This coming Sunday, the Detroit Lions will face the Kansas City Chiefs in their home opener at Ford Field. One of the talking points around the NFL has been how the Chiefs were blown out 41-7 at home against the Bills. At this point, conventional wisdom would tell us to discount the Chiefs and their offense, but I would say otherwise. Kansas City's offense is a good one, and definitely one that needs to be respected if the Lions are to win the game.
Usually when I'm scouting other team's units, I first read up on the backgrounds of the coaches to get a better understanding of their schemes. In Todd Haley's case, however, it did not help one bit toward understanding their current scheme. For those that do not remember, Haley was known for being the Arizona Cardinals offensive coordinator the year the Cards went to the Super Bowl. Before that, Haley was a wide receivers coach for the Cowboys from 2004 to 2006, the Bears from 2001 to 2003 and the Jets from 1996 to 2000. With those teams, Haley helped develop 1996 first overall pick Keyshawn Johnson into an NFL star, helped resurrect Terry Glenn's career for a few years and turned some dude named Marty Booker into a Pro Bowler.
Naturally, you would expect the Chiefs to be a passing team given Haley's track record as a very successful wide receivers coach and offensive coordinator. That assumption would also be fueled by the fact that the Chiefs traded away a second-round pick for quarterback Matt Cassel, spent another second-rounder on a wide receiver/running back Dexter McCluster and spent their 2011 first-round pick on wideout Jonathan Baldwin out of Pitt. However, the Kansas City Chiefs are actually a running offense. In fact, Kansas City lead the league in rushing attempts and yardage last season, while ranking 29th in pass attempts and 31st in passing yardage.
It's probably one of the biggest coaching ironies in the NFL, yet it makes sense when you look further back into Todd Haley and Scott Pioli's pasts. Most people don't realize that Haley actually comes from the Bill Parcells coaching tree, the same as Bill Belichick. He first started working for Parcells with the Jets in 1997, and was also part of Parcells' coaching staff in Dallas from 2004 to 2006. What this means is that both Scott Pioli, who comes from the New England pedigree, and Haley have the same type of offense in mind.
To understand what the Chiefs are trying to do, you have to look back at the Patriots of the early 2000s. Back then, the Pats weren't the pass heavy team they are now; they were actually a run heavy, ball control team, even with Tom Brady taking the snaps. That was because New England didn't have the same passing weapons around Brady that they have now. Over time, the Patriots drafted, traded for and signed the talent around Brady and have transformed their offense into a high octane passing one. The Chiefs are in a similar sort of transformation.
Before I go on further, I should mention that the Chiefs promoted their offensive line coach, Bill Muir, to offensive coordinator after Charlie Weis jumped ship in the offseason. Ideally, Todd Haley, Bill Muir and the Chiefs would like to get the running game going behind that zone blocking offensive line. When they are able to, they are a juggernaut. In their 10 wins last season, the Chiefs running backs carried the rock 39 times on average for 197 yards, which was good for 5.0 yards per carry. In those games, they also managed to score an average of 26.7 points a game.
In their six losses, however, the Chiefs rushers only rushed the ball for 125 yards on 29 carries for a 4.0 yards per carry average. Also in those losses, they averaged just 16.5 points per game. On top of that, the Chiefs averaged just 28:24 time of possession in their six losses compared to 34:02 in their 10 wins. Of their 10 wins, Kansas City lost the TOP battle twice, while losing the TOP battle in three of their six losses last year.
Last Sunday, a lot of people around the nation were shocked by the 41-7 blowout by the Bills, but it becomes quite clear how the Bills were able to hold the Chiefs to only seven points when you look at the numbers. For one, the Chiefs only held onto the ball for about 23 minutes of the entire game. On top of that, they only rushed for 108 yards on just 18 carries in the entire game. If it weren't for a 22-yard run by Jamaal Charles and a 22-yard run by McCluster, the Chiefs would have only managed to rush for 63 yards on 16 carries.
For an offense built for running the ball and playing ball control, those numbers do not bode well. I guess it goes without saying that the key for the Lions defense on Sunday will be to stop the run and force the Chiefs to pass the ball, even with all of their shiny new toys in Steve Breaston and Jonathan Baldwin. However, stopping the Chiefs running attack is easier said than done. Their corps of rushers is much like the Lions corps of receivers; it's deep, talented and versatile.
They have their young, fast, rising stud in Jamaal Charles much like our own Calvin Johnson. They have a gritty veteran that can take over if Charles goes down in Thomas Jones. They also their own version of Darren Sproles in Dexter McCluster, a proven power back in Le'Ron McClain and mystery power back in Jackie Battle. In all, it's a talented group that can hurt you in many ways. Just stopping Charles does not guarantee the Lions will stop their entire rushing attack.
At the end of the day, the Lions offense might end up being the best defense against the Chiefs. The reason the Chiefs were forced to abandon the run against Bills is because they were down 20 to nothing with 5:38 left in the second quarter. If the Lions offense can get off to a fast start on Sunday, it will play heavily into the Lions favor, as it would allow the defensive line to go after an already banged up Matt Cassel.
All in all, the Chiefs offense will be a good test for the Lions defense. I don't expect the Chiefs to fall flat on their face like last Sunday, but I'm not worried about them, either. Overall, I think the Chiefs will have a decent amount of success running the ball, but they won't be able to score much just by being one-dimensional. Like last Sunday, I expect right around 13 to 17 points from the KC offense.