Kansas City, Mo. Chiefs coach Todd Haley doesn’t have the answer for his team’s touchdown drought, perhaps because there is none. It seems almost impossible, after all.
It’s been more than two full games, 143 miserable minutes, since the Chiefs turned a drive into a touchdown. They’ve managed just one during a four-game losing streak, the worst stretch since the Cleveland Browns scored one touchdown during a similar four-game debacle in 2008.
Sure, quarterback Matt Cassel is out for the season because of an injured throwing hand, and tight end Tony Moeaki has missed the whole year because of a torn left ACL, the same injury that dropped All-Pro running back Jamaal Charles in the second game of the season. The offensive line has been bullied and bruised, and a perilous lack of depth across the board has been exposed.
But the fact remains that plenty of teams with uncertain quarterback situations and a plethora of injuries have managed to score a touchdown — at least one measly touchdown — in nine quarters of play.
“There were a number of things, really, in the last couple of games that kept us from winning,” Haley said. “But at the same time I think it’s important when you have games, losses, tough losses specifically, that you understand why you lost the game.”
Turnovers would be a good place to start.
Since taking over for Cassel, journeyman backup Tyler Palko has turned the ball over seven times by himself. During one awful three-play sequence in last Sunday night’s 13-9 loss to Pittsburgh, Palko fumbled a snap and threw back-to-back interceptions.
The Chiefs are minus-5 in turnover margin this season after going plus-9 last season, when they surprised just about everyone in the league by winning the AFC West.
“It’s not like nothing’s working on offense,” Palko said. “We’re doing a lot of good things. It’s just unfortunate the things we’re not doing well are getting magnified.”
The Chiefs’ running game, which led the league last season, has been a hodge-podge of fill-ins that include a 170-pound firecracker who seems to fall down in a stiff wind (Dexter McCluster), a 33-year-old whose best days are seemingly behind him (Thomas Jones) and an undrafted guy out of Houston who’s on the team mostly because of his special teams ability (Jackie Battle).
The result is a rush offense that has managed three touchdowns all season — one by Battle, one by fullback Le’Ron McClain and one by, of all people, defensive back Javier Arenas.
“We just have to keep moving forward,” McCluster said. “Whoever is up has to play.”
And play better than they have.
Kansas City is 29th in the league in scoring offense at 13.9 points per game, and has managed all of 25 points during its four-game skid. The only teams worse than the Chiefs are Indianapolis, St. Louis and Jacksonville, who are a combined 5-28 heading into this weekend’s games.
“We have to figure out a way to get into the end zone some way, somehow,” Haley said, “because you have to score more points than your opponent.”
It’s hard to do that kicking only field goals.
Even though Haley has said that Palko will start Sunday at Chicago, it’s a good bet that Kyle Orton will get a shot to run the offense against his former team.
Orton was claimed off waivers last week from Denver, and the Chiefs aren’t paying the roughly $2.6 million left on his salary to be a backup. Orton has a track record of success that far surpasses what Palko has accomplished, throwing for more than 3,000 yards in back-to-back seasons in Denver and helping lead Chicago to 11 wins and a division title as a rookie in 2005.
Not to mention he was 15-2 at Soldier Field as a starter for the Bears
“Well, those defenses we had had a lot to do with that,” Orton said with a laugh.
Yes, the vaunted Bears defense.
Considering the trouble the Chiefs have had getting into the end zone, Brian Urlacher and Co. are probably salivating in practice this week. Chicago is eighth in the league against the run.
“Our defense hasn’t really changed yet the last few years. We have a few new faces but we do the same thing,” Urlacher said. “We run to the football, we get pressure on the quarterback and we play Cover 2. ... We play little bit more man, but for the most part our staple is running to the football and getting takeaways.”
The Bears are tied for second behind the unbeaten Packers with 16 interceptions, which helps to mask the one glaring weakness in their defense: They’re allowing more than 270 yards passing per game, third worst in the NFL.