KANSAS CITY, Mo. – Chiefs fans and players alike were left with a sour taste in their mouths after barely beating the Denver Broncos 22-16 in their Week 13 contest.
One of the biggest reasons the Chiefs were unable to celebrate what is usually an important division win over a rival is their continued struggles in the red zone.
Do the Chiefs have a red zone issue? The short answer is they aren’t as great as they should be, but they may not be as bad as you think they are.
Red Zone woes in context
Over the past two weeks, the Chiefs haven’t scored a touchdown in seven attempts within the opponents’ 20-yard line, which is not good for an offense with so many weapons and is supposed to be the best in the league. Add the fact that the Chiefs’ last four wins have only been by one score on top of these missed scoring opportunities, and you get a concerned KC fan base panicking on Twitter.
While the panic is understandable, there is some important context missing that could ease the minds of Chiefs fans while also getting to the root of the problem.
According to teamrankings.com, the Chiefs are currently 24th in the league in scoring red zone touchdowns at a conversion rate of about 57%. But, before going an abysmal 0-for-4 in the red zone against the Broncos, the Chiefs were 12th best in the league in the red zone at a conversion rate around 63%.
Being 12th best isn’t great, but it certainly isn’t as bad as Chiefs Twitter would have you believe. In fact, it’s a better conversion percentage than they had last year when they won the Super Bowl, which was 60% and ranked 11th best in the league at the time.
The Denver Dilemma
“Okay, but that was before the Broncos game,” you might say, “If they aren’t so bad in the red zone, why did they struggle so much against Denver?”
The Broncos have been below average in a lot of areas this year, as evidenced by their 4-8 record, but the one area where they thrive is red zone defense. Denver’s defense has kept opponents to a nearly 48% conversion rate when it comes to red zone touchdowns, which is the second-best percentage in the league.
If you take away the two games against the Broncos this year, the Chiefs conversion rate rises all the way up to nearly 65%, which would be top 10 in the NFL.
The good news is the Chiefs offense (and the Broncos defense) is likely a little better in the red zone than people give them credit for. The bad news is they should still be a lot better than they are.
Room for optimism
In 2018 the Chiefs were the second-best red zone offense in the league with a 73% conversion rate, which was a big improvement from their 45% conversion rate the year prior. Patrick Mahomes also became the starter at QB for KC in 2018, which is likely why there was such a dramatic increase in efficiency.
The Chiefs have shown that with Patrick Mahomes, and a largely similar supporting cast to the one he has now, they can be extremely efficient in the red zone, so why aren’t they?
It could be the loss of former Pro Bowl running back Kareem Hunt that has made the offense less efficient from inside 20 yards, but if you check the Chiefs red zone efficiency in 2018 before and after they released Hunt, you see that their conversion percentage actually went up slightly from about 71% to about 73% after Hunt was gone.
It could be that defenses are slowly figuring out the Chiefs red zone offense, it could be offensive linemen playing terribly, and it could even be that 2018 was an outlier for the Chiefs.
After all, Mahomes did throw 50 touchdowns that year — something most people don’t think he’ll ever repeat.
Any of those things could play a part in why the Chiefs aren’t doing as well in the red zone as they did in 2018, but even head coach Andy Reid believes that ultimately the blame falls on him.
“I didn’t do a very good job in the red zone giving the guys opportunities to get in,” Reid said after the Broncos game. “I’ll go back and work on that part and make sure I put these guys in position to make plays.”
No matter what the cause of the issue is, execution on the part of both the coaching staff and players will remedy what is a small but growing issue in the Chiefs quest to repeat as Super Bowl champions.
Keep in mind, the Chiefs had a similar red zone issue around this same time last year and were able to improve and win the Super Bowl, so maybe this is a good omen for the team after all.
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