Red zone woes will inevitably bite Chiefs

KANSAS CITY, Mo. -- It hasn’t cost them a game yet, not with the Kansas City Chiefs being 7-0 and the NFL's last remaining unbeaten team. But the difficulty they've had scoring touchdowns while inside the opponents’ 20-yard line figures to catch up to them.

The Chiefs have scored a touchdown on exactly half of their 26 trips in the red zone. That puts them in the middle of the pack -- well behind the leader (Denver, scoring TDs 79 percent of the time) and far ahead of the last-place team (Jacksonville, 28 percent).

But after starting the season 5-for-5, the Chiefs have cooled off considerably. They’re 8-for-21 since, good for 38 percent. That would put them in 30th place ahead of only Pittsburgh and Jacksonville.

Here’s why that statistic is more important to the Chiefs than it is to, say, the Broncos: The Chiefs don’t score many long-range touchdowns. Other than Dwayne Bowe's 34-yard touchdown catch against the New York Giants, each of Kansas City’s 13 other offensive touchdowns have come from inside the 20.

Count quarterback Alex Smith among those frustrated with the work of the Chiefs in the red zone. He’s aware that because the Chiefs had to kick four field goals against Philadelphia and Tennessee instead or scoring touchdowns, they were in danger of defeat in the fourth quarter instead of resting comfortably.

The Chiefs were an acceptable 2-of-4 scoring touchdowns in the red zone in last week’s 17-16 win against the Houston Texans. One of those shouldn’t even count because the Chiefs were killing the clock at the end of the game and not trying to score.

But the one that got away was a prime example of how a failure in the red zone can be crippling. The Chiefs came close to a touchdown on a second-down play when Smith passed to Anthony Fasano. But officials ruled Fasano didn’t get into the end zone, leaving the Chiefs facing a third-and-goal from the 1.

Jamaal Charles carried for no gain on the first play and Smith’s fourth-down pass intended for Sean McGrath in the end zone on fourth down was incomplete. Instead of having a comfortable lead in the fourth quarter, the Chiefs had to sweat things out.

“I think this last week stands out,’’ Smith said. “You’ve got to make that play.

“You’d love to be able to say when you really needed seven, you get seven. In the end, you’re not always going to get seven. Defenses are good. It’s tough in the red zone.’’