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Breaking Down the Chiefs Offense

Posted Nov 15, 2013

Independent analyst Andrew Mason examines the Chiefs offense headed into Sunday night's showdown in Denver.

ENGLEWOOD, Colo. -- In one respect, the Chiefs do not find themselves in elite company -- quite the opposite, in fact. Their average of 5.24 yards per pass play is third-lowest in the league, and makes Kansas City the league's only winning team that gains less than 5.7 yards per pass play.

But what separates the Chiefs from other teams that hold that distinction -- including a pair of 1-8 teams in Tampa Bay and Jacksonville and the tumult-whipped Dolphins -- is an ability to avoid mistakes like no other. The average team has 14.9 giveaways this season. Kansas City has eight, and is the only NFL team in single digits regarding turnovers.

That starts with quarterback Alex Smith, who has made the right choice far more often than not. He's hurried a fair amount -- once every 4.16 pass plays, according to ProFootballFocus.com, compared to the rate of one hurry every 6.42 pass plays for Peyton Manning.

Smith's instincts come to the fore on third down. When he scrambles in that situation, he's successfully moved the chains six of 12 times, including three of six with 7 or more yards needed.

And in general, the Broncos need to be on guard for the Chiefs to try and keep them off balance. Whether it's Smith looking one way and throwing another, read-option looks out of the pistol or simply keeping it himself, the Chiefs offense is nearly as effective when he keeps it on the ground (5.00 yards per carry) as when he sets up to pass (5.23 yards per pass play). 

"If nothing’s there, he’ll take off and make first downs with his legs," said safety Rahim Moore. "He makes good decisions, which is always a great thing for a quarterback, and he puts the ball in the best player’s hands. He does a good job of looking you off."

"He's been a good quarterback through his whole career," added linebacker Wesley Woodyard, "but right now he’s taking care of the football, not making mistakes and he’s using the weapons that he has on offense.”

One of these is the screen pass, which has been a consistent part of the Chiefs' arsenal and has helped further incorporate Jamaal Charles into the passing game. His ground numbers were noted earlier; so there's no need to rehash.

Kansas City's emphasis on screens and short slants ensures that the Chiefs get a greater percentage of their gross passing yards after the catch than anyone in the NFL: 56.9 percent, averaging 5.81 yards after the catch on every pass play, 15th most in the league. (By comparison, Denver averages 6.41 yards after the catch per reception, fifth in the league.)

"They do a pretty good job with a little bubble slant thing that they do with the boxes loaded," said interim head coach Jack Del Rio.

With Dwayne Bowe and Dexter McCluster as potential targets for Smith's short, timed passes, the Chiefs take advantage of overpursuit and a lack of focus. Avoiding both is a priority every week for the Broncos defense, but more this week than most, because the best way to beat an offense that is disciplined and avoids mental mistakes is to do the same.

NOTES:

* You want to stop the Chiefs? Get them to third down with 6 or more yards to gain. Kansas City is 18-of-74 (24.3 percent) in that scenario this year, but is 31-of-62 (50 percent) with 5 yards or less needed. 

* The Broncos also need to pressure Smith whenever possible. According to ProFootballFocus.com, Smith's quarterback rating drops to 68.2 when he is under pressure, mainly because his completion percentage is 18.3 percentage points lower when he is under pressure than when he isn't.

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