The Kansas City Chiefs need a run stuffer

INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 17: Johnathan Hankins
INDIANAPOLIS, IN - SEPTEMBER 17: Johnathan Hankins /
ArmchairAddict1 /

The Kansas City Chiefs have had an exciting start to free agency. The one thing they still need to get before the draft is a run stuffing defensive tackle.

The Kansas City Chiefs have had an exciting start to free agency this offseason. The early signings of Sammy Watkins and Anthony Hitchens showed that the Chiefs were going to be aggressive and intend to compete for a third straight AFC West title despite making the change to first time starter Patrick Mahomes at quarterback.

All Chiefs fans would probably agree that as good as those signings are, the Chiefs still have several holes to fill and not enough cap space to fill them all in free agency. So the question then becomes what spots can wait until the draft and what spots need a proven NFL starter added to the roster now?

The five positions that I feel still must be addressed include left guard, defensive line, outside linebacker, cornerback, and safety. While you can certainly argue other positions need more depth or could be upgraded, those five would be the ones I would be most worried about if the season started today. Of those five there is only one that I feel MUST be addressed in free agency.

The Chiefs need to add a proven run stuffer on the defensive line.

While I know there are many Chiefs fans that feel the same way, I have been surprised to see that a number of fans seem to be of the mind that the nose tackle position is losing importance in the modern, pass happy NFL and therefore the Chiefs would be wise to invest their funds elsewhere. While I understand that line of thinking, I disagree with it. I’ll explain why in a minute, but first let me explain why I feel that the Chiefs must add a run stuffer in free agency as opposed to the draft.

Free Agency vs. the Draft

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The trenches in the NFL are not the place you want to try and learn on the job. It’s a place where, if you don’t have the necessary strength and technique to hold your ground and fill multiple gaps, you are going to get manhandled. The life of an NFL nose tackle is not a glamorous one. You get very little acknowledgement and if you are really good at your job, teams simply don’t run at you and therefore you have very little opportunity to even be involved in the play. It’s hard work. That’s why you simply don’t see many rookies man the position. Rookie defensive linemen that make a name for themselves are typically the freakishly athletic type. The guys with the size/speed/strength combo that is hard to deal with so teams typically just turn them loose as rookies and let their natural gifts take over (think Chris Jones as a rookie).

That simply doesn’t fly at the nose tackle position. You need patience and technique. If you think you’re just going to draft some 340 pound project that bench pressed 30 reps at the combine and plop them down in the nose tackle spot and everything will be fine, you are likely going to be very disappointed when veteran offensive linemen with better technique and better conditioning get under their pads and drive them out of their gaps play after play after play.

If the Chiefs want a reliable nose tackle to plug the running lanes, they can’t rely on a rookie to do it. They need to go out and sign one in free agency.

The Need for a Run Stuffer

Let’s talk about the overall need for a run stuffer in today’s NFL. Yes, I understand that the passing game has become the central focus on both sides of the ball. You need a quarterback that can make plays on offense, and on defense you do whatever you can to make life for the opposing quarterback miserable. With that thought in mind, the focus on defense has shifted to cornerbacks and pass rushers. So why invest valuable resources in a defensive position that is all about stopping the run?

The Chiefs simply don’t have the ability to win in the trenches on defense right now.

Well, first off, nothing makes life for an opposing quarterback harder than consistently forcing them into third and long where the defense knows they have to pass and can attack them more aggressively. While the run stuffing nose tackle may not be key to that third down play, they are essential to getting them to that third down play. If the opposing team can pick up 4-5 yards on the ground on first and second down the quarterback no longer has the pressure on him, it shifts to the defense to try and guess what the offense is going to do on third and short.

Yes, you need guys that can cover. Yes, you need guys that can pressure the quarterback. However, despite the popular narrative these days, you still need to win in the trenches in order to win in the postseason. The Chiefs simply don’t have the ability to win in the trenches on defense right now. You can talk all you want about the return of Eric Berry, the emergence of Reggie Ragland, and the signing of Anthony Hitchens, but the bottom line is you can’t stuff the run with safeties and linebackers. Those guys have to be able to get to the line of scrimmage to stop a ball carrier there, and if offensive linemen are running free because the defensive line can’t do their job, then guys like Berry, Ragland, and Hitchens are going to be making the tackle five yards past the line of scrimmage instead of at or behind it.

I am sick and tired of my team not being able to win at the line of scrimmage. I’m tired of other teams punching them in the mouth and them not being able to do anything about it! Winning teams, at least the ones that win in the postseason, have defenses that can stand their ground when it matters— defenses that do the punching, not take it.

What the Numbers Tell Us

While I believed this to be true simply from watching the game I love, I wanted to make sure my eyes weren’t deceiving me. I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t simply romanticizing a type of football that I loved but that had been passed by in the modern NFL. So I looked back at some numbers over the past five seasons to see if what I believed would hold true.

Here’s what I looked at.

I went back over the past five seasons and found all the teams that were in the top ten in scoring offense and top ten in rushing defense. My thought was this: if you score points on offense and stuff the run on defense you are going to win a lot of games and that it will also carry over into postseason success.

The points per game is self explanatory, but for the rush defense I looked at two things: the yards per game allowed AND the yards per carry allowed. My thinking was that a high scoring offense could lead to a defense that didn’t allow many rushing yards per game simply because the other team was frequently throwing the ball to try and keep up. I wanted to truly identify the teams that were good at stopping the run. So even if a team was in the top ten in rushing yards allowed per game if they allowed greater than 4.0 yards per carry they were eliminated from this survey.

Over the past five seasons I found a total of 20 teams that met these standards. Here they are by year with their regular season and post season record.

Philadelphia Eagles – 13-3, 3-0 (won Super Bowl)
Minnesota Vikings – 13-3, 1-1

Dallas Cowboys – 13-3, 0-1
New England Patriots – 14-2, 3-0 (won Super Bowl)
Green Bay Packers – 10-6, 2-1
San Diego Chargers – 5-11, no playoffs
Arizona Cardinals – 7-8-1, no playoffs

Carolina Panthers – 15-1, 2-1
Seattle Seahawks – 10-6, 1-1
Arizona Cardinals – 13-3, 1-1
New England Patriots – 12-4, 1-1
Pittsburgh Steelers – 10-6, 1-1

Denver Broncos – 12-4, 0-1
New England Patriots – 12-4, 3-0 (won Super Bowl)
Seattle Seahawks – 12-4, 2-1
Baltimore Ravens – 10-6, 1-1

Denver Broncos – 13-3, 2-1
Philadelphia Eagles – 10-6, 0-1
Cincinnati Bengals – 11-5, 0-1
Seattle Seahawks – 13-3, 3-0 (won Super Bowl)

Teams that are in the top ten in scoring offense and rushing defense have won four of the past five Super Bowls.

So when you put that all together, what it shows you that in the past five years in the NFL, teams that are in the top ten in scoring offense and rushing defense have won four of the past five Super Bowls. Eighteen of these 20 teams made the playoffs and, of the 18 teams that made the playoffs, 14 of them won at least one game in the playoffs (something that the Chiefs have struggled to do). In fact, over the past five years, teams that were in the top ten in scoring and run defense are a combined 26-14 in the playoffs with four Super Bowl wins.

Let that sink in for a second, 26-14 in the playoffs with four Super Bowl wins. That sounds like a club I’d like the Chiefs to be a part of. While I feel their offense is on track to score the necessary points, the run defense is short on run stoppers up front.

Just to make sure I wasn’t being closed-minded to the impact of things besides run defense, I decided to go back and look at those same 20 teams and see how many of them were also in the top ten in sacks on defense. I found that nine of the twenty teams were. So I wanted to check and see if these teams that were in the top ten in scoring AND run defense AND sacks were the ones racking up all the playoff wins and winning all the Super Bowls, thus hurting my argument for a strong run defense. Here’s what I found.

The nine teams that were in the top ten in scoring, run defense, and sacks over the last five years averaged 11.1 wins per season, 8 of the 9 teams made the playoffs, and they had a combined playoff record of 10-7 with one Super Bowl win.

The 11 teams that were just in the top ten in scoring and run defense over the past five years averaged 11.6 wins per season, 10 of the 11 teams made the playoffs, and they had a combined playoff record of 16-7 with three Super Bowl wins.

So not only were the teams with the better sack numbers not getting ALL the postseason wins, they actually won less. Now, I’m not arguing that the Chiefs shouldn’t look to add more pass rushers. They definitely do. What I am arguing is that it is ESSENTIAL to the Chiefs’ success that they reinforce their defensive line so that they can effectively stop the run. That starts with locking down the nose tackle position. That needs to be done as soon as possible before all the good ones are gone.

As I am writing this, news of Arizona’s Xavier Williams visiting the Chiefs has broken. If he has signed by the time you are reading this then consider this a post explaining WHY it was essential that they do so. If not, then hopefully the Chiefs are close to signing him, or Jonathan Hankins (if Washington hasn’t already done so), or even just bringing back Bennie Logan for another year.

One way or another the Chiefs MUST land themselves a run stuffer in free agency.

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