Kansas City Chiefs seek answers for slump during bye week

By Matt Derrick, The Sports Xchange  |  Nov. 8, 2017 at 6:42 PM
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KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- The first half of the season served as a chemistry experiment of sorts for the Kansas City Chiefs.

They mixed and matched players and schemes in a search for the right combination, creating an elixir to cure woes plaguing both the run and pass defense leading up to the team's bye week.

"Play has been up and down," said Al Harris, the team's secondary/cornerbacks coach. "Obviously, we have to get better and make more plays and prevent the big play from happening. The bye week is coming in at a good time. We can go back and self-evaluate and see where we need to correct things."

The Chiefs stand 6-3 at the bye week with a two-game lead in the AFC West over the Oakland Raiders. That's good, but not necessarily good enough for a team with designs on the Super Bowl.

Team chairman and CEO Clark Hunt said before Sunday's loss to the Cowboys he's pleased with the team's progress, but his expectations remain high.

"There's a lot of football left to be played and if we don't keep improving each week we're not going to have a chance to go where we want to go," Hunt said.

Much of the concern in Kansas City at the bye week focuses on the defense. The Chiefs rank 19th in points allowed per game.

But the team ranks 29th in yards allowed, 28th against the pass and 30th against the run. The Chiefs rank dead last in first downs allowed, yielding 23.7 first downs per game.

Kansas City's defense allows a staggering 6 yards per play, ranking 30th in the league. The team seeks a cure for that ill during the bye week, according to head coach Andy Reid.

"We all take responsibility for that and get that straightened out," Reid said. "We shouldn't be obviously 30th in the league in that. We're better than that. This time we'll try to use (our time) wisely to get that stuff corrected."

The Chiefs have tried different combinations on defense looking for a solution. The Chiefs replaced Mike linebacker Ramik Wilson with the bigger Reggie Ragland in an effort to beef up the run defense.

They recently demoted cornerback Terrance Mitchell in favor of Kenneth Acker. The team brought back linebacker Tamba Hali from the physically unable to perform list last week and activated cornerback Steven Nelson from injured reserve.

"It is a constant evaluation on our side of the ball and just our football team in general," Harris said. "There wasn't a glaring thing to say, 'OK, Terrance is being benched,' because that wasn't the case. We are just trying to find the right combination of players on the field in the secondary. Those guys have to be on the same page. There can't be a weak link."

--The latest betting odds make Chiefs running back Kareem Hunt the favorite for offensive rookie of year following Houston quarterback Deshaun Watson's season-ending knee injury. But after an historic hot start to his career, Hunt looked pretty ordinary during the last four games leading up to the team's bye week.

Hunt set the league on fire early, averaging 121.8 rushing yards per game and six total touchdowns. During the last four games, however, Hunt averaged only 47.8 rushing yards per game and has not reached the end zone since Week 3.

Running backs coach Eric Bieniemy said he does not believe defenses have adjusted to Hunt.

"At the end of the day it's not about what they do it's how well we (have to) do a better job of executing our skills and coming out and doing the little things that are going to help us to be better," Bieniemy said. "That's one thing that we have to do. We have to make sure that we're taking a look from within and make sure that we're doing everything possible to help us to find a way to drag ourselves across the finish line on the right end of it."

Bieniemy suggests the next step in Hunt's career rests on his shoulders to focus on the little details to improve his game.

"There's a lot of little things," Bieniemy said. "It's detailing on footwork. It's detailing everything in the pass game. So when I talk about detail, there's always these little aspects of our game that we can correct. I don't want to go into detail and put everything out there so teams can start focusing on that, but those are inner things that we need to concentrate on."

The Chiefs lightened Hunt's workload a bit in Sunday's loss against Dallas. He played 54 percent of the team's snaps, his lowest share of snaps this season. Assistant head coach Brad Childress said several factors went into that decision.

"Some have to do with protection," Childress said. "Some have to do with freshness between him and Charcandrick (West). Some guys take a better look at plays than others. They've all got their little niche that we try to fit them into."

--Injuries have shuffled the Chiefs' lineup at wide receiver this season, with Chris Conley out for the season with an Achilles injury and Albert Wilson battling both a sprained knee and a hamstring injury that have kept him out of two games. Second-year receiver Demarcus Robinson has filled some of that gap, and wide receivers coach Greg Lewis is happy to see his young players producing.

"All the guys have done a tremendous job of understanding the offense and what we are asking them to do and going out and executing at a high level," Lewis said. "They haven't blinked an eye. More opportunities came and they have answered the call with what we have asked them to do."

Robinson played sparingly through the first five weeks of the season, catching just three passes for 25 yards. But since Conley's injury, Robinson has emerged as the team's primary every-down receiver in both the run and pass games. He has nine catches for 108 yards in his last four games.

The Chiefs don't ask Robinson to serve as a primary target for quarterback Alex Smith. Instead, Robinson's larger role is creating opportunities for playmakers such as Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce down field, especially with his blocking.

Lewis said he sees improvement in Robinson's ability to pester tacklers, a key component for Kansas City's big-play ability both through their air and on the ground.

"It is something that we emphasize as a staff and I emphasize as a coach to the group, that we turn those 5-yard runs into 15 to 20 to touchdown-type of runs," Lewis said. "We take pride in going and covering guys up each and every play. Does it happen every play? No, it doesn't. But we are giving great effort and we are trying to do what is asked of us as receivers."

Robinson played an essential role in Tyreek Hill's dramatic touchdown at the end of the first half against Dallas. Quarterback Alex Smith threw the ball short to Hill, who waited for a convoy of blockers to escort him toward the Cowboys' secondary lined up along the goal line in expectations of a Hail Mary pass. Robinson delivered a key block for Hill, who weaved his way past defenders for a 56-yard touchdown as time expired.

"The big thing about blocking is you don't need the knock-out blocks," Harris said. "Those are the ones that you see on ESPN and all the different highlight films. But if you are pushing and pestering and covering a guy up, that gives guys who have the ball in their hand, the playmakers we have, opportunities to get open and squeak through holes and to get into the end zone. And that is what happened on that play."

NOTES: DL Allen Bailey suffered a sprained MCL in his knee against the Dallas Cowboys and underwent further examination in Kansas City before the team went on break for the bye week. The sprain could keep Bailey out a couple of weeks, although the bye week may help accelerate his recuperation time. ... LB Dee Ford continues battling back issues that have kept him out of three games this season and limited him to just two sacks and 10 tackles in six games. Ford's injury has contributed to a decline in the Chiefs' pass-rush this season, along with the absence of LB Tamba Hali and knee issues for LB Justin Houston. The bye week provides Ford with extra rest, but the back issue could linger. ... RG Laurent Duvernay-Tardif returned to the line in Week 9 after missing four games with a sprained knee. The fourth-year lineman showed a little rust, and appeared in the locker room with ice on his left knee after the game. ... WR Albert Wilson sat out Week 9 with a hamstring injury, and the Chiefs miss his contributions in both the run and pass games. The bye week provides Wilson essentially two weeks of rest before the team begins preparations for the New York Giants.

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