in the red zone.
Chiefs coach Andy Reid opts to take a positive spin on the struggles. He correctly points out that his young kicker who is doing “phenomenal,” ensuring they get at least something out of those drives. And even when the Chiefs have come up empty, they have kept their heads down and worked.
“We’ve got an All-Pro tight end who doesn’t drop very many balls and he had a drop. Nobody hung their head, he didn’t hang his head,” Reid said after the Raiders game.
“He got back in and had another big catch. We left some points on the field. Nobody flinched with it they just kept going.”
Still, the Chiefs know they can’t keep leaving points on the board, especially with the streaking Los Angeles Chargers coming to town Saturday night for a matchup of AFC West leaders.
“Offensively, I think we’re feeling really good where we’re at right now,” Smith said. “Obviously the ramifications will be big, no question. The stakes will be high.”