Looking at first down tendencies for the Kansas City Chiefs offense

Head coach Andy Reid of the Kansas City Chiefs (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images)
Head coach Andy Reid of the Kansas City Chiefs (Photo by Dustin Bradford/Getty Images) /
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The 2019 Kansas City Chiefs First Down Play Calls by Score

As I went through and logged all the first down play calls I put them in one of seven score categories.

  1. Leading by 15 points or more
  2. Leading by 8-14 points
  3. Leading by 1-7 points
  4. Tie game
  5. Down by 1-7 points
  6. Down by 8-14 points
  7. Down by 15 points or more

Here is the break down of first down play calls by each of those categories.

Leading by 15 points or more

  • 59 total first down plays
  • 47 runs (79.7%)
  • 12 passes (20.3%)

Leading by 8-14 points

  • 103 total first down plays
  • 41 runs (39.8%)
  • 62 passes (60.2%)

Leading by 1-7 points

  • 123 total first down plays
  • 59 runs (48%)
  • 64 passes (52%)

Tie game

  • 76 total first down plays
  • 23 runs (30.3%)
  • 53 passes (69.7%)

Down by 1-7 points

  • 125 total first down plays
  • 50 runs (40%)
  • 75 passes (60%)

Down by 8-14 points

  • 41 total total first down plays
  • 9 runs (22%)
  • 32 passes (78%)

Down by 15 or more

  • 5 total first down plays
  • 0 runs (0%)
  • 5 passes (100%)

Of these seven categories, I found four of them to be very predictable. All three categories of when the Chiefs were down looked like I expected with the percentage of first down passes getting more extreme the more they were behind. I was also not surprised at all by the significantly higher percentage of runs on first down when the Chiefs were up by 15 points or more. That is to be expected as a team tries to eat the clock to end the game with a comfortable lead.

What I did find very interesting were the other three categories. The fact that the Chiefs had a higher percentage of first down pass plays when the game was tied than when they were down a score is interesting. After looking over the logs I believe this is because the ties often came early in the game and Reid felt free to be loose in his play calling with so much time to go in the game.

In contrast, Andy Reid was much more conservative on first down when he only had a 1-7 point lead. In those cases he seemed to want to protect the football a little more to not give away their lead. This was especially true late in games with a one score lead. We’ll look at the 4th quarter splits in a moment.

The final thing I really found encouraging here was the percentage of first down passing plays with an 8-14 point lead. In those instances Reid stayed aggressive on first down. He wasn’t as worried about playing it safe and losing his lead. He also wasn’t ready to take his foot off the gas and eat clock like he was when the lead became a three-possession game and the percentages switch to heavy run calls on first down. For those of us that begged for years for Reid not to take his foot off the gas too early, that’s an encouraging sign.

While looking at the numbers based on K.C.’s lead, I wanted to know how much running the ball late in the game with a lead affected the overall numbers on the season. So I decided to look at those numbers specifically.

4th quarter first down plays when K.C. had a lead:

  • 73 total first down plays
  • 59 runs (80.8%)
  • 14 passes (19.2%)

This isn’t surprising or especially noteworthy, but it did allow me to then subtract those numbers from the overall season numbers to see what the splits were like when the Chiefs weren’t trying to eat up clock in the fourth quarter with a lead. When you do that, it shifts the overall 57% pass / 43% run split to the following.

  • 63% pass
  • 37% run

So those numbers are pretty reflective of what Andy Reid (and Eric Bieniemy) did when not in clock eating mode late in the game. The Chiefs passed on first down on just under 2/3 of their plays. For all the “passing is more efficient” fanatics out there, that is a pretty good number, especially when Patrick Mahomes is your quarterback. It will be interesting to see if those numbers change at all in 2020 with a new toy at running back to play with.

Finally, speaking of Mahomes being the quarterback, the final thing I was curious about was if the games the Chiefs had to play without him had an effect on the overall numbers for the season.