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Thursday, October 10, 2013
Inside Slant: Why are Chiefs 5-0?

By Kevin Seifert

The Kansas City Chiefs have not only surprised much of the NFL world this season. For the most part, they've confounded us as well. Why are they 5-0? How good are they?

The usual suspects don't provide an explanation. Their quarterback, Alex Smith, has provided leadership and security (only four turnovers) but has hardly been a dynamic player. (His QBR of 51.2, which takes into account 161 rushing yards, ranks No. 16 in the league.)

Tailback Jamaal Charles, meanwhile, has rushed for 397 yards, which projected over a full season would leave him short of his 16-game performances in 2010 and 2012.

But here is something that you probably wouldn't realize if you haven't watched the Chiefs' games: Their pass defense -- especially the game-changing play variety -- has been off the charts so far.

Technically, the Chiefs' pass defense ranks No. 4 in the league because it is giving up 198 yards per game. But more important, I think, is a metric that ESPN Stats & Information refers to as "disrupted dropbacks." It is a combination of sacks, passes defended, interceptions and batted balls, and the Chiefs are way out in front of the league in those kinds of big plays.

The chart shows the top five and worst five in the NFL based on percentage of dropbacks that have been disrupted. The Chiefs have disrupted nearly a quarter of all passing plays they've faced this season, significantly more than the next team and well ahead of the NFL average.

Indeed, the Chiefs lead the NFL with 21 sacks through five weeks of the season. Their 30 pass breakups, 10 batted passes and 20 passes defended also sit atop the league rankings. They are tied for third with seven interceptions.

(Linebacker Justin Houston leads the NFL with 12.5 disrupted dropbacks: 8.5 via sacks and four via batted passes. Defensive tackle Dontari Poe, meanwhile, has a total of 6.5 disrupted dropbacks -- tied for No. 10 -- with 4.5 sacks and two batted passes.)

These types of plays don't simply prevent the opposition from gaining yards. They disproportionately impact the outcome of games, leading from unfavorable down-and-distances to change of possession and ultimately failed offensive game plans. It's no surprise that opponents are averaging 11.6 points per game against the Chiefs, by far the lowest total in the league.

The NFL is so geared toward the passing game that the rarest of commodities is a defense that can stop the pass. That's why Chicago Bears coach Marc Trestman told reporters this week that, in truth, "this is a game of contested throws." Can receivers make catches against defenders who are in position? Or can the defenses make the play to keep the ball away?

So far this season, the Chiefs have done a better job of the latter than any team. If it continues, there is no telling how far Kansas City might go. A team with the playmakers to stop NFL passing attacks? Yes, please.