Through the first 4 weeks of the NFL season, the Kansas City Chief’s defense is the best in the league against the opponent’s run game.
With roughly the first quarter of the NFL season wrapped up, fans and players alike are beginning to better understand their team’s identities. Enough games have now been played, yielding a sample size large enough to replace offseason predictions and rampant speculation with actual stats.
That’s all fine and dandy, but what do they tell us so far? The answer might be something that even the most confident fans would have never predicted: the Kansas City Chiefs have the strongest rushing defense in the NFL.
A look at the numbers
Your eyes don’t deceive you. Through four weeks of the 2022 NFL season, the Chiefs’ defense has given up the least amount of rushing yards per game to opponents with only 65.8. Admittedly, the defense’s recent performance against the Buccaneers does skew the numbers in their favor, as the Bucs were held to only three rushing yards on a lowly six attempts. Critics may claim that the injuries sustained to the Buccaneers’ offensive line may have something to do with their lack of success in their running game. Nonetheless, the Chiefs were without key starters as well, with both Mike Danna and Willie Gay Jr. missing the field in the Week 4 victory.
The defense’s success against the run hasn’t been a flash in the pan, as they have been stout all year in hindering opponents attempting to move the ball via the ground game. The only time the KC defense has allowed over 100 rushing yards was against the Cardinals in Week 1. Arizona was able to gain 103 rush yards in that matchup, though no particular player looked that impressive. The leading rusher for the Cardinals was quarterback Kyler Murray who accounted for 29 rushing yards on five attempts.
In the following week against the Chargers, the front seven for the Chiefs were even stingier. The Chargers only managed to gain 75 yards through their rushing attack. Austin Ekeler was tasked with most of the workload and carried the ball 14 times, though he only accounted for 39 yards.
In Week 3 against the Colts, the Chief’s run defense faced their biggest challenge yet in Jonathan Taylor, an All-Pro player who led the league in rushing yards last season. Despite Taylor’s impressive resume, the Chief’s defense handled business and limited Indianapolis to 82 rush yards with Taylor only accounting for 71 yards on 21 carries.
Through examining the first four games it appears that KC fans’ frustration with the defense’s performance against the run the past few years is finally being alleviated. Thus far, the defense hasn’t allowed a rusher to surpass 72 yards in a game, ushering in a welcomed change of pace. Additionally, the highest yards per carry allowed by the defense to an opposing player doesn’t even belong to a running back as Kyler Murray owns that title.
Along with boasting the league’s best run defense in terms of yards per game, the Chiefs are also ranked third in lowest yards per carry allowed to opposing running backs with 3.3. For perspective, the Chiefs struggled immensely in this statistic last season. They were the third worst team in this category, allowing 4.7 yards a carry.
Though it can be noted that the Chiefs have vastly improved in an area that they previously struggled the question of “why?” remains. The improvement is most likely due to two factors, the first being the addition of Joe Cullen, the new defensive line coach. Cullen has been coaching since 1992 and his resume includes stints with five different NFL teams. Bringing that type of experience to a position group can’t be overrated.
Secondly, the credit for the Chiefs’ success against the run should also be given to second-year linebacker Nick Bolton who has earned the starting role this year. Bolton is a tackling machine as last year he led all rookies and Chiefs players in tackles with 112 (72 solo and 40 assisted). He has continued his success to start the year, currently leading the Chiefs’ defense with 37 tackles (25 solo and 12 assisted).
Fans might finally be getting the chance to embrace a new reality, one in which opposing teams aren’t able to effectively run the ball, bleed the clock, and keep Patrick Mahomes off the field. The Chiefs’ success against the run in the first four weeks presents a shift toward the team becoming more complete as a whole, rather than the offense being overly relied upon as they have in the past. Though it’s doubtful they will finish the year with the best rush defense in the league, this improvement is a great step in the right direction and will ultimately help the Chiefs find success in cold weather games later in the season.