Do Chiefs Wide Receivers Share Blame for Stagnant Offense?

Christopher Hansen@ChrisHansenNFLNFL AnalystOctober 18, 2013

KANSAS CITY, MO - OCTOBER 13:  Dwayne Bowe #82 of the Kansas City Chiefs makes a catch against the Oakland Raiders second quarter October 13, 2013 at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Missouri. (Photo by Kyle Rivas/Getty Images)
Kyle Rivas/Getty Images

It's safe to say the Kansas City Chiefs are 6-0 because of their great defense—not their because of their offense.

All the statistics support that statement and it doesn't take much tape review to come to the same conclusion. 

Maybe the Chiefs will join the 2000 Baltimore Ravens as one of the best defenses in the past 20 years, but it's probably a safe bet that they will fall off—at least slightly. When that happens, the Chiefs will need their offense to step up. 

With a such a great defense, the Kansas City offense doesn't need to be great, but it does need to be better than it has been. Some people will blame quarterback Alex Smith for the offensive woes, but the receivers should share the blame as well.

Dwayne Bowe, Donnie Avery and Dexter McCluster haven't produced very impressive numbers, combining for just 50 receptions and three touchdowns this season. Some receivers have close to those numbers individually through the first six games, so clearly, Kansas City's wide receivers are struggling.

ProFootballFocus (subscription required), confirms just how much Kansas City's trio of receivers have struggled. Combined, the three have a negative-8.3 grade, the worst grade of any trio in the NFL.

Chiefs Dropping the Ball
Position GroupDropsCatchableDrop Rate
Tight Ends32512.0%
Wide Receivers76311.1%
Running Backs75113.7%

As a group, Chiefs' wide receivers have seven drops this season on 139 catchable passes, according to ProfootballFocus, which is an 11.1 percent drop rate. The league average drop rate for wide receivers is 9.7 percent, so drops have certainly been a problem, even if not a huge one.

Outside of catching the ball, receivers are responsible for getting open, running after the catch and blocking. For purposes here, the blocking of wide receivers is probably not heavily responsible for the production of the passing game.

How receivers get open is dependent on a variety of factors, such as route running, coverage and technique. There are many nuances that can't always be analyzed using the coaches film.

What we can do is analyze the results, specifically on passing downs, to try to determine how much of the blame Kansas City's receivers deserve blame for a lackluster offense.

Passing downs include anything on third down and anything in the red zone that isn't inside the 5-yard line, which is when the KC passing offense really needs to produce.

The first example comes from last week against the Oakland Raiders on a Smith completion to tight end Kevin Brock over the middle in the red zone. There are only two wide receivers running patterns on this play, and both are on the left side.

Bowe runs an out-and-up and Avery runs a post pattern, but both receivers are actually perfectly open. Smith choose to throw between two defenders and get nine yards, as opposed to something more risky, like a pass to Avery in the end zone. Two plays later, Avery fumbles and the Raiders get the ball back with the score still 7-7. 

For the most part, Kansas City's receivers aren't struggling to get open short and in the intermediate zones. The biggest problems appear to be in Smith finding his receivers or not having enough protection. This play was a first down with relatively little pressure, but that's not usually the case.

In this example from Week 5, Smith just missed McCluster for a first down. McCluster was wide open despite the fact that there were seven defensive backs against just two receivers and a tight end. Charles leaked out of the backfield late as the fourth receiver.

Why might the Chiefs have six potential blockers against a four-man rush? The simple answer is for pass protection. The Chiefs haven't been protecting their quarterback, so tight ends and running backs have been forced to stay in to block.

Can you fault the receivers for having a harder time finding open spots when they are bracketed by two or three defenders? Probably not, but that's not something that will show up statistically. 

There are times that Kansas City's receivers struggle to find open space, but there is a commonality to most of these occurrences. The receivers are all running short routes of 10 yards or less and the opposing defense isn't respecting anything deeper. On this 3rd-and-6 against the Titans, there was tight coverage across the board.

Smith makes the right decision to throw to the tight end coming left to right, but the ball ends up getting knocked out of his hand by a pass-rusher. The outside receivers don't really have any separation, so it doesn't make sense to take a deep shot there. 

When you consider all of the factors for Kansas City's offensive struggles, it's clearly been a group effort. Smith has trouble finding open receivers in the medium and deep range, the protection has trouble holding up for long enough for routes to develop and the receivers struggle in gaining separation down the field.

Kansas City's receivers share some of the blame, but no more than Smith or his offensive line. When the Chiefs need to lean more heavily on the offense, they also need it to be a collaborative effort. 


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