Chiefs hold off Broncos, 22-16

Sam Mellinger The Kansas City Star (TNS)
Kansas City Chiefs wide receiver Tyreek Hill gains yardage in the second quarter, slipping past the defense of Denver Broncos strong safety Kareem Jackson on Sunday, Dec. 6, 2020, at Arrowhead Stadium in Kansas City, Mo.

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - Look, this being 2020 and everybody wanting something to be the best or the worst, where everything is a slam or a flower, maybe we need to put the following paragraph here at the top:

The Chiefs will be fine. The problem we will spend the next few hundred words analyzing is unlikely to be a season-killer, because if your primary worry about the Chiefs is with the offense then generally speaking you don't have a primary worry about the Chiefs.

But we probably should take a moment to talk about the Chiefs' red zone offense after a 22-16 win over the Broncos at Arrowhead Stadium on Sunday.

Because this is two games in a row it's been a problem.

During last weekend's laser show in Florida, the Chiefs got two field goals and a fumble from three drives into the end zone.

Against the Broncos, the Chiefs got four field goals and zero touchdowns.

That's not good enough for any offense, let alone one gifted with the talent and brainpower of the Chiefs players and coaches.

Some of this is personnel. Between the 20s, the fastest offense in the league holds an unfair advantage in the wide open spaces of a football field. But the closer to the end zone that the ball is snapped the less ground the defense has to cover.

Line up across from Tyreek Hill with 70 yards of space behind you and you have no chance. But closer to the end zone, sure, you can cover an area closer to the paint in basketball.

The Chiefs are built for those open spaces. The organizational philosophy has long been to build the interior of the line on the cheap, with guards and centers who are better in space blocking Andy Reid's intricate screens than they are moving the large man in front of them in short yardage runs.

That's why Reid calls so many gimmicks in those situations - from Hungry Pig Right to Black Pearl.

This is where execution joins the discussion. Those gadget plays are a party when they work, and "too cute" when they don't, but there's a reason one of the smartest and egoless coaches in the NFL relies on them.

For what it's worth, the Chiefs failed to score touchdowns on both gadget plays and more traditional calls on Sunday night. Give the Broncos some of the credit here. The Broncos had the league's fourth-best red zone defense entering the week, and welcomed back starting defensive lineman Shelby Harris.

But when the All-22 film is released this week, it will undoubtedly show some missed blocks, some receivers losing matchups with defensive backs, and an opportunity or two that Mahomes didn't take advantage of.

The positive is that the Chiefs are equipped to handle this problem. Travis Kelce is among the league's toughest matchups near the goal line. Sammy Watkins' skill set is particularly effective in the red zone, which is a primary reason the Chiefs pursued and retained him. Le'Veon Bell and Clyde Edwards-Helaire each possess the dynamism to be threats between the tackles and in the passing game.

There's one more way the Chiefs can do this. They can be more willing to use all four downs. Reid is open minded, knows that data overwhelmingly shows NFL teams should attempt more fourth downs, and has at times been more aggressive than most of his peers.

But he's put his offense on the field for just seven fourth downs, which ranked in the league's bottom half entering the week.

The Chiefs - with their skill position talent, Mahomes' advanced decision making, and Reid's structure - should be among the league's most aggressive on fourth down.

Think about this: If you're defending the Chiefs, would you rather see Harrison Butker or Mahomes on fourth down?

That answer is easy, even in these divided times.

One more time: This is not a place to freak out. The Chiefs entered the week scoring touchdowns on 63 percent of their possessions, which ranked 12th. They were two Hill non-touchdowns away from opening the margin - one was a mistakenly called incomplete pass that should've been challenged, the other was called back on a hold.

A dipped performance could also have been seen coming between one of the season's most anticipated games, and two difficult road games.

The Chiefs will almost certainly be better next week in Miami than they were here on Sunday.

But if they're going to be as good in the playoffs as they were last year, a chunk of that improvement will need to come from scoring touchdowns, and not field goals.