KANSAS CITY, Mo. — Every Chiefs fan or observer can spot the problem on the Chiefs offense rather quickly.
The Chiefs simply don’t make enough dynamic plays downfield to put up a lot of points.
And that lack of big-play potential virtually cripples the offense when it is forced to come from behind, as it failed to do in Sunday’s 27-17 loss to Denver.
But on the flip side, the Chiefs, likely by design, are a ball-security machine. The Chiefs and quarterback Alex Smith have thrown the fewest interceptions (four) of any team in the NFL.
Still, there has to be a balance between ball security and being able to deliver down field.
“Yes, I think it’s possible (to) have that balance,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said Wednesday. “We have taken more shots downfield lately. I don’t necessarily think it’s our strength so far at this point of the season. We’ll continue to work on it.”
But with so much emphasis on ball security, it appears that Smith too often refrains from taking chances down field.
“Obviously, ball security is priority one,” Reid said. “But each team gives you different opportunities to work on something downfield. I thought we had a shot to take something downfield against that crew (Broncos).
“Every coach in this league understands that turnovers are huge. You have to prevent those. I do talk to them about that. Plus-minus ratio is very important.”
But has Smith taken that sermon to the extreme? The Chiefs are just 27th in the league in passing yards with 1,985, and only four teams have thrown for fewer touchdowns than the Chiefs’ 11.
“I’m happy with the way Alex has played,” Reid said. “I love the way he walks the line. He takes care of the game. He threw the ball well the other night. He’s still getting familiar with the receivers. We all need to get better.”
Smith’s conservative play was apparent late in the first half when the Chiefs had a chance to close the gap from 17-10 to 17-13 as they drove to the Broncos’ 42 yard line in hopes of a field-goal attempt. But then Smith, instead of taking a chance downfield or simply throwing the ball away, took a sack.
“Bad call on my part,” Reid said. “He didn’t have an opportunity.”
Then, after the Chiefs got a break with a defensive-holding call on the Broncos, Smith was given an untimed down to try a Hail Mary.
But Smith, oddly, didn’t throw the Hail Mary. He instead scrambled and ran the ball harmlessly out of bounds to end the half.
Reid again refused to say his quarterback made a wrong decision.
“It just didn’t time up that way,” Reid said. “No opportunity (to throw Hail Mary).”
Late in the game, with 55 seconds left and no timeouts, Smith again refused to force a throw downfield, even though at that point the Chiefs had nothing to lose. Smith instead tossed a one-yard pass to Jamaal Charles which didn’t accomplish anything. Two plays later the game ended.
Smith, though, insists the biggest problem with the offense is its inability to move the chains consistently.
“I think the biggest thing is getting into a rhythm, getting consecutive plays,” he said. “It starts with that first first down of the game. Put some plays together. We had some three-and-outs early.”
And what can Smith do to get the Chiefs going faster early in games?
“You mean besides play better? Yes, I have to execute better,” he said. “I certainly didn’t play well early in that game. It was all the little things, when you turn on the tape you see that.
“Everyone had a hand in it.”
That is true. But fair or not, the blame always seems to go back to the quarterback. And in recent weeks, the Chiefs’ offense has been mostly ineffective, starting with the quarterback.
Smith, of course, believes the problems are correctable. And it is his belief that there is nothing wrong with the philosophy of the offense.
“I certainly think you need to attack all areas of the field. Sure,” he said. “You need to be aggressive if the defense is being aggressive.
“But it’s not just the play calling — it’s executing. We all have to execute better.”
You can follow Jeffrey Flanagan on Twitter at @jflanagankc or email at email@example.com.