3 in the Kee: Chiefs' lack of big plays and takeaways is turning this season toxic

BY foxsports • December 8, 2014

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- A fun season is turning all toxic again.

For weeks -- and by weeks, we mean months -- the Kansas City Chiefs, while overcoming injuries and chasing a postseason berth, were doing it while on the wrong side of a very pivotal NFL stat: toxic differential. As defined by the stat-tracking site SportingCharts.com, toxic differential is the difference between big-yardage plays made (10 or more yards on a rush; 25 or more yards on a pass) and big-yardage plays given up, added to the difference between takeaways and giveaways. The higher the number, the better.

Of the top eight NFL teams in toxic differential as of early Monday morning, only the St. Louis Rams (6-7) had a losing record. Of the bottom eight teams, only one had a winning record -- the Chiefs (7-6).

And the Andy Gang's differential is toxic, indeed: minus 32. That's the third-worst ratio in the NFL, ahead of only Sunday's opponent, the Oakland Raiders (minus 37), and the New York Giants (minus 39).

The biggest stone on the chain that's pulled the Chiefs down is a big-play differential of minus 27, the second-worst ratio in the NFL to the G-men. The lack of explosion plays in the passing game, and the general criticisms of quarterback Alex Smith and his receiving corps, are a natural culprit here, as well as the huge swaths of yards given up on the ground by the running game -- and the latter was still an issue Sunday as an Arizona team that was without Andre Ellington still ran for 141 yards on 33 carries.

SportingCharts credited the Chiefs with a minus 5 takeaway/giveaway ratio, which goes back to another virus running through the defense as of late: Dropped picks. Cornerbacks Sean Smith and Phillip Gaines had catchable interceptions off Cards quarterback Drew Stanton slip through their mitts, as did linebacker Josh Mauga in the third quarter.

Because, sooner or later, missed opportunities can prove toxic on that side of the ball, too.


:03 ... Travis Kelce's non-fumble fumble drove me batty, but what about the Anthony Fasano touchdown the refs took off the board?

What about it? Replays weren't particularly conclusive there, either; the Chiefs' veteran tight end appeared to get his feet tangled with Arizona linebacker Larry Foote. In an effort to get untangled, and with Alex Smith rolling right in jailbreak mode, Fasano appeared to extend at least a little shove on Foote to get some separation.

Foote crumpled -- or crumpled at least well enough for the stripes to notice. Whether No. 80 dropped the hammer or Foote flopped, soccer style, is open to interpretation.

"I'm going to have to see the play on film," Fasano told The Arizona Republic after the game. "I don't know what they saw."

Smith found Fasano in the right corner of the end zone for a score that would've pushed the Chiefs' lead to 21-9 (assuming the extra point). Instead, everybody went backward on the offensive pass interference call. On the next play, Smith, scrambling right again, was picked by Alex Okafor, setting up an Arizona touchdown and a 15-point swing.

"The (interference) was obvious," Cardinals coach Bruce Arians told The Republic. "He shoved him and everyone in the stadium, I think, saw it. Thank God they saw it."

:02 ... Was there ANYTHING positive to take? ANYTHING?

a. Linebacker Joe Mays is back! (No, really. He is. Even logged four tackles.)

b. Newcomer Jason Avant contributed, throwing a great block to spring Jamaal Charles on a wheel route for the Chiefs' second touchdown, and then catching a 41-yard rainbow from Smith that proved to be the longest single pass reception by a Kansas City player this fall.

c. Kelce reached 110 yards through the air, a new single-game high -- and also, no coincidence, the first 100-yards-or-more receiving day by a member of the Andy Gang all year.

Now just imagine how much more he might've had if that phantom fumble call was upheld. Just make sure you're not around any sharp objects while you're doing it.

Flip through our photo album of NFL cheerleaders.

:01 ... OK, genius: Now what do we need?

A sweep and some help, or it's nighty-night at the end of the month.

Look, with two home games left, the Chiefs can reach 9-7. The problem is, with so many teams in the AFC crammed together at 8-5 or 7-6 -- eight as of early Monday -- a 9-7 mark probably won't add up to a wild-card berth.

The Steelers have three AFC losses, as does Houston; the Chiefs, Miami and San Diego have four each. Baltimore has five; Buffalo and Cleveland have six. Even with Kansas City's wins over Miami and Buffalo propping up the resume, that's probably going to be the number to keep an eye on down the stretch.

On paper, the Chargers draw the toughest finish, with road trips to San Francisco and Kansas City and a home game with Denver; the Dolphins and Ravens' final three games are probably the kindest closing kick. But no matter how this shakes out, there's a good chance that at least one club, if not both, will be playing for some kind of playoff seeding at Arrowhead when the Bolts come to town Dec. 28.

You can follow Sean Keeler on Twitter at @SeanKeeler or email him at seanmkeeler@gmail.com.

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