Rebuilding A Franchise: The Distance To Here
The Kansas City Chiefs are 5-2 and leading the AFC West. That has a nice ring to it, doesn’t it? From coast to coast KC fans are enjoying the success and debating just how good this team is. Now I could talk all day about head coach Todd Haley’s in game decisions, QB Matt Cassel’s play, and the revitalized defense led by new coordinator Romeo Crennel. However, I think some of these current discussions could benefit from a little bit of perspective on just how far this team has come in a relatively short amount of time.
December 15, 2008, a date that many KC fans rejoiced in, Carl Peterson, long time general manager announced he would be retiring. Although it seems like forever ago, it hasn’t even been two years yet. Since that glorious December day Chiefs Nation has been rapidly changing. The changes started on January 14th of 2009 with the hiring of GM Scott Pioli. Then on February 7th Pioli hired his head coach Todd Haley. Three weeks later Pioli sent a second round draft pick to New England for Matt Cassel and OLB Mike Vrabel. The changes were fast and furious. The end result is the Chiefs have a whole new coaching staff and an overhauled roster. They have also gone from a 2-14 bottom feeder to a 5-2 division leader. All this has happened in just 23 regular season games.
Now let’s take a closer look at the changes, improvements, and who deserves the credit.
First off, just how much has the team changed? Well according to Wikipedia, the Chiefs had 68 players on the active roster, injured reserve, and practice squad at the end of the 2008 season. As I sit here typing this, only 23 of those 68 players are still part of the Chiefs organization. That means that in under two years, 66.2% of the roster that Pioli inherited is now gone. That is a huge turnover, even for a new regime.
Now I know what some of you are thinking. “Yeah, yeah but most of the starters are Carl/Herm guys.” First off, in today’s NFL, just looking at the 22 “starters” is a little short sighted. I added a second running back, a third wide receiver, a nickel back, and the two kickers to get a total of 27 “key players”. Of those 27 key spots I credited 12.5 to players on the roster when Pioli arrived (I gave only half credit to Cox, Richardson, and McGraw since their spots can be debated on who is the starter with Castille, O’Callaghan, and Lewis). That means that after two off seasons only 46% of the Chiefs’ key players were on the roster when Pioli took over. Again, that is a huge turnover.
So now the question is, how improved is this overhauled roster?
The most important stat is the one that has to do with wins and losses. The 2008 Chiefs were 2-14 for a winning percentage of 12.5%. The 2010 Chiefs stand at 5-2 for a winning percentage of 71.4%. I would say an improvement of that magnitude is pretty impressive regardless of sample size and strength of schedule. Now let’s see specifically where the offense and defense have improved.
The offensive points per game are at 23.3 this season, good for 11th in the NFL. That is up from 18.2 and 26th place in 2008. The yards per game are at 354.9 (12th), up from 308.7 (24th). The rushing attack is at 190.4 yards per game (1st), up from 113.1 (16th). The yards per carry are up to 5.2 (tied for 1st) up from 4.8 (2nd). The passing yards per game are down at 164.4 (32nd) from 195.6 (20th). However, the stats also point to the passing game being more efficient with completion percentage (58.7 to 57.3), yards per attempt (6.7 to 6.2), touch down to interception ratio (10 to 3, 23 to 16), and QB rating (90.4 to 77.5) all up from 2008. The offensive line also deserves a shout out as well, not only for the rushing numbers, but for cutting the sacks per game down to 1.14 from 2.31 in 2008.
Now let’s look at the defense.
The best stat improvement of all may be that the defensive points per game are down to 17.4 (5th) from 27.5 (29th) in 2008. The total yards are at 332.7 (16th) compared to 393.2 (31st) in 2008. The rush yards allowed per game are down to 96.4 (7th) from 158.9 (30th) and the yards per carry are down to 3.8 (8th) from 5.0 (30th). The passing yardage stats are once again a little deceiving. The passing yardage allowed is slightly higher at 236.3 from 234.2 but the league ranking is actually improved at 23rd compared to 28th in 2008. This is probably a result of the overall passing increase league wide over that time span. There are also some really good improvements within the passing stats. The opponents’ completion percentage (56.8% from 66.7%), yards per attempt (6.5 from 7.3), and QB rating (78.2 from 91.1) are all looking much better. The final defensive stat worth looking at is sacks per game. The 2008 team set the wrong kind of record with a pitiful 0.625 sacks per game. The 2010 Chiefs are at least in the middle of the pack this year with 2.14 per game.
So statistically speaking the Chiefs are backing up their improved record with improved numbers across the board.
Now I’ve thrown a bunch of numbers at you so far. So before I close let me throw a couple of opinions at you.
First, I think Scott Pioli and Todd Haley deserve a massive amount of credit for this team’s turn around. Yes, the players still have to make the plays, and yes some of our key players were already on the roster, but as I already pointed out Pioli has turned over two thirds of the roster and coach Haley and his staff are getting much better results on the field then what we saw before the new regime. We can debate the Cassel contract, 2009 draft class, Haley’s fourth down calls, etc. But when you step back and look at the big picture you can’t argue with the results.
This brings me to my final take:
The future for the Kansas City Chiefs looks bright. I’m not talking about our chances to win the AFC West this season and hosting a home playoff game (both good things). I’m talking about the long term, the big picture. Scott Pioli and Todd Haley have both talked about the model set by the Pittsburgh Steelers and their ability to be at the top of the league for decades, not just a season or two. If the first 23 games of this regime are any indication, they may be well on their way to achieving that goal and bringing home the first Super Bowl win since Hank Stram and his boys matriculated the ball down the field. It is a very exciting time to be a Kansas City Chiefs fan.
Thanks for reading and Go Chiefs!
*The 2010 ranking were taken prior to the Monday night game between Indianapolis and Houston.