Chiefs unable to sustain offense after halftime
A shoddy run defense and injuries on offense have contributed mightily to the Chiefs' 0-2 start.
KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- Dick Vermeil preaches that Super Bowl teams don't have to have winning records against winning teams. Right now, the Chiefs are wondering if they are going to win any games.
An 0-2 start, following Sunday's 28-17 whipping by the Panthers at Arrowhead, has Chiefs fans worried and coaches concerned. The coaches figured the offense was going to struggle early because of injuries in addition to facing the Broncos, Panthers and Ravens defenses in three of their first four games. But a change in defensive coordinators hasn't helped a unit that is giving up 32 points and 182.5 rushing yards a game.
"That's why they were in the Super Bowl and we were not," Vermeil said after the 11-point loss to the Panthers. "They haven't lost that edge. They are a good, tough, physical football team. We had a shot at halftime, I thought, to come out and play better in the second half. They did and we didn't."
|“||Offensively, we're not converting third downs and putting the defense back on the field. If you keep exposing the defense, things are going to happen. ”|
|—Chiefs coach Dick Vermeil|
Wide receiver Eddie Kennison went down in the first half with a hamstring injury. Johnnie Morton was making his first start at wide receiver, but he wasn't running at 100 percent because of a sore Achilles that sidelined him all of training camp. Once Kennison went down, the feeling was the team was going to have to win more of a defensive game.
That's where the problems began. Trent Green opened the game with a brilliantly conceived play-action passing scheme. He completed six of his first seven passes for 67 yards, but the Chiefs had to settled for a 33-yard field goal and a 3-0 lead.
"You figure they were going to come in with the mindset to run the ball and hunker down, but they came out passing," Panthers defensive end Mike Rucker said. "Then, we turned on the button and got some pass rush. We started flying to the ball."
The Chiefs don't have enough buttons on their offense. Priest Holmes had someone roll up his leg and he had to sit out the final two drives. That left Green with a come-from-behind offense that included a slower Morton, halfback Derrick Blaylock, tight end Tony Gonzalez, who draws double-coverage, 5-foot-10 undrafted rookie receiver Richard Smith and 5-8 Dante Hall.
After the loss, reporters asked if defenses have figured out their offense.
"I think there's a number of areas that cause that, but the one right now is that we are very, very thin at wide receiver," Green said. "The injuries have taken a toll. Going into camp and mini-camp, it was one of our deepest spots. Right now, we're scrambling to put guys in there. We lost Eddie and Johnnie is still not 100 percent. Richard Smith still has a long way to go."
Green managed to keep the Panthers off balance in the first half, but the Panthers adjusted. They still rushed four defensive linemen, but they freed up linebacker Mark Fields to either help cover Gonzalez or rush Green. The secondary got more active knowing the Chiefs had limited offensive threats.
The Chiefs had 197 yards of first-half offense and a 10-7 lead. Minus Kennison, the Chiefs had only 84 yards of total offense on 27 plays and were outscored, 21-7 in the second half.
"Offensively, we're not converting third downs and putting the defense back on the field," Vermeil said. "If you keep exposing the defense, things are going to happen."
The Chiefs defense continues to be exposed. It can't stop the run and allowed DeShaun Foster to rush for 174 yards on 32 yards. Jake Delhomme converted enough third downs to keep the offense moving. The defense needed to step up for the first drive of the second half. Delhomme made four third-down conversions in a 16-play drive capped by a 9-yard touchdown pass to Keary Colbert.
"That was tough," middle linebacker Monty Beisel said. "We gave up a couple of third and longs. That's always tough when you want to get off the field. The bottom line is we just got to get our offense on the field more."
But the Chiefs need healthy offensive players to run it.
"We fell behind and then all of a sudden because of the injuries, we weren't real smooth," said Green, who has completed only 50 percent of his passes this season and has a 53.9 quarterback rating. "We had a couple of drops and then it's 'I've got to force the ball to Tony Gonzalez because he's so reliable.'"
The Chiefs are 0-2 and hope to get the offense going against the Houston Texans next week. They think Holmes will be healthy. They don't know about Kennison. At 0-2, things are starting to get desperate.
John Clayton is a senior writer for ESPN.com.