It was quick, it was painful. The bell was tolling, and the funeral for the 2016 Chiefs season was being planned in quarter one. In the first matchup against a marquee team, the Kansas City Chiefs struggled listening to their own funeral march, allowing Pittsburgh Steelers quarterback Ben Roethlisberger to pass for five touchdowns. No one player was exempt from the 43-14 loss. Marcus Peters and Eric Berry were mediocre, Alex Smith was stale, and the offensive line was a revolving door. Short term, the Steelers showed muscle as the favorite to be an AFC playoff juggernaut. Long term, however, Andy Reid was forced to ask questions and reshape a vision for a more aggressive Chiefs team.
Kansas City Chiefs Struggle to Function – Week Four Retrospect
A Bombing Run for the Ages
If Steelers head coach Mike Tomlin was a military strategist, he would have ordered a bombing run to kill the Chiefs. The game opened stagnant and typical; both teams punted on their opening drives. However, it would be the Chiefs that opened the path for Roethlisberger to connect with Darrius Heyward-Bey for a quick touchdown. Converting a Spencer Ware fumble after three plays, the Steelers followed up with a quick two-point conversion. An 8-0 score halfway through the first quarter felt like a 21-0 punch in the gut.
The next drive resulted in Alex Smith tossing an interception. Once again in fantastic field position, Roethlisberger needed only four yards to throw for his second touchdown. One could hardly blame the Chiefs defense at this point for giving up two quick scores. However, that would change on the Steelers third drive. Antonio Brown showed why he is a top wide receiver after breaking open down field for a quick 38-yard touchdown. 22-0 before the first quarter was over, the Chiefs gut was losing air fast.
The first half closed with two of the most depressing drives of the regular season. The Steelers took the ball 80 yards in a mere 3:44, passing the ball in a pattern of unstoppable bombing runs. Le’Veon Bell puttered up the middle, and tight end Jesse James capped the nail with a nine-yard touchdown reception. The next drive took only 40 seconds, and showed hope for the Chiefs. However, it ended short as Cairo Santos pinged a 49-yard field goal off the upright. Although another half of football was left to be played, the 29-0 blowout felt like a coffin enrapturing the Chiefs staff.
A Half of Vanity
The only saving grace of blowouts is when a team can put together some semblance of balance. Continuity, a junk time show from a rookie, something to land with grace. The Chiefs, however, not only lacked grace, but lacked functionality down the stretch. After allowing another score, this time to receiver Markus Wheaton, the Chiefs would punt, then stop the Steelers. A nearly five-minute drive began to show that the Chiefs could chunk away yards. Yet, by the end of the drive, the most prevalent problem for the offense was made clear: the inability to finish.
Starting off strong, Knile Davis caught several passes out of the backfield. Another bright moment was when Jeremy Maclin caught a pass to convert a fourth-down. Alex Smith worked his way through Chris Conley and Albert Wilson to arrive on the goal line – and right when everything looked brightest, everything went wrong. Three defunct attempts from the Steelers three-yard line ended an 18-play drive with the repeating problem of dysfunction.
Although it was too late, the Chiefs best drive came with 13 minutes left in the fourth. Using targets Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce, the Chiefs were unstoppable for seven plays. Tyreek Hill showed great control on a quick ten-yard reception to score the Chiefs first touchdown to make the score 43-7. The final moments of the game gave the Travis Kelce to show why he was the top target. After Ware punched the ball for a 46 yard run, the Chiefs stalled for another two minutes. Although Kelce scored a physically imposing touchdown, the closing drive was infuriating for a lack of clock management. The Chiefs took over two minutes to score the final touchdown from 14 yards out – again dysfunction.
Field position dictated the beginning, a lack of resilience defined the middle, and dysfunction was the closing scene as a curtain fell over the Chiefs season. The quickest meta takeaway for the Chiefs team was that one game would not define their season. Although dysfunction would peak its ugly head again, the Chiefs would go on a convincing five-game win streak. This turn of events made it clear to never let one game define an Andy Reid team.
The micro takeaways from this game were much less positive. Starting off with field position, the Chiefs cannot begin any game with turnovers. A short-field passing strategy makes it difficult to catch up to a 21-0 lead. In the case a series of events break this way again, Alex Smith needs to step into longer passes to allow for Reid to call plays that can create comeback scenarios.
Although Spencer Ware had 82 yards rushing, 46 of those came on one play. Remove that one critical run, and it was a dismal 36-yard effort, averaging three yards per carry. This was in large part due to the rotating and dysfunctional offensive line. Blocking miscues, holding, or false starts never allowed Ware to get into a rhythm. This problem was only extrapolated on the goal line. If the Chiefs regularly take two minutes to score from 14 yards out, they will be going nowhere in 2017.
While the defense could not be blamed for the start to the game and being forced to defend their own end-zone, they lacked the resilience to put pressure on Ben Roethlisberger. The defense landed three quarterback hits, two of which were sacks. The Chiefs team relies on the defense to disrupt quarterbacks on a constant basis. While Roethlisberger felt pressure at points, it was not constant. He got into a rhythm and was given time to find receivers.
In totality, this was a brutal game that showed the worst of the Chiefs. Two bad moments defined the tone for the team, and they fell into a dismal rut of repeated mistakes. Team morale fell in the first quarter and never recovered, epitomizing self-fulfilling prophecy. At few points Andy Reid losses control of his team – this would be one of those instances.
If the Chiefs want to go far into 2017, week four is the pattern of what not to do.