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.
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
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.
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.
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!!!!!!!!!!!
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