Run game mysteries riddling Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. — The 158 yards rushing tallied by the Kansas City Chiefs in their 19-17 loss to the Tennessee Titans belies a problem that plagued the team much of the season and spelled disaster on Sunday.

The Kansas City Chiefs offense lines up for a snap against the Seattle Seahawks at Arrowhead Stadium on Aug. 13, 2016. (Emily DeShazer/The Topeka Capital-Journal)
The Kansas City Chiefs offense lines up for a snap against the Seattle Seahawks at Arrowhead Stadium on Aug. 13, 2016. (Emily DeShazer/The Topeka Capital-Journal)

The team’s much-vaunted run game has lost its swagger, and not even coach Andy Reid is certain how to recover it.

“I would tell you that we can do better scheming it up, we can do better executing it,” Reid said. “That’s what it really comes down to. It’s always that combination.”

The Chiefs average 4.1 yards per rush attempt, down from 4.7 yards per carry last year. Lead back Spencer Ware averages 4.3 yards per carry, down from 5.6 a season ago.

Of those 158 yards the team picked up on Sunday, 68 of those came on wide receiver Tyreek’s Hill touchdown run. Another 11 came from quarterback Alex Smith on scrambles.

The Chiefs running backs have not broken the 100-yard barrier since week six against the Oakland Raiders. That week Spencer Ware rushed for 131 yards while Jamaal Charles contributed 33 yards and Charcandrick West 19 more.

The Chiefs twice failed to crack the end zone from inside the Titans 1-yard line with their power running game. A third-and-two option run by Alex Smith could have sealed the win late int the game but also came up short.

“You have one breakdown somewhere, the play is not going to be as successful as it needs to be,” Reid said. “We all have a little piece of this thing.”

The struggle for the Chiefs on the ground largely coincides with the loss of the rookie Parker Ehinger at left guard. The team appeared to find a diamond in the rough with Ehinger. He fit the profile general manager John Dorsey craves, an athletic and technically sound college guard who can thrive anywhere on the offensive line.

Ehinger suffered a torn anterior cruciate ligament in his knee in week eight against the Indianapolis Colts, ending his season. The Chiefs averaged 4.39 yards per rush with Ehinger on the offense line. The team averages just 3.72 yards per carry without Ehinger.

But even without Ehinger, the Chiefs carry most of the same personnel that averaged 143.8 yards during its 10-game regular-season win streak to close out the season. Zach Fulton now patrols left guard, anchored a year ago primarily by Jeff Allen. The team signed free agent Mitchell Schwartz to solidify the right tackle spot.

The team averages 3.51 yards per carry with Fulton on the field, but the average without him only rises 3.78. Pro Football Focus rated Fulton the highest of the team’s offensive lineman Sunday. The problems don’t seem to fall on one single player’s shoulders.

Reid continues to preach accountability, placing responsibility on himself for any failings in the game plan while stressing that players need to make plays when given the chance.

“You come back to it and you have to do a better job of putting the guys in position,” Reid said, “and when given that opportunity, we have to make plays whether it’s whatever position it is you want to talk about.”

Tight end Travis Kelce vocalized his frustration over the team’s offensive philosophy after Sunday’s game.

“Other than play-calling, I couldn’t really tell you.” Kelce said about the offense’s second-half struggles. “I’m not blaming it on play-calling. We’ve got to go out there and execute. I feel like we got a little conservative.”

Reid said he spoke with Kelce afterwards, and the coach said he understood Kelce’s expression.

“It’s not something that’s bad-hearted that he’s putting out there,” Reid said. “He was the first one to approach me and let me know it didn’t come out the way he wanted it to. He just wants to be that guy that makes the play and I appreciate that.”

Reid doesn’t believe Kelce’s comments to have an effect on the team.

“No, I don’t feel that way,” Reid. “We have a strong locker room. I don’t feel that way.”

The Chiefs stand 10-4, and remain on the brink of a likely playoff bid. The AFC West and a first-round playoff bye remain possible, but now the team needs the Oakland Raiders to lose a game while the Chiefs win their final two contests.

But Reid acknowledges the team has problems.

“I expect us to go back and work hard, and get right back on it and fix the problems,” Reid said. “That’s what you do.


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