Mailbag: Deciphering the Chiefs’ latest mystifying loss

The Buffalo Bills seemed like the perfect palate cleanser for the Kansas City Chiefs — a struggling team heading in the wrong direction coming in to face an angry team and the Arrowhead mystique.

So what went wrong and what can the Chiefs do next? Let’s take your questions and see what can be figure out going forward.

Kansas City Chiefs linebackers Derrick Johnson (56) and Justin Houston (50) converge on Buffalo Bills quarterback Tyrod Taylor during Buffalo’s 16-10 win at Arrowhead Stadium Nov. 26, 2017. (Photo by Justin Olson,

Prior to today I would have put the odds of Mahomes playing this year at virtually zero barring an injury to Smith. Today’s game changes those odds a bit, but I don’t think it’s a significant change.

Parsing statements from coaches can be dangerous, but Reid’s qualified endorsement of Smith does call for some analysis.

“No,” Reid said when asked if he would consider a change at quarterback. “That’s not where I’m at right now. There are a couple of other things I’ve got to take care of.”

The “No” part of the answer should not be taken lightly. That’s a pretty definitive answer.

“That’s not where I’m at right now”: That suggests Reid could get there at a later time. But the most intriguing part of the answer is the last line.

“There are a couple of other things I’ve got to take care of”: That’s the key to understanding what Reid thinks about his offense. Smith deserves little if any responsibility for why  the run game stinks. Don’t blame Smith for why the Giants intercepted a shovel pass. Smith did not cause two receivers to forget who should catch a screen pass and who should block.

The Chiefs offense looked bad for many reasons. Reid has a punch list of things to fix on offense, and quarterback is without a doubt the last thing on his list. Rectifying issues with game planning and execution seem much higher on his list. If the team addresses those and still can’t move the ball, then Smith may find the bench. Until then, this is Smith’s team.

The second part of this question, the “Alex-Smith-can’t read-a-zone-defense” theory that seems to be finding legs on Twitter feels like one of those memes you read on Facebook from your crazy uncle that you feel compelled to check on

The Chiefs offensive woes are largely self-inflicted. Teams could be playing a prevent defense against the Chiefs and they would still struggle moving the ball because there are too many fundamental flaws on offense right now.

If and when Patrick Mahomes takes the field, the likelihood of his getting hit on any given play probably rests more on his shoulders than the offensive line. The Chiefs certainly want to take advantage of his physical tools, but one of the things they hope Mahomes learns is to protect himself by staying in the pocket more and not exposing himself to big hits on the run.

That to me may be the biggest mystery of the offense’s swoon. Hunt rushed Sunday 11 times for 17 yards. With numbers like that, it’s hard to argue that giving the ball to Hunt more was the answer.

Two games standout on Hunt’s game log. He rushed nine times for 21 yards against Pittsburgh. Like against Buffalo, the offensive line never established the line of scrimmage in that game.

Hunt’s nine carries for 37 yards against Dallas appears the most perplexing. For whatever reason, the Chiefs simply abandoned the run in a close game.

The rookie’s efficiency has fallen off the charts, however, and much like the rest of the offense’s woes this seems to have multiple causes. The advanced metrics will tell you that defenses are making contact with Hunt earlier in the play and that he is breaking fewer tackles.

Certainly the offensive line owns the issues with blocking. But I’m not sure we’ve seen Hunt adjust to the way defenses are playing him. He said after the game he thinks he needs to be more patient. That may help if he’s outrunning his blocking.

I don’t see how you can watch what Doug Pederson has done as head coach of the Philadelphia Eagles this season and not ask that question.

That’s not a knock on Matt Nagy, who took over as the sole offensive coordinator this season. But Pederseon is clearly a quality offensive mind, and you can never have enough of those guys around. Pederson is 10 years Nagy’s senior, and may be in a different position to challenge Reid’s assertions and provoke thought.

The Chiefs had a couple of other changes on the staff as well. Assistant offensive line coach Eugene Chung left with Pederson for Philadelphia. Assistant head coach and receivers coach David Culley departed this past offseason to join Sean McDermott’s staff in Buffalo.

New coaches such as receivers coach Greg Lewis and quality control coach Mike Kafka backfilled their spots and by all accounts are quality leaders. But a lot of experience left with Pederson and the others, and that could certainly be a factor impacting this team.

Chris Conley’s injury feels a bit like the breaking point but it’s hard to blame all the offense’s problems on the loss of Conley.

But when this losing skid started against Pittsburgh, the Chiefs were missing Conley, Mitch Morse, Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Albert Wilson. Let’s not also forget that despite how great Kareem Hunt played in the first five games, this team also misses Spencer Ware and Parker Ehinger. That’s six key offensive players gone for significant chunks over the last six games.

In Conley the Chiefs miss a player who can give you 500 yards receiving and serve as your best blocking wide receiver. That’s a pretty important piece. Demarcus Robinson still offers plenty of upside, but so far he has yet to match Conley’s output.

The Chiefs have added some faces back to the line but the team still is not at full strength. There’s nothing you can do about injuries. It’s the NFL, so insert a platitude about next man up in this space.

Short of Reid waving a magic wand and getting the offense healthy and on the same page again, I don’t believe there is a single fix for what the Chiefs can do to right the ship. There are numerous small adjustments, however, that can be made.

If personnel changes come, only changes along the offensive line make the sense. Parker Ehinger statistically was the Chiefs best run-blocking lineman last year. If he’s healthy enough to play, his return could help along the line.

There are also those who argue that Zach Fulton’s best position is center and Mitch Morse might make a better guard. That seems like an offseason change rather than a midseason adjustment.

Coaching changes also fit into the offseason category. If the Chiefs need to shuffle the coaching staff, that won’t happen now.

Again, for Reid the biggest problems are game planning and execution. He’ll tackle those areas before making bigger course corrections.

Two weeks ago I think defensive coordinator Bob Sutton owned the hottest seat in town. The defense was a mess overall and seemed the most likely culprit for the Chiefs bowing out of the playoffs this year.

Now the defense appears right the ship. Sutton kept juggling the lineup, and he’s certainly a significant reason why Darrelle Revis signed with the Chiefs.

That’s not to say the Sutton’s out of the woods. The Chiefs need to finish with a defense that can compete in the playoffs. If Kansas City finishes the season ranked 29th against the run and 28th against the pass, that’s a difficult job performance to approve for another season.

This scenario essential means saying goodbye to Alex Smith, Derrick Johnson Justin Houston, Tamba Hali, Dee Ford and Allen Bailey, plus maybe a few role players.

Would Brett Veach make moves that drastic? Possibly, we don’t really know what Veach would do since we don’t have a track record yet.

But these are a few principals we know Veach believes in. One is to extend contracts of players you want to keep. Second is to build through the draft. Third is to fill in holes with free agency.

We also know that Veach believes in long-term planning. Part of his successful sales pitch to Clark Hunt for the job was to sell a plan for how this team would look three to five years down the line. Veach already had a plan for the 2018 offseason, and it’s like that the 2017 season has little impact on that plan.

Could all those players leave? Possibly, but there are three things to keep in mind. One is that the already ridiculous thin Chiefs pass rush would be decimated by losing Houston, Hali and Ford in one fell swoop. That seems unlikely.

Secondly, available cap space is only useful to Veach if it furthers his ability to extend contracts. Veach doesn’t strike the impression of a general manager who wants to spend $65 million guaranteed for another team’s player. He wants the core of the team to be drafted players and fill in holes with affordable free agents. Freeing up $54 million in cap space because he can doesn’t fit his MO.

Third is that Veach is open to the idea of Smith coming back next year and keeping Mahomes on the bench for one more season. That scenario seems less and less likely as the offense continues to struggle, but it’s still a possibility.

I would never begrudge any consumer for how they choose to spend their hard earned dollars. Watching losing football isn’t a lot of fun and watching bad losing football is even less fun.

I’m also not one of those types that would ban you from the bandwagon if the team starts winning again.

Football is a business to the owners, coaches and players, so it should be a business for fans too. Teams need to earn your business. If you want to stay at home and watch for free, that’s your prerogative. Do what makes you happy and is in your best interest. That’s what Clark Hunt does.

That ship for this season sailed. The Chiefs have won six games, and I’m pretty sure they will win more. You need to be in four-win territory rolling out the likes of Brodie Croyle at quarterback before you can pull that bag back out of the closet.

It’s not time to go there just yet. Reid’s Kansas City teams have been remarkably streaky with lengthy winning streaks and losing skids. Just as the 2015 team wasn’t as bad as it’s 1-5 start or as good as it’s 10-0 finish, this will find its equilibrium. The schedule still favors the Chiefs to win games. Despite the hideous nature of the last two games, Reid seems to do his best regular-season coaching with his back against the wall. There is absolutely cause for concern, but not reason to punt on the season yet.


Matt Derrick is the lead beat writer for Use the contact page to reach him or find him on Twitter: @MattDerrick.