As hard as it is to fathom, the Chiefs scored a sum 70 points in their past two games with inefficient offensive performances. Yes, you read that correctly.
In all honesty, the inefficiency has been relative to the astoundingly high bar the offense set for itself through the first four weeks of the season. In particular, the red zone provided a stumbling block for the Chiefs (5-1) at times against both the Jacksonville Jaguars and New England Patriots. Which means those 70 combined points in two weeks could’ve been an even gaudier total had they made a handful of additional plays.
In that two-week stretch, the Chiefs were 4-of-9 (44.4 percent) on touchdown chances once they crossed their opponent’s 20-yard line.
Through their first four games, the Chiefs scored touchdowns on 82.4 percent of their red-zone possessions, the second-best percentage in the NFL at that time. They head into this week’s meeting with the Cincinnati Bengals (4-2) converting 69.2 percent of their red-zone chances into touchdowns — sixth-best in the league.
“We’ve stalled on getting it in the end zone. I take responsibility for that,” Chiefs coach Andy Reid said. “We want to score touchdowns. I love (Harrison) Butker, but I’d rather score touchdowns. I also feel fortunate that if things do stall that you have somebody that is a good kicker.”
Of the Chiefs’ five possessions that didn’t result in touchdowns, Butker went 4-for-4 on his field-goal attempts. The other possession ended when Mahomes forced a throw to a heavily covered tight end Travis Kelce at the end of the first half last weekend against the Patriots. That play resulted in an interception.
While their overall red-zone numbers aren’t necessarily alarming, the fact that the issue has cropped up against playoff-caliber teams hasn’t escaped the Chiefs’ notice. After all, the Jaguars and Patriots look like potential playoff opponents.
“We have to be perfect with everything that we do, and it starts with me,” Chiefs quarterback Patrick Mahomes said. “I mean, you can’t miss — like Kareem (Hunt) on that seam route, Tyreek (Hill) on that deep cross and Kelce on the corner. I know they’re tough throws on some of those, but you have to hit those when you play really good teams. We’re playing a really good team this week, so we’ve got to find ways just to get in that end zone.”
Through six games, the Chiefs’ big-play capabilities have been readily evident. They’re tied for the second-most rushing plays of 20 yards or more (seven) and they’re one behind the league-leading Los Angeles Rams for the most pass plays of 20 yards or more (29).
The confined space of the red zone allows defenses to clamp down on receivers such as Kelce and Hill with defenders underneath as well as over the top, without leaving themselves vulnerable to deep throws to other receivers they’ve decided to single-cover.
Two of Mahomes’ touchdown passes in the second half against the Patriots — a 67-yard throw to Hunt and a 75-yard completion to Hill — came from well outside of the red zone.
Bengals coach Marvin Lewis was hardly willing to read too much into the Chiefs having settled for field goals early against the Patriots.
“When they needed to be productive and score at the end of the game, they did in the red zone,” Lewis said during a conference call on Wednesday.
Leaving points on the field could prove critical this week because the Chiefs’ opponent has displayed a knack for scoring touchdowns this season. The Bengals have led the NFL in red-zone efficiency, having converted 75 percent of their chances into touchdowns.