Stats & Info: Kansas City Chiefs

Chiefs: No TD from WR ... and that's OK

November, 14, 2014

AP Photo/Wilfredo LeeAlex Smith hasn't looked downfield to his wide receivers much this season.
You might have noticed that the Kansas City Chiefs are succeeding in an unusual way this season. They’ve somehow managed to win without getting a single touchdown reception from a wide receiver.

Let’s examine this more closely from a statistical perspective.

The lack of WR scores
The Chiefs have no touchdowns from their wide receivers. Every other NFL team has at least three such touchdowns.

The Chiefs have gotten 899 yards from their wide receivers this season. There are four players (Antonio Brown, Demaryius Thomas, T.Y. Hilton and Golden Tate) who have more than that.

No Chiefs wide receiver has gained 100 yards receiving in a game this season. Only three other teams (Rams, Dolphins, Titans) have no 100-yard games from their wide receivers.

Dwayne Bowe has accounted for 55 percent of the Chiefs' wide receiver yards this season, the highest percentage in the NFL. But 31 wide receivers have more yards than Bowe this season.

Why the Chiefs' offense doesn’t need them
Alex Smith’s average pass has traveled 5.6 yards past the line of scrimmage this season, shortest in the NFL (the league average is 8.1 yards).

He has thrown an interception on 1.5 percent of his pass attempts this season. Only Tom Brady, Aaron Rodgers, Ben Roethlisberger and Carson Palmer have been better.

The Chiefs are averaging 135.8 rushing yards per game this season, the fifth most in the NFL.

The Chiefs average 3.4 yards before contact on rushes this season, second best in the NFL.

Jamaal Charles is averaging 7.8 yards per rush in the fourth quarter, the best average in the NFL.

The Chiefs are converting on third down at the third-best percentage (47.8 percent) and converting in the red zone at the fourth-best percentage (69.0 percent).

The Chiefs' defense makes up for it
One reason the Chiefs have been able to get away without their wide receivers contributing scores -- their defense has put them in position to win regardless.

Chiefs opponents are scoring 16.8 points per game this season, second best in the NFL.

The Chiefs have recorded a sack on 8.2 percent of dropbacks, the third-best rate in the NFL.

The Chiefs are allowing touchdowns on 42.3 percent of red zone trips this season, the second-best rate in the NFL.

The Chiefs have not allowed a rushing touchdown this season. Every other NFL team has allowed at least four.

Matchups to watch: Chiefs at Colts

January, 2, 2014
The Kansas City Chiefs and Indianapolis Colts meet Saturday afternoon in an AFC wild-card game.

This is the fifth playoff game in the Super Bowl era between quarterbacks who were drafted No. 1 overall. All five of those games have taken place since the Chiefs last won a playoff game on Jan. 16, 1994.

Andrew Luck and the Colts hope to improve to 4-0 all-time against the Chiefs in the postseason. The Colts beat the Chiefs after the 1995, 2003 and 2006 regular seasons.

Here are three key matchups to watch Saturday:

Jamaal Charles versus the left side of the Colts' 3-4

Jamaal Charles rested in Week 17 but still finished with an NFL-high 35 percent of Kansas City's offensive yards from scrimmage this season. The next closest was Chicago’s Matt Forte at 31 percent.

Charles led the Chiefs in rushes, rushing yards, rushing touchdowns, receptions, receiving yards and receiving touchdowns.

Charles only needed two rushes to get the Chiefs on the board when the teams met in Week 16. Charles took a pitch left for 6 yards and followed that with a 31-yard score on a handoff to the right.

The Chiefs should continue to run to the right Saturday. They rank in the top five of the NFL in yards per rush, yards after contact per rush and rushing touchdowns when running to the right.

The Colts' defense ranks in the bottom five in rush yards, yards per rush and rushing touchdowns allowed when offenses ran right.

Andrew Luck versus Tamba Hali and Justin Houston

Tamba Hali and Justin Houston are expected to be available for Saturday’s game. The two outside linebackers tied for the team lead with 11.0 sacks during the regular season.

Can the return of both stars reignite a Chiefs pass rush that was dominant early in the season?

The Chiefs led the NFL with 35 sacks through seven games, the most by any team through seven games since the 2000 Buccaneers. Over their last nine games, the Chiefs had just 12 sacks, fewest in the NFL.

If the pass rush with Hali and Houston can return to its early-season form, they have a great opportunity to get to a quarterback who has been under pressure since the day he was drafted by the Colts. Luck has been pressured an NFL-high 376 times since the start of 2012.

The Chiefs pressured Luck just six times in Week 16, Luck’s lowest single-game total of the season. On those pressures, they had one sack while Luck completed one of five passes for a single yard.

Chiefs tackling versus Colts yards after contact

The importance of this matchup can be summed up in one play from Week 16.

The Colts had the ball on their own 49-yard line and called a draw play to Donald Brown. Brown shed one tackle from Brandon Flowers at the Kansas City 40, then another attempt by Kendrick Lewis a few yards later.

Brown broke free for a bit before stiff-arming Dunta Robinson from the 15 to the 5. Robinson fell to the ground as Brown tip-toed down the sideline on his way to the end zone.

Brown has been breaking tackles all season, leading the NFL in yards after contact per rush.

The Brown touchdown was one of many tackling issues for the Chiefs late in the season. Through Week 7 the Chiefs allowed 1.3 yards after contact per rush (11th). That number spiked to 2.0 from Week 8 on, second-worst in the league.

Though Trent Richardson has not been the ground threat the Colts hoped for when they gave up a 2014 first-round pick in a trade with the Cleveland Browns, Richardson has been effective making defenders miss in the passing game. Richardson led the NFL in yards after contact per reception at 2.9 during the regular season.

The underrated units of the NFL playoffs

January, 2, 2014
Heading into the NFL playoffs, each playoff team’s offense and defense will be subject to even more detailed evaluation than usual.

The traditional statistics used to evaluate NFL teams’ offenses and defenses are based on yardage, which is an incomplete measure for many reasons.

Going beyond the box score and looking at what has actually happened on every play where a given unit was on the field (using expected points added, or EPA) results in a much more accurate evaluation of that unit’s complete contribution to the scoreboard, and therefore, winning and losing.

Below are a few examples of offenses and defenses that will be taking the field this weekend whose quality is misrepresented by their yardage rankings.

Because playoff teams are generally good, the biggest differences come when looking at units that are underrated by their yardage-based ratings. If these units were actually as bad as the yardage rankings indicate, the teams would have had much less chance of making the playoffs at all.

Indianapolis Colts Offense (15th in YPG, 6th in EPA PG)
Based on the Indianapolis Colts' 342 yards per game, the offense looks average. But Andrew Luck and company have been really great at limiting mistakes, committing just 13 offensive turnovers (three fewer than any other team in the league) and being penalized for just 14.7 yards per game while on offense (also least in the league).

On a related note, the Colts offense has drawn a lot of penalties, earning 40.3 yards and 2.4 first downs per game due to calls on the opposing defense (both ranked in the top-5 in the NFL).

With that additional yardage not accounted for in “total offense” and the fact that the Colts have done well converting their yards into points - averaging 5.0 points per red zone trip - it makes sense that their offense rates near the top of the NFL in terms of EPA.

Philadelphia Eagles Defense (29th in YPG, 15th in EPA PG)
It seems difficult to believe that a team with the “fourth-worst defense” in the NFL, giving up nearly 400 yards per game, could have gone 10-6. And that’s because in actuality, when you take into account everything they do to impact the scoreboard, the Philadelphia Eagles defense hasn’t been the fourth-worst in the NFL.

First off, there is the pace issue. Because of Chip Kelly’s fast offense, the Eagles defense was on the field a lot – a league-high 1,150 snaps, to be exact – so it’s not fair to compare them to others using total yardage.

Looking on a per-drive basis, the Eagles still allowed a decent amount of yardage but tightened up in the red zone and limited opponents to just 1.74 points per drive overall, slightly better than the league average.

The Eagles defense forced 31 turnovers (tied for third in the NFL) that contributed to preventing points and also helped set up their own offense. Putting it all together, the Eagles defense certainly isn’t elite, but it ranks right around the league average – much better than the yardage numbers indicate.

Kansas City Chiefs Defense (24th in YPG, 8th in EPA PG)
The Kansas City Chiefs defense definitely performed much worse as the level of competition stepped up dramatically in the second half of the season, but they were nowhere near a bottom-10 defense as the full-season yardage numbers indicate.

The Chiefs wiped away a lot of the yards they allowed by forcing turnovers and turning them into points or great field position for the offense.

Not only were the Chiefs second in the NFL with 33 turnovers forced and tied for first with six defensive scores, but they were also great at setting up their offense with great field position.

On possessions following turnovers and turnovers on downs (times where the defense directly “set up” the offense), Alex Smith and company came onto the field with an average field position on the opponents’ 39, the best such average of any team in the league by more than five yards.

In large part because of all those turnovers, the Chiefs allowed just 1.5 points per drive, good enough for fifth in the NFL.

Put it all together and the poor yardage ranking is way off – the Chiefs defense was a net positive for the team, adding nearly three points per game to the scoring margin and helping them get to 11-5 and a Wild Card berth.

San Francisco 49ers Offense (24th in YPG, 13th in EPA PG)
The San Francisco 49ers defense is the main strength of the team no matter what stat you use, but if you just looked at the yardage numbers, it would be appear that the team was succeeding in spite of the offense.

Part of the reason is the 49ers offense is one of the slowest in the league, averaging 40.6 seconds between line-of-scrimmage plays, fourth-most in the NFL. As a result, the 49ers average just 60 snaps per game, second-fewest in the league, and therefore it makes sense they don’t rack up quite as many yards as other teams with more plays.

Like the Colts, the 49ers have done a good job limiting turnovers, with only 18 offensive giveaways all season and none being returned directly for scores.

Colin Kaepernick and crew have done a good job making the most of the yards they do get, scoring on 79 percent of drives inside the opponents 40 (third-best in the NFL) and averaging five points per trip into the red zone.

Looking at the overall contribution of the San Francisco offense, it is actually above average at nearly three net points per game.

Charles in charge after the catch

December, 15, 2013
Cary Edmondson/USA TODAY SportsJamaal Charles set personal and franchise records against the Raiders on Sunday.
The Kansas City Chiefs defeated the Oakland Raiders 56-31 on Sunday, and Chiefs running back Jamaal Charles did a number on both the franchise and NFL record books, and did so while only playing three quarters.

Charles’ final line – 195 receiving yards, four touchdowns catches, 20 rush yards, one rushing touchdown – was remarkable for a number of reasons. Charles became the first player in NFL history to have four touchdown receptions and a touchdown run in a single game, and also became the first running back in NFL history with four touchdown receptions in a game.

Charles became the fifth player in the last 50 seasons with five touchdowns and 200 yards from scrimmage in a game, joining Gale Sayers (1965), Jerry Rice (1990), Shaun Alexander (2002) and Clinton Portis (2003). He is also the second player in Chiefs franchise history to score five touchdowns in a game against the Raiders, joining Abner Haynes in 1961, when the franchise was known as the Texans.

Charles set a career-high for receiving yards with 195, the most by a running back in a game since Week 16 of 1999, when Marshall Faulk tallied 204. That mark was achieved thanks in large part to his work after the catch. His 172 yards are the most since the start of 2006, and 48 more than any other player in a game this season.

Charles is the first player this season with three touchdowns of at least 35 yards. He joins Doug Martin, Darren McFadden, Chris Johnson and Adrian Peterson as players with three rushing or receiving touchdowns at that length since the start of 2001. From a fantasy perspective, Charles’ 51 points in ESPN standard leagues is tied for the sixth-most in a game since 1960 according to Tristan H. Cockcroft, tying Doug Martin from last season and Corey Dillon in 1997.

It wasn’t all Charles, though. Alex Smith set a career-high with five touchdown passes, the third quarterback in Chiefs history with a five-touchdown, zero-interception game, joining Len Dawson (1967) and Trent Green (2002).

Smith also became third quarterback since 2000 to complete 85 percent of his passes while also throwing for five touchdowns in a game, joining Tom Brady and Drew Brees, the latter of whom did so twice. Smith is also the only quarterback to throw three 35-yard touchdown passes in a game this season. Not surprisingly, Charles caught the ball all eight times he was targeted by his quarterback.

Bigger picture; The Chiefs as a team clinched a playoff spot, and became the third team in NFL history to win 11 games a season after winning two or fewer. The 56 points scored is tied for the second-most in Chiefs franchise history, while the 56 points allowed is a new franchise record for the Raiders.

Keys to victory: Chargers 41, Chiefs 38

November, 24, 2013

Philip Rivers excelled at throwing to the left side of the field in Sunday's win.
What were the biggest keys for the San Diego Chargers' in their 41-38 upset of the Kansas City Chiefs?

Rivers makes it work
Rivers completed 11-of-13 passes for 199 yards (15.3 yards per attempt) on third downs, including a crucial 12-yard completion to Antonio Gates on third-and-10 that moved the chains on the game-winning drive.
Rivers had completed only 42 percent of passes on third down during the Chargers’ three-game losing streak.

Rivers also excelled at picking on the Chargers on the left side of the field, as noted in the image atop this story.

Slowing Chargers down after the catch an issue for Chiefs
The Chargers gained 228 yards after catch on Sunday, their highest total in a game this season and the first time Kansas City allowed more than 190 in a game in 2013.

The Chargers recorded at least 10 yards after the catch on 10 different receptions, joining the Packers (Week 2 vs Redskins) and Steelers (Week 9 vs Patriots) as the only teams to do that this year.

Ladarius Green gained 45 yards after the catch on his 60-yard touchdown catch in the fourth quarter. Kansas City’s defense has allowed at least 45 yards after the cartch on three plays this year- only the Rams (four) have more.

An unusual win for the Chargers,
an unusual loss for the Chiefs

Entering this week, since the AFC and NFC merged, teams allowing 38 points or more on the road were 23-751 (an .030 winning percentage).

The Chargers had lost 25 of their last 26 regular-season games in which they allowed at least 38 points on the road.

The 38 points scored by the Chiefs matched their most ever in a home loss.

Stat of the Day
Rivers now has four games this season in which he's thrown for at least 390 yards. That ties the most for any quarterback in a single season. Dan Marino had four for the Dolphins in 1984. Joe Montana had 4 with the 49ers in 1990.

Keys to victory: Broncos 27, Chiefs 17

November, 18, 2013
What were the keys to the Denver Broncos win over the Kansas City Chiefs on Sunday night?

As is often the case with the Broncos, the difference was in the quarterback performance.

Chiefs defense can’t stymie Manning
Peyton Manning had plenty of time to throw and his receivers had plenty of room to work.

Manning was not sacked and was put under duress only five times.

Manning was 21-for-34 for 290 yards and a TD against four or fewer pass rushers. The Chiefs had held opponents to a 30.8 total QBR when sending standard pressure, best in the league.

The Broncos receivers gained 187 yards after the catch, including 43 by Demaryius Thomas on his 70-yard reception. That much yardage is nothing new for them. The Broncos entered the week with 51 pass plays with at least 10 yards after the catch this season, most of any team in the league.

It was new for the Chiefs' defense. That was the most allowed by that unit in any game this season.

Alex Smith struggled under pressure
When the Broncos put pressure on Chiefs quarterback Alex Smith, he couldn’t do much against it.

Smith was 4-for-16 for 55 yards when the Broncos sent at least five pass rushers. Smith entered the day having completed 58 percent of his passes against such pressure, including 13 of 14 in last week’s win over the Buffalo Bills.

Smith also was unable to find Dwayne Bowe when he needed him most, going 4-for-14 when targeting Bowe in this game.

Bowe had been successfully targeted on 33 of 57 pass attempts entering the day (58 percent).

The Broncos extended their home winning streak to 12 straight games, tied with the 1983-84 Broncos for the third-longest streak in team history. The team record is 24 straight home wins from 1996 to 1998.

Manning has now won 13 consecutive divisional games. That was the second longest streak since the AFL-NFL merger. The Elias Sports Bureau notes that the only quarterback to top it is a 19-game winning streak in divisional games by Jim McMahon.

The Chiefs had two streaks end: The nine-game winning streak to start the season, which tied the 2003 squad for the longest in team history, and a streak of nine straight games allowing 17 points or fewer.

It was the longest such streak to start a season since the 1946 Pittsburgh Steelers went 11 straight games allowing 17 points or fewer to start their season.

Inside the matchup: Broncos vs Chiefs

November, 14, 2013
Sunday’s game between the Denver Broncos and Kansas City Chiefs isn’t just two divisional rivals jockeying for position. Via the Elias Sports Bureau, it’s only the fourth game since the AFL-NFL merger in 1970 to feature two teams with at least eight wins and no more than one loss, and the first of those four to feature divisional opponents.

Here’s a look at four key matchups that will play a major role in deciding Sunday’s showdown.

Broncos receivers vs Chiefs secondary
Letting Broncos’ receivers run after the catch is a recipe for disaster. The Broncos have had 51 pass plays with at least 10 yards after the catch this season, most of any team in the league.

Peyton Manning's average throw this season is 7.8 yards downfield, his lowest in the last eight seasons. Almost half of his passing yards have come after the catch (49 percent) this season, as opposed to 38 percent from 2006-12.

Demaryius Thomas in particular has been productive in the screen game. Thomas has caught 11 screen passes, producing league-high totals in yards (212) and touchdowns (three). 214 of Thomas’ 212 yards (his average screen is caught behind the line of scrimmage) have come after the catch.

As good as the Chiefs’ pass defense has been this season, this is an area of concern. The Chiefs have allowed 5.8 yards after catch per reception this season, ninth most in the league, despite facing none of the top six teams in total YAC this season.

Broncos offensive line vs Chiefs pass rush
The Chiefs have 36 sacks this season, recording one on 9.4% of opponent dropbacks, both best in the NFL.

Normally difficult to sack, an ankle injury has made Peyton Manning an easier target in recent weeks.

Manning has been pressured (sacked, hit while throwing or under duress) on almost one-quarter of his dropbacks in the last three games, or more than twice as many dropbacks per game (10.3) than in his first six (4.8).

Von Miller vs Chiefs offensive line
Von Miller's Week 7 return from a suspension hasn’t changed Denver’s sack output very much at first glance. The Broncos averaged 3 sacks per game with Miller and 2.8 without Miller.

A closer look shows Miller’s impact is bigger than sack totals. In the last three games, the Denver defense has pressured quarterbacks on 34% of dropbacks, third best in the league and a noted improvement on their 25% in the first six weeks.

There isn’t any one player who’s going to be responsible for stopping the two-time All-Pro Miller, who has played 129 snaps on the left side of the line and 65 on the right in his three games back. Expect both Pro Bowl left tackle Branden Albert and right tackle Eric Fisher, this year’s first-overall draft pick, to contend with Miller off the edge.

Chiefs offense vs the clock
Peyton Manning
Since Manning joined the Broncos, Denver is 12-0 when winning the time of possession battle and 9-4 when the opponent has the edge. Teams simply cannot let Manning control the clock and expect to win.

To have a chance Sunday, 20 first downs is a good starting point. Since the start of 2001, Manning opponents “held” Peyton’s teams to a .636 winning percentage when they gained at least 20 first downs.

Losing 64 percent of games hardly reflects a winning “strategy” for the Chiefs, but Manning is 80-17 (.825) when opponents don’t record at least 20 first downs. The best way to beat him is to not give him the chance to beat you.

Kansas City: Where defense takes priority

November, 1, 2013

David Eulitt/Getty ImagesKansas City has gotten off to an 8-0 start thanks in large part to a strong defense.
The Kansas City Chiefs are the NFL's only unbeaten team at 8-0, having already quadrupled their win total from last season.

On the heels of a 2-14 record last year, the Chiefs are the first team in NFL history to start 8-0 the season after having the league’s worst record.

With a win Sunday in Buffalo, Kansas City would match the best start in franchise history, accomplished in 2003.

Defensive Domination
In contrast to the high-flying offense of that 2003 squad, this year’s Kansas City team is built on defense.

The Chiefs are allowing 12.3 points per game, fewest in the NFL, and they’re the first team in 36 years that did not allow more than 17 points in any of its first eight games.

Since 1950, only the 1977 Atlanta Falcons have a longer such streak to start a season.

Kansas City’s dominance begins with a pass rush that leads the NFL with 36 sacks, nine more than any other team. The Chiefs sack rate is also tops in the league at 12.6 percent.

Kansas City also leads the league by allowing third downs to be converted at only a 25 percent clip.

Kansas City’s sack success is not simply a product of a superior pass rush. The Chiefs are allowing the third-most time in the pocket this season at 2.83 seconds.

But the secondary has covered well enough to allow only 5.76 net yards per attempt, third-best in the NFL.

Those numbers are a big reason why the defense has allowed an NFL-low 25.2 Total QBR to opposing quarterbacks.

Something In The Kansas City Fountains?
The Chiefs defensive dominance continues a year-long trend in Kansas City sports.

For the first time in a decade, the Kansas City Royals were in the playoff hunt until the final week this season.

They finished 86-76, their best record since 1989, largely because they allowed only 3.7 runs per game, the fewest in the American League and the team's fewest in a full season since 1972.

The Royals won a team-record three Gold Gloves and led the majors in a sabermetric stat, Defensive Runs Saved (which you can learn more about by clicking here), rating among the best in baseball a year after finishing 13th in that stat.

And in MLS, Sporting Kansas City finished the regular season last weekend with the league's second-best record on the strength of a shutdown defense.

Sporting KC allowed an MLS-low 0.88 goals per game in 2013 (30 goals in 34 games), posting the league's stingiest defense for the second straight year.

False Start?
One caveat to the Chiefs undefeated start is that they’ve played the league’s easiest schedule through eight weeks, with a combined opponents’ win percentage of .328 (20-41).

Over the remainder of the season, only two teams will play a tougher schedule than the Chiefs, whose remaining opponents have a win percentage of .593 (35-24).

Manning, Romo put on show in Dallas

October, 7, 2013

Aaron Ontiveroz/The Denver Post/Getty ImagesTony Romo threw for a franchise-record 506 yards but a costly pick helped give Denver the win.
As a reminder, Total QBR is a quarterback rating that takes into account all of a QB’s significant contributions (passing, rushing, sacks, fumbles, penalties) to his team’s scoring and winning and summarizes them into one number on a 0-100 scale, where 50 is average. Since 2008, the team with the higher QBR has won about 84 percent of the time. Complete QBR statistics for all quarterbacks can be found here.

Manning and Romo duel in Dallas
Peyton Manning (93.7) and Tony Romo (92.1) both posted Total QBRs over 90 while tallying more than 40 action plays. It is only the second game since 2006 in which two opposing quarterbacks each posted a Total QBR greater than 90 with that many action plays (David Garrard and Matt Schaub – Week 4, 2008).

Peyton Manning has a Total QBR of at least 93.7 in three straight games. Aaron Rodgers is the only other quarterback with a Total QBR that high in three straight games (Week 6-9 in 2011) during the last eight seasons. Manning also did it with the Colts from Week 4 to Week 7 in 2009.

Romo’s Total QBR Sunday was the highest for a starting quarterback in a loss this season.

Romo throws costly interception
Tony Romo’s interception with 2:04 left in the 4th quarter Sunday dropped the Cowboys’ win probability by 25.9 percent. Romo has thrown six interceptions during the last three seasons that have dropped his team’s win probability by at least 20 percent. Only Matt Schaub and Eli Manning have more (seven).

Brady, Pats offense struggles
Tom Brady’s 16.8 Total QBR against the Bengals was his worst in a game since Week 14 of the 2006 season (lost 21-0 to the Dolphins).

The Patriots have an offensive EPA per game of -3.3 this season (-12.0 in Week 5). So the Patriots actually contribute three fewer expected points than an average offense. This is rare for a Patriots offense that finished the season with the most offensive expected points added in two of the last four seasons.

Quick hitters
• Matt Schaub posted a 4.9 Total QBR Sunday, his 2nd-lowest in a start since the start of 2006 (only made 2 starts prior to 2006 season). Schaub’s 35.4 Total QBR this season ranks 27th in the league among qualified quarterbacks, after he ranked 12th in the league last season.

• Kansas City Chiefs had a Defensive EPA of 4.7 Sunday, and their defense has added an expected 65.6 points to their team’s net points this season. No other defense has an expected points added total higher than 30 this season.

• Eli Manning posted a 47.5 Total QBR Sunday, and his Total QBR is 34.2 this season, his lowest in his first five starts of a season dating back to 2006 (Total QBR era). He also had three intentional grounding penalties Sunday. No quarterback has committed more than two intentional grounding penalties in a game since the start of 2001.

• Nick Foles filled in admirably for Michael Vick Sunday. His 84.6 Total QBR is the highest among 30 quarterbacks who have come off the bench and had at least 20 action plays during the last 3 seasons.

• Cam Newton’s 5.7 Total QBR was the 2nd-lowest in a game in his career (1.6 vs Broncos in Week 10 last season). Newton was sacked seven times and threw three interceptions against the Cardinals – all when facing five or more pass rushers.

Defense leads rise of Chiefs, Titans

October, 1, 2013

avid Eulitt/Kansas City Star/Getty ImagesKansas City's improved defense has helped lead their rise in's Power Rankings.
The Kansas City Chiefs finished last out of 32 teams in the final edition of last season’s NFL Power Rankings and the Tennessee Titans finished 26th.

The two teams meet in Tennessee this weekend, so one of their respective rises up to fifth and 13th in the Power Rankings this season will be put on hold

Each team's vast improvements on defense, however, could ensure that any fall may be short-lived.

Chiefs Defense – Best Pass Rush in the NFL
Not only have the Chiefs recorded the most sacks this season (18), they’ve sacked quarterbacks at the highest rate in the NFL (10 percent of dropbacks).

Although Justin Houston is tied for the league-lead with 7.5 sacks this season, nose tackle Dontari Poe may be having just as big of an impact.

Poe has recorded 3.5 sacks this season, best among interior defensive linemen. He had zero sacks last season despite playing 75 percent of the Chiefs’ defensive snaps.

Poe’s production this season is even more impressive when you compare him to nose tackles in 3-4 defenses in recent years.

Since the start of 2008, there have been only five instances of a nose tackle recording as many as four sacks in an entire season, and none have posted more than 7.5

Poe’s pressure from the interior makes it harder for offensive lines to account for the rest of the Chiefs’ pass rush.

Eight Kansas City defenders have at least a half sack this season. Last season, they had six defenders record at least half a sack.

Titans Defense – More Pass Rushers, Bigger Impact
The Titans allowed a league-worst 29.4 points per game last season, but have shaved 12 points off that average this year.

One of the keys to the turnaround has been a strategical shift on defense.

The Titans had good production when pass rushing five or more defenders last season. The problem was they used such pressure on only a quarter of opponent dropbacks.

Tennessee allowed a league-worst 70 percent of passes to be completed when rushing four or fewer last season, but were a Top-10 defense when sending extra rushers (54 percent).

The Titans defense has allowed similar numbers this season, but the big difference is that the Titans are sending at least five pass rushers on 44 percent of opponent dropbacks, the third highest rate in the NFL.

The increased number of pass rushers may be the influence of Gregg Williams, now a senior assistant with the Titans’ defense.

Williams was the New Orleans Saints defensive coordinator from 2009 to 2011. During that stretch, the Saints sent five or more pass rushers exactly half the time. No other team did that more than 43 percent of the time.

NFL roster stability usually equals success

September, 26, 2013
Your fantasy football team changes every year, but so do the players on real NFL teams. Their rosters turn over both in the offseason and in the regular season, usually due to injuries, though trades (like the recent one involving Trent Richardson) can happen.

“Roster stability” is a metric to track how much personnel changes from season to season based on work done in basketball by Dr. David Berri at Southern Utah University, and counts how many plays the players on the roster played last year and this year. Raiders QB Terrelle Pryor, who was on the roster last year but barely played and is now playing full time, represents a good amount of instability because he didn’t play much last year.

What “roster stability” captures is something about the philosophy of the team. Teams that are pretty stable year-to-year usually consider themselves to be in good shape, either because they were good last year or because they think the building blocks were already in place. You can see this with many of the top teams on the list. The Bengals, Vikings, Redskins, Texans, Seahawks, 49ers and Falcons were all successful last season and they kept a good number of their players around for this year. Note that keeping the same players doesn’t mean the same results, as both the Vikings and Redskins haven’t won a game yet this season.

On the other hand, teams at the bottom of the list are teams that wanted to change things up. The Raiders weren’t very successful last season and they particularly changed up their defense, which ranked 28th by expected points added.

A couple notes:
• The Bears, Chiefs and Cardinals all changed head coaches, changed a lot of offensive personnel, and have seen improvements offensively. The Bears, in particular, changed a significant part of their offensive line (their offensive line unit stability is 20 percent, the lowest in the NFL), which was considered important for protecting Jay Cutler. Now they have the second-lowest sack rate in the NFL after being 27th last year.

• The Patriots receiving corps, widely publicized for being so dilapidated, ranks 31st in stability at 30 percent, ahead of only the Jaguars. Their overall offensive stability is 21st. Note that their defensive stability ranks third, and their defense ranks second in the NFL in expected points added.

Smith-to-Avery connection keys Reid return

September, 20, 2013
Andy Reid’s return to Philadelphia was a triumphant one.

The Kansas City Chiefs improved to 3-0 by beating the Eagles 26-16. The Chiefs became the first team to start a season 3-0 after winning two or fewer games the previous season (in a non-labor-shortened season) since the 2002 Panthers.

Mr. Smith goes to Kansas City … and wins
Alex Smith became the first Chiefs quarterback to win his first three starts with the team since Joe Montana won his first four starts with the Chiefs in 1993.

Smith won with the short passing game, going 21-for-31 for 258 yards on throws of 10 yards or fewer.

Smith was 7-for-7 when throwing to Donnie Avery, and was 4-for-4 (for 107 yards) when throwing to Avery on third down.

Avery had 80 yards after the catch on four third-down receptions.

Justin Houston dominates on ‘D

Justin Houston had 3.5 sacks for the Chiefs, giving him 6.5 through three games this season. He’s the third Chiefs player to have at least 3.5 sacks in a game, joining Derrick Thomas (who did so twice, including the single-game record of seven) and Neil Smith.

Houston may actually have had 4.5 sacks in the game (one was initially ruled a sack, then changed).

If the NFL were to rescore the play and rule that a sack, Elias tells us that Houston would be the first NFL player with at least 7.5 sacks through three games since Mark Gastineau had eight for the New York Jets in 1984.

Eagles offense working fast

Chip Kelly’s offense has been operating faster and faster in each game this season.

The Eagles’ average time of possession in between plays against the Chiefs was 19.9 seconds, half-a-second faster than in Week 2.

The person for whom the offense is working best is running back LeSean McCoy, who rushed for 158 yards, the third-best single-game total in his career. Two of his top three rushing performances have come this season.

The Elias Sports Bureau notes that McCoy’s 395 rushing yards through his first three games are the most through the first three games of the season in Eagles history (Wilbert Montgomery held the previous record of 346 in 1981).

Michael Vick also had a 61-yard run, the longest of his career. But Vick struggled against standard pass pressure, going 10-for-23 for 158 yards and an interception (along with three sacks) when the Chiefs sent four or fewer rushers at him.

Vick was 26-for-39 for 219 yards, with three touchdowns, no interceptions and one sack against standard pressure in the first two weeks of the season.

Elias Sports Bureau Note of the Night
Reid is the fourth head coach in NFL history to start a season 3-0 after missing the playoffs the prior season with a different team (Marty Schottenheimer, Dan Reeves, George Allen).

Top things to know: Chiefs at Eagles

September, 19, 2013

Rob Foldy/USA TODAY SportsAndy Reid, who spent 14 seasons as the Eagles' head coach, returns to his old stomping grounds.
Week 3 of the NFL kicks off tonight as the undefeated Kansas City Chiefs travel to the City of Brotherly Love to take on the Philadelphia Eagles.

Here are five stats to keep in mind entering this game.

1. Andy Reid takes his 2-0 Chiefs into Philadelphia, where he coached the Eagles for 14 seasons (1999-2012). Reid has more wins than any coach in Eagles history (130) and won six division titles and reached five NFC Championship Games (winning one).

Reid will be the third coach in NFL history to face a team he coached for at least 14 seasons, joining Curly Lambeau (Packers) and Hank Stram (Chiefs).

2. QB Alex Smith has been an instant upgrade for the Chiefs. Smith hasn’t turned the ball over yet this year and has finished drives effectively, two problem areas for Kansas City’s offense last year.

Smith has passed for four touchdowns and, as mentioned above, has not thrown an interception. The Chiefs threw for eight touchdowns and 20 interceptions in 2012.

In addition, the Chiefs have scored a touchdown on all five trips into the red zone this season after doing so only 10 times in 37 trips in 2012.

3. The Eagles had the ball for 19:43 in Week 2, their lowest time of possession since Week 17 in 2009. Philadelphia still managed to run 58 plays, or one for every 20.4 seconds of possession.

Only the Bills (21.8) and Broncos (23.2) have fewer seconds of possession per play this season than Philadelphia.

4. QB Michael Vick has completed nearly 70 percent of his passes to WR DeSean Jackson this season despite targeting him 15 yards downfield on average. Vick has improved his completion percentage to Jackson each season with the Eagles.

Going further, Jackson has gained 140 yards after the catch this season, an average of 8.8 YAC per reception. Jackson averaged 5.4 yards after the catch his first five seasons in the NFL.

Misc. Notes
•  The Chiefs are 2-0 after going 2-14 last season. Since the merger (1970), Kansas City is the seventh team to open a season 2-0 after winning two or fewer games the previous season, according to the Elias Sports Bureau. None of the previous six teams, however, made the playoffs.

•  Kansas City is looking to start 3-0 for the third time in the last 15 years (2010 and 2003).

•  The Eagles have lost seven straight home games, the longest active home losing streak in the NFL and their longest home losing streak since 1983 (seven games). The Eagles have lost eight straight home games only once, from 1936-37.

•  RB LeSean McCoy leads the NFL in yards from scrimmage (356), 59 yards ahead of teammate DeSean Jackson, who is second. They have combined for the third-most yards from scrimmage ever by teammates through two games of a season.

Thurman Thomas and Andre Reed gained 693 yards in the first two games of the 1991 season for the Bills; Billy Sims and Dexter Bussey went for 675 yards for the 1980 Detroit Lions.

Stat your case: Chiefs/Dolphins, playoffs?

September, 19, 2013
Each week, the Stats & Information Group will look at a noteworthy discussion topic and debate the possibilities that come from it, using data to back up their points.

This week’s topic is “Which surprise 2-0 AFC team is more likely to make the playoffs: The Chiefs or Dolphins?”

The case for the Chiefs
The last time the Chiefs started a season 2-0, they finished with a 10-6 record and playoff berth.

That was in 2010 and through two weeks that season the Chiefs scored 37 points and allowed 29. So far this season, the Chiefs have fared better. They’ve scored 45 and allowed 18.

Their 27-point scoring margin is currently the third-highest in the league (trailing only the Denver Broncos and Seattle Seahawks) and is the team’s highest through the first two weeks of a season since 2003, the last time they made it as far as the AFC Divisional playoffs.

The Chiefs defense has been a big part of that. Through two games, they've contributed the most Expected Points Added of any defense in the NFL. They ranked second-to-last in that stat last season.

In addition, Kansas City is holding opponents to 248.0 yards per game this season, the third-fewest in the league.

They are also holding opposing quarterbacks to a league-best 20.7 QBR through two games.

Last season, opposing quarterbacks had a 68.9 QBR against the Chiefs, which ranked them 30th in the league.

On the other side of the ball, quarterback Alex Smith has been a valuable addition.

Kansas City is one of two teams, along with Houston, that has a perfect red zone efficiency through two games.

Smith has helped the Chiefs score a touchdown on all five of their red zone drives this season. Last season, the Chiefs scored a touchdown on a league-worst 27 percent of their red zone drives.

Also of note on Smith is that he currently has more rushing yards (82) than the Dolphins’ leading rusher, Lamar Miller (72).
--John Carr

The case for the Dolphins
The Miami Dolphins are showing signs of a squad that knows how to win. The offense, led by second-year quarterback Ryan Tannehill, is scoring touchdowns rather than settling for field goals, and the defense has been getting after opposing quarterbacks, forcing turnovers and making timely stops.

Tannehill has outdueled fellow 2012 first-round picks Brandon Weeden and Andrew Luck in the first two games. He’s made good decisions and distributed the ball efficiently (three players with 10-plus receptions).

Tannehill has completed 71 percent of his throws against standard pressure so far this season, something he did at a 58 percent rate in 2012.

His 63.5 Total QBR since the start of Week 15 last season rates second-best in the NFL in that span, trailing only Russell Wilson.

New additions Mike Wallace and Brandon Gibson have teamed with Brian Hartline to form a formidable receiving corp. Wallace had a career-high nine catches against the Colts, Gibson has converted third downs on six of his eight grabs and Hartline already has as many touchdowns (one) as he did all of last season.

The defense has accounted for nine sacks (22 quarterback hits) and four interceptions, and has not allowed a touchdown to a wide receiver through two games.

Miami stymied Luck’s late-game comeback attempt with an interception in the end zone and a game-ending fourth-down sack. Miami, which has not allowed a second-half touchdown, limited Luck to 79 yards in the second half.

Both the Chiefs and Dolphins could claim Wild Card berths; however, Miami is better poised to take the AFC East from the weakened New England Patriots, while the Chiefs must contend with Peyton Manning’s Denver Broncos.
--Jeff Yusem

Chiefs drawn to Smith's efficiency

February, 27, 2013

Ralph Freso/Getty ImagesAlex Smith is reportedly heading to Kansas City after spending eight seasons with the 49ers.
The San Francisco 49ers have reportedly traded 2005 first-overall pick Alex Smith to the Kansas City Chiefs. In return, the 49ers would receive the Chiefs’ second-round pick in 2013 (No. 34 overall) and a conditional midround pick in the 2014 draft.

Smith would be the latest in a line of former 49ers quarterbacks who have moved to Kansas City:

• Joe Montana was traded from San Francisco to Kansas City in April of 1993. He led the Chiefs to a pair of playoff appearances in two seasons and advanced all the way to the AFC Championship Game in 1993.

• Steve Bono was a highly regarded backup in San Francisco when he was traded to the Chiefs in 1994. Bono became the Chiefs' starter in 1995 and led the team to a 13-3 record.

• Elvis Grbac spent his first four seasons with the 49ers before signing with the Chiefs as a free agent in 1997. Grbac spent four seasons as the Chiefs' starter before moving on to Baltimore.

• And now it's Alex Smith's turn. Drafted first overall by the 49ers in 2005, Smith led San Francisco to the NFC Championship Game in 2011 before Colin Kaepernick took over as starter in Week 11 of this season.

In terms of Total QBR, the trade makes a lot of sense from the Chiefs’ perspective. Smith was the seventh-most efficient quarterback in 2012 with a rating of 70.1.

The Chiefs, on the other hand, ranked 29th in QBR at 31.9. Only the Browns, Jets and Cardinals were worse last season.

One reason that Smith posted such a high QBR in 2012 is that he was an accurate passer who took care of the ball.

Smith led the NFL with a 70.2 completion percentage last season and, since 2011, has thrown an interception on just 1.5 percent of his pass attempts. Among qualified passers over that span, only Aaron Rodgers (1.3) has thrown interceptions at a lower rate.

In Kansas City, quarterbacks have not been nearly as secure with the ball. Chiefs quarterbacks committed 29 turnovers in 2012, including 20 interceptions. The 29 turnovers trailed only the Jets (33) for most in the NFL and the 20 interceptions were one shy of the league-leading Cardinals (21).

Kansas City also threw a league-low eight touchdown passes in 2012, the fewest in a single season by any team since the 2007 Oakland Raiders (seven).

Alex Smith threw 13 touchdown passes in just nine games last season and his 30 touchdowns since 2011 are nine more than Chiefs passers have thrown over the same span.

Will the move pay immediate dividends? AccuScore seems to think so. According to 10,000 computer simulations, Alex Smith is worth approximately 2.2 wins for the Chiefs in 2013 and improves their chances of reaching the playoffs from 0.2 percent to 8.8 percent.

All that said, Smith will be forced to start from scratch in 2013. Doug Pederson will be the eighth offensive coordinator that Smith has played under in just his ninth season in the league. The past two seasons marked just the second time in his career that he had the same coordinator to begin consecutive NFL seasons.