Dec 15, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith (11) stands on the field during a break in the action against the Oakland Raiders in the second quarter at Coliseum. The Chiefs defeated the Raiders 56-31. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

The Kansas City Chiefs And The Bye Week Mystery


The Kansas City Chiefs clinched a playoff birth on Sunday with their 56-31 victory over the Oakland Raiders. The Chiefs, one season removed from a 2-14 season and the first overall pick in the draft, now stand at an impressive 11-3. It’s hard to complain about a divisional road victory where KC scored 56 points, forced 7 turnovers, and won by 25 points. While I won’t complain, I will say that this game defines the Kansas City Chiefs since their bye week, a team with a very good offense and a defense that gives up a lot of yards and points.

There are a lot of teams that fit that description in today’s NFL. However, through the first nine games of the season, the Kansas City Chiefs were not one of them. Quite the contrary, the Chiefs were winning games with a fantastic defense and a very mediocre offense. Then came the bye week and suddenly it seems that down is up and up is down. This team has done a complete 180 degree turn. The offense is now carrying the team and the defense is struggling to find some consistency.

Just how staggering are the differences? Take a look for yourself.

KC Offense:
9 Games Pre Bye Week – 23.9 PPG, 317.3 YPG, 4.8 YPP (yards per play), 2.9 sacks allowed/game
5 Games Post Bye Week – 36.8 PPG, 384.2 YPG, 6.2 YPP, 1.6 sacks allowed/game

KC Defense:
9 Games Pre Bye Week – 12.3 PPG, 326.9 YPG, 5.1 YPP, 3.9 sacks/game
5 Games Post Bye Week – 28.8 PPG, 434.2 YPG, 6.2 YPP, 1.4 sacks/game

So the question now becomes what happened at the bye week for things to take such a drastic swing?

Is it all about the opponents that KC has faced? After all, two of the five games after the bye have come against the Denver Broncos who are rewriting the offensive record books this season. Could the offense’s turnaround be directly linked to the poor defenses they have faced recently?

I tried to take the opponents out of the equation and pinpoint the number one thing on both sides of the ball that KC actually has control over that has led to this dramatic shift.

On offense, the difference is clearly the play of quarterback Alex Smith. Take a look at Smith’s numbers before and after the break.

Alex Smith:
9 Games Pre Bye Week: 59.7%, 213.2 YPG, 6.1 YPA, 9 TDs, 4 INTs
5 Games Post Bye Week: 63.0%, 248.2 YPG, 7.5 YPA, 14 TDs, 2 INTs

So despite the fact that Smith is throwing the ball down the field more he is completing a higher percentage of his throws (even with some WR drops). He has also increased his TDs per game from 1.0 to 2.8.

So is this a fluke or only a result of playing some weak pass defenses? It’s impossible to say for sure, but it does make sense that Smith would get better as the season goes on. When you have a quarterback, head coach, offensive coordinator, and receivers that are all working together for the first time it’s going to take some time for them to gel and get on the same page. That seems to be happening now. I’m not saying the defenses they have faced haven’t helped, but the bye week combined with some weaker pass defenses have allowed this passing game to gain some confidence and start clicking. That momentum can absolutely carry over into the playoffs. Especially since the likely AFC playoff teams do not contain any elite pass defenses. In fact, there is only one likely AFC playoff team in the top ten of pass defenses (Cincinnati, #7) and as the AFC would currently be seeded, a matchup with the Bengals is unlikely for KC (who will likely face Indianapolis in the first round).

So can Alex Smith be expected to continue to play more like he has since the bye as opposed to going back to his pre bye week production? Yes, I think that is reasonable. Therefore, I think KC has a chance to continue to produce on offense.

Now on to the defense.

To me, this is clear cut as well. The KC defense hasn’t consistently gotten to the quarterback since the bye week. In the first nine games they averaged almost four sacks per game. Since the bye, that number is down to 1.4 and that’s only because they sacked RGIII six times in their game against Washington. In the other four games since the bye they have a combined ONE sack. In fact, the defensive production/sack connection pre-dates the bye week. KC has eight games this season with three or more sacks. The other six games they had one or zero sacks. Look at the difference in overall defensive production in those games.

KC Defense:
8 games with 3 or more sacks: 11.4 PPG, 298.6 YPG, 4.7 YPP
6 games with 1 or less sacks: 27.3 PPG, 454.0 YPG, 6.6 YPP

That’s a massive discrepancy. Those numbers with three or more sacks would rank them #1 in PPG, #3 in YPG, and #2 in YPP in all the NFL. Those numbers with one or less sacks would rank them #25 in PPG, #32 in YPG, and #32 in YPP in all the NFL.

So basically, when KC gets to the QB they are arguably the best defense in the NFL. When they don’t get to the QB they are arguably the worst defense in the NFL. You don’t get a much more drastic swing than that.

So does KC have any hope of returning to their early season form at getting to the QB? Well, getting Justin Houston back on the field and playing at 100% would be a big first step. The rest is up to defensive coordinator Bob Sutton. He doesn’t have to show his hand in the final two weeks since KC is already in the playoffs, but once the playoffs hit Sutton simply MUST find a way to get to the QB. The numbers say that if he does, KC will win. If he doesn’t, they are in trouble.

That is why the pass rush is the single most important factor for determining KC’s success going forward. So let’s hope that what we KC fans get for Christmas is a healthy Justin Houston and a creative Bob Sutton. If we do, we may just ring in the New Year with the first playoff win since Joe Montana was a Chief.

That sounds like a Happy New Year to me.

As always, thanks for reading and GO CHIEFS!!!!!!!!!!!

Follow me on Twitter: @LyleGraversen

Dick's Sporting Goods presents "Hell Week":

Tags: Alex Smith Kansas City Chiefs

  • 2dogs

    Really well laid out article Lyle. I have a hunch that when the seasons done we’ll find out that key members on D were playing with big time injuries. I don’t see the push from Poe and TJ like we did in the 1st nine games. Getting Houston back and healing the defense may get the D pressuring QB’s again.

  • Stacy D. Smith

    Good work, Graversen!

  • Jason Seibel

    Great piece, Lyle and great work on researching the stats. It really is incredible to look at the difference in these two teams. Could you imagine a world where both the offense and the defense were operating at their peak effectiveness at the same time? Wow….

  • berttheclock

    As pointed out by Paylor over at the Star, when, Poe, Houston and Hali were all on the field, offenses had far more trouble trying to block all three. Without both Hali and Houston, it became easier. Even without Houston, life is still easier. Poe is getting double and tripled teamed. One thing not mentioned about yesterday’s game were the tips of passers thrown. One turned into an INT, while two others were near misses for INTs. However, concerning the Raiders putting up big numbers on receptions. One was an incredible one hand grab by Holmes and Cooper could not have played it any better. On another, Moore showed everyone as he has done in every game against the Chiefs, that Pioli really snoozed through that infamous 5th round. If only Moore had been taken instead of Stanzi, he would be the one flying down the field for the Chiefs. Another point was the horrible call against Zombo, as the pass was far short and uncatchable. Ironically, one of their TDs came on a pass where the receiver had been bumped at the line of scrimmage and bumped for the first five yards. After that point, the receiver broke off and came back for the ball. Hard to fault anyone for that catch. One last point about lack of sacks. Kind of helps when young refs refuse to call anyone out for tackling Hali around his neck.

    With Houston coming back, there will be far better days when the Real Season begins, that is, the playoffs. As Michael Jordan used to say, the regular season is merely pre-season. Any smart GM in the NFL, today, builds his team to win in the playoffs. Dorsey has added a great deal of depth and the Chiefs in the past few weeks have been forged through fire into a fighting outfit. They will show steel in the playoffs. However, one last point. Anyone notice how many of his waiver wire and FA pickups showed their mettle, yesterday?

    • KCMikeG

      Ron Parker had a great day! Another one of the Magnificent Seven.

  • berttheclock

    One interesting point about fans of NFL football. Most know the name of the HC. Few know the name of the GM. Many people in the Greater Portland area have commented to me, after seeing my Chiefs visor or winter ski type. Most of them comment about 2-14 turnaround and say what a great coach is Andy Reid. When I agree, but mention the great work of John Dorsey, their respective eyes sort of cloud over. Reid and Dorsey have become a great team, as has their handiwork upon the field of play. Next year will be even better.

  • jpopejoy

    While the pass rush has been nonexistent, there are 2 things specifically that is killing out defense…#1 (by a mile) is Kendrick Lewis. He is getting beat when he is on deep help A LOT. When he does magically find himself in position to make a play, he drops it (the microcosm of Lewis is the dropped int yesterday then accidentally throws his helmet off and costs us another penalty). #2…cooper. I give cooper a pass bc he’s a rookie, but Peyton showed the nfl the playbill to beat the chiefs D. Throw at cooper. Yesterday the raiders added something…throw at zombo. Thankfully Houston will be back soon, but Lewis needs to be replaced at seasons end.

    • cd3382

      I agree with you! I also think if Commings was healthy he would be the starter instead of Lewis. Cooper just needs a good offseason program and I think he will be even better next season.

      • KCMikeG

        And a safety that can get over the top!

  • micah stephenson

    During the bye week, Ried did a team evaluation, and decided the offense wasn’t doing much, so after the bye week he got much more aggressive with the play calling and focused on scoring more pts. The oline is the last unit to gel. Lately the line has played outstanding! The wrs have also created more seperation. That has allowed our offense to score more pts. Our Defense might have looked better ealier in the yr becuase it takes a while for the offenses to get it together and we played Gabbert, Tuel, Pryor, and Keenum. now the offenses are clicking, we playing the Mannings and Rivers now, and its making the d look worse. We need to keep sacking the QB to keep our secondary protected.

  • micah stephenson

    Dorsey GM of the year! Ried coach of the yr! Charles tied with Manning for MVP!

    • micah stephenson

      Alex Smith QB of the year!……..SIIIIIIKE! LOL

      • Bosco Cletus

        Perfect rating yesterday man, give him some props. :)

      • Frank


  • micah stephenson

    KC Star mocking the Radiers “Just Win Baby”

  • KCMikeG

    Nice work Lyle! The offense, as you mentioned, takes time to develop a working relationship that allows Reid to open the playbook up a little more each week. AS11′s performances have given Reid the trust in him to go down field more too. Our opponents’ offensive strategy affects whether we take a conservative vs aggressive approach in addition to the health/gel of the OL.
    The defensive fall off was due to Sutton testing a different approach vs PM & Phyllis and again yesterday. He is attempting to get pressure by only rushing 4-5 and dropping the rest into coverage. PM’s quick release has dictated this approach because even Houston can’t get there in less than 2 seconds. Obviously the injuries to DeVito, Hali & Houston have weakened the attacking mode used over the first 9 weeks & vs the Skins last week. Lewis’ failure to provide over the top coverage or at least tackle the WR after the catch has limited our ability to blitz w/o being burned. Getting Houston back healthy will make a huge difference. Finally with our offense putting up big points quickly it forces our opponents to be more aggressive and leaves less time for the defense to rest on long time consuming drives like we ran in the first 9 weeks.