Q: A big part of the Chiefs’ success last year was in its special teams unit. In your rankings of their kick return production they came up head and shoulders above the rest with just the Vikings close before a big drop off. But, as I looked into years past, I saw that the Chiefs had such an exceptional season last year in part because league-wide kick return production was so low in 2013 compared to the last five years. To what do you attribute this sudden dropoff in returns?
A: The rule to move the kickoff to the 35 has drastically affected the kickoff return game. Before this rule was put in place, the average start of a drive after a kickoff was the 27 yardline, and since then the average start of a drive has been the 22 yardline. Speaking specifically to the Chiefs, they were able to still be effective by being selective with their returns. On average, they started at the 26.3 yardline in 2013 (good for 2nd best to Minnesota), but were able to score two return touchdowns. Also 80% of their drives after a kickoff started at the 20 or better, so they limited the number of drives with bad field position.
Brian Spurlock-USA TODAY Sports
Q: I’m pleased to see that the Chiefs ranked overall pretty well in Team PS over the season as a whole, but the Chiefs season last year can be pretty much broken down into the undefeated stretch in the beginning and the 8 games (including the playoffs) that followed. On the surface it appeared to be a story of historically dominant defense and anemic offense then just the opposite for the second half the season. Using your situational comparisons, just how good was the defense in the first half of the year and how bad was it in the second half? And what do your numbers tell you that is different from our general understanding of those narratives?
A: The Chiefs did have an extremely effective defense for the first half of the season, with the best Defensive Productivity Score (DPS of 113) of any other team through the first half of the season. It should be noted that half of those games in the first half were against the 28th, 30th, 31st, and 32nd overall offenses by season end (Browns, Giants, Texans, Jaguars). An elite defense should completely shut down an inept offense, so this is not to say that they didn’t deserve their ranking through the first half, but just to point out that they weren’t fully tested. Compare this to the second half where they had to face division foes Denver and San Diego twice, who ended up being the #1 and #2 offenses by season end. They defense wasn’t completely up to the challenge in these games, giving them only the 24th best defense in the 2nd half (DPS of -33).
So was the defense elite or not? It depends on your definition of elite; the Chiefs had to play two of the best offenses of the last few years in 25% of their games and didn’t play well, but they were extremely effective in most of their other games. Shutting down teams that you’re better than is part of being an elite defense, but most people would agree that playing well versus the best teams is also necessary to be deemed elite.