Think about it for a second.
How many explosive plays can you remember from the Chiefs over the last two seasons?
We are talking about game changing plays, like runs where the back burst through the line of scrimmage and got into the secondary for a major gain. Or long bombs in the passing game. How about punt and kickoff returns into the end zone for a score? Defensive touchdowns, like a sack, fumble, recovery and TD?
If they don’t come quickly to mind, there’s a reason: there weren’t many.
With a 6-26 record over the last two seasons, the Chiefs ability to win has been compromised by many things. One of the biggest factors has been the lack of big plays. They are few and far between for the Chiefs, whether on offense, defense or special teams.
Brandon Flowers picked off a Brett Favre pass and returned it 91 yards for a score in October ’08. Tyron Brackenridge picked up a fumble by San Diego quarterback Philip Rivers and scored on a 50-yard return in October ’07. Maurice Leggett returned a fake field goal fumble by Oakland 67 yards for a score and then grabbed an interception off Jay Cutler for 27 yards and a TD. Both of those came last season.
That’s it … the sum total of big plays. Four plays in four different games. The Chiefs were 2-2 in those games.
Doesn’t sound like much, but when a team goes 4-12 and 2-14, that’s 33 percent of the victories.
The lack of explosion plays was especially true last season. Of the league’s 100 longest running plays in 2008, Larry Johnson had three, none for a score. Of the top 100 longest pass plays, the Chiefs had three and none went for a touchdown. Of the 100 longest kick returns last year, the Chiefs had two, none for a touchdown. Of the 100 longest punt returns last year, the Chiefs had one, without a TD.
Push those stats out over two seasons and the numbers are even grimmer:
LONG RUNS – In the last two years, the Chiefs have had just three running plays that gained 50 yards or more. That’s out of 762 rushing plays. All three were runs by Johnson: 65 and 63 yards last year and 54 yards last season. None went for a touchdown.
LONG PASSES – Over the ’07-08 seasons, the Chiefs had five pass plays that went for 50 yards or more. That’s out of 645 completions. RB Jamaal Charles had a 75-yard completion and WR Devard Darling 68 yards last year. Dwayne Bowe had catches of 58 and 51 yards in the ’07 season. WR Mark Bradley had a 56-yard catch last season. Only one of those plays went for a touchdown – Bowe’s 51-yard catch at San Diego in the fourth game of the ’07 schedule.
KICK RETURNS – In the last two years, the Chiefs had only two kick returns over 50 yards, both coming last year from Dantrell Savage for 59 and 51 yards. That’s in 147 kick returns. None went for a score.
PUNT RETURNS – Over the ’07-08 seasons the Chiefs had only one punt return over 30 yards, that from Kevin Robinson last year that went for 32 yards. That’s in 66 punt returns. None went for a score.
INTERCEPTION RETURNS - In the last two years the Chiefs had only two interception returns that went for more than 50 yards, both last year in Flowers (91 yards for a TD) and Pat Surtain (50 yards). Also last year Leggett had a 27-yard INT return for a score.
In the last two years, the Chiefs defense scored three touchdowns: Brackenridge, Flowers and Leggett. In the last two years, the Chiefs special teams scored one time: Leggett’s return of the fumbled fake field goal.
That’s four return TDs in the last 32 games. Last year, half the league had four or more return TDs in just 16 games.
The last time the Chiefs scored a kickoff return for a TD was 2005. The last punt return for a score was 2006. The last time they blocked a punt for a TD was 2006. The last time they blocked a FG for a TD was 1987.
What’s kept the Chiefs from making big plays? Three major factors: lack of talent, lack of speed and conservative coaching.
When a team only wins six of 32 games the major problem is a lack of experienced top-level talent. That’s been apparent for the Chiefs, who have had only one player who consistently has contributed big plays: Johnson. Last year, Leggett showed the ability to make big plays as a rookie on both defense and special teams.
They’ve had three Pro Bowl players in the last two seasons: Brian Waters, Jared Allen and Tony Gonzalez. Allen had the potential to create big plays on the pass rush, but those seldom happened during the ’07 season. Although he was a huge part of the offense the last two seasons, Gonzalez wasn’t a big-play receiver. Only three of his catches went for more than 30 yards.
One of the keys for Leggett is his speed; he was the fastest player on the team’s roster in ’08. The second fastest was Charles, who had the longest receiving play last year, catching a 75-yard pass from QB Tyler Thigpen. The Chiefs have not had productive wide receiver with top-end speed since the final seasons of Eddie Kennison’s time with the team (2005-06).
Because of the lack of experienced talent and speed, Herm Edwards and his coaching staff tended towards the conservative in all three aspects of the game. Because the team’s margin of error was so slim, there were fewer chances taken, especially on defense. Last year’s incredibly poor pass rush that produced a league-record low 10 sacks came without a large number of blitzes called by Gunther Cunningham. That was due to a lack of linebacker talent and a lack of speed at the position, all important parts of the blitz.
It’s a house of cards that sunk the Chiefs and could not provide them the ammunition to improve their chance of victory. In the NFL to win, a team must be able to make explosion plays.
The only way this trend changes for the Chiefs is more talent and speed. Those elements may make Todd Haley and his coaching staff less conservative when it comes to taking chances.
HEARING FROM HERM EDWARDS
This weekend was the 14th annual Herm Edwards Football Camp in Monterey, California. It went down at Monterey Peninsula College.
But it was the first time Edwards held the free camp without an NFL coaching job to take care of when it was all over. He told the Monterey County Herald that he had coaching offers from five NFL teams and two colleges after he was fired by the Chiefs back in January. Edwards turned them down and went on to sign with ESPN to work as a studio analyst.
“I thought about it,” Edwards said of coaching again. “I really felt like I needed to evaluate where I’m at. To tell you the truth, it feels good. I don’t miss it at all. Of course, that’s easy to say because the season hasn’t started yet.”
Edwards makes no apologies for what went down the last two seasons with the Chiefs.
“We lost seven games by seven points or less last year,” Edwards said. “Why? We had no experience. We had to do it with 20 rookies. We couldn’t finish in the fourth quarter. I was coaching a college team. But I had fun. And we got better. I believe I’ve made it better for the next guy.”
Edwards says he’s not closing the door to returning to coaching at some point in the future.
“Doing what I’m doing right now just makes sense for me in life at this time,” Edwards said. “Being a part of the NFL for 30 years was a blessing.
“You never say never. You always leave the door open. If I choose to come back, I have the option. But my girls are getting used to seeing me home. You don’t realize how many people you’ve touched until you are out the game. For me, it’s always been about making a difference. That’s what this camp is about.”
SAY HAPPY BIRTHDAY …
Born on June 29, 1970 in Harrisburg, Pennsylvania was TE Troy Drayton. He played the last of his eight NFL seasons with the Chiefs in 2000, appearing in 16 games with one start. Drayton caught eight passes for 70 yards and a pair of TDs in Kansas City. He also played for the Rams and Dolphins.