The Chiefs Broke Their Golden Rules


Do you remember two weeks ago?

Back then things were looking great in the Chiefs Kingdom. KC had just pulled off a big win over the Super Bowl champion Seahawks to extend a winning streak to five games. Denver had also just been handed an unlikely defeat by the Rams, causing a tie atop the AFC West. All the Chiefs needed to do was get past the lowly, winless Raiders to set up a huge matchup for sole possession of first place in the division with the Broncos. If the cards fell right,they could have taken the top overall spot in the AFC playoff picture with a win in that game.

Then the Raider game happened, and a the Chiefs were inexplicably nipped by their old divisional foe. No more game for first place in the division or AFC. But the Denver game was still incredibly meaningful, and a must-win to have any realistic hope at winning the division. The primetime atmosphere, the high stakes, and honoring Eric Berry all seemed to basically guarantee that the Chiefs would come out playing their A-game.

Then the game started, the Chiefs came out in a blaze of mediocrity, and everything crumbled.

The Chiefs of the last two weeks have looked almost nothing like the team that peeled off a five-game win streak that included victories over the Chargers and Seahawks. So what happened?

The Chiefs violated their two golden rules: 1) pound the run game, and 2) keep the opponent under 21 points.

To be sure, there was a lot that went wrong with the Chiefs in the past couple games. But if you look at stats across the season, the two rules above have been excellent indicators of winning and losing.

1) Pound the run game

Dec 15, 2013; Oakland, CA, USA; Kansas City Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles (25) catches a 71 yard touchdown pass against the Oakland Raiders in the third quarter at Coliseum. The Chiefs defeated the Raiders 56-31. Mandatory Credit: Cary Edmondson-USA TODAY Sports

Here is what you get when you rank the Chiefs’ games by rushing yards.

  1. vs. New England, 207
  2. vs. Seattle, 190
  3. @Miami, 174
  4. @ San Diego, 154
  5. vs. St. Louis, 140
  6. @ Denver, 133
  7. @ Buffalo, 127
  8. vs. New York Jets, 113
  9. @ San Francisco, 107
  10. @ Oakland,  96
  11. vs. Tennessee, 67
  12. vs. Denver, 41

You may have noticed that the games against New England, Seattle, and San Diego (three of the Chiefs’ biggest wins this year) are all at the top of that list. You may also notice that the games against Oakland, Tennessee and home against Denver (three of the Chiefs’ worst losses this year) are all at the bottom.

In fact, ranking games by rushing yards is almost identical to ranking them by win/loss. The only outlier is the game against the Broncos in Denver. But also remember that KC was one completed drive at the end of the game from winning.

In contrast, the first loss to Denver was the second most total yards on the season, and the loss to Oakland was middle of the pack.  Likewise, while the Chiefs had their highest number of turnovers (three) in losses at home against Tennessee and Denver, they had their second highest  amount (two) in wins against the Dolphins and Seahawks.

And passing yards? Two of Alex Smith’s three most productive passing games were losses (at Denver and at Oakland). Conversely, two out of three of his least productive games were wins (at Buffalo, and Seattle).

It is telling that rushing yards are the only measure of offensive production that serves to so accurately predict wins and losses. It may not guarantee a win, but if the Chiefs want to have success on the field, the first 12 games have taught us they have to pound the run.

2) Keep the opponent under 21 points

Nov 30, 2014; Kansas City, MO, USA; Denver Broncos quarterback Peyton Manning (18) is sacked by Kansas City Chiefs defensive tackle Kevin Vickerson (94) during the second half at Arrowhead Stadium. The Broncos won 29-16. Mandatory Credit: Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Sports 101: The fewer points your opponent scores, the better the chances your team has of winning.

That truism applies to every team in the league. And for the Chiefs, there has been a magic number this season. That number is 21 points allowed. If their opponent scores above that number, the Chiefs lose. If the opponent goes below that number, the Chiefs win.

That has held true all season. All five games where the opponent has scored more than 21 points have been Chiefs losses. All seven games where the opponent scored 20 or fewer points were Chief wins.

The Chiefs defense has done a great job this year. They have never allowed more than 29 points in any game, which is lower than any other team in the league. But, according to the stats, keeping KC in the game will mean holding opponents to less than 21 points.

So what does this mean?

In large part, it tells us what we already know: Kansas City’s bread and butter are running the football and playing solid defense. But it also underscores the importance of keeping both rules, so that one helps the other.

If the Chiefs want to start winning again, they shouldn’t be relying on Smith’s arm. But if they are going to stick with the run game, the defense needs to keep opposing scoring in check so that KC isn’t required to resort to passing in a comeback attempt. And if the defense is going to keep teams from scoring, the Chiefs need to win the possession battle. And that means running the ball.

In the end, the Chiefs golden rules are symbiotic in nature. Help the defense by sticking with the run. Help the run with solid defense.

Keep those rules, and the Chiefs should be able to turn things right back around.