Let me start by saying that this post is going to use a LOT of numbers. I've been looking at what the Chiefs have done this season compared to other teams and also with playoff teams from previous seasons. Obviously the biggest question that is eating at KC fans and filling up AP's posts is the question of "will our passing game be good enough to get us to the playoffs?" A lot of APers have serious QB envy when they watch other teams play. Matt Cassel is far and away the most discussed and debated Chief. I'm not here to discuss "IF" Matt Cassel will be good enough this season or going forward to make the playoffs. What I wanted to find out is how good do we need him to be. In other words, how far does he need to go to get the job done. The discussion of will he get "there" is hard to have if we can't define where "there" is. I've crunched a bunch of numbers, so hold onto your hats because here we go.
It seems most NFL fans have come to believe that you have to have a QB that can throw for 300 yards on a regular basis in order to win games consistently in the NFL. So far this season, that has not been the case. There are nine teams that are averaging around 250 yards passing per game or more this season. Here are those teams, their passing yards/game, record, PPG, and PPG allowed:
|Team||Pass Y/G||Record||PPG||Op PPG|
|SD||337.8||2 & 3||28||21.2|
|Den||333||2 & 3||20.8||23.2|
|Dal||326.2||1 & 3||20.2||21.8|
|Ind||317.2||3 & 2||27.2||20.2|
|NO||271.2||3 & 2||19.8||20.4|
|Det||250||1 & 4||25.2||22.4|
|Was||248.6||3 & 2||17.8||18.4|
|Cin||248||2 & 3||20||20.4|
|NYG||247.8||3 & 2||21.2||19.6|
|Totals||20 & 24||22.2||20.8|
So the top 9 passing teams combined have a winning percentage of about 45%, are scoring 22.2 points/game, and allowing 20.8 points/game.
Now let's look at how the best rushing teams are doing so far this year. To be fair we'll take the top 9 teams again.
|Team||Rush Y/G||Record||PPG||Op PPG|
|NYJ||165.2||4 & 1||27||16.2|
|Atl||148.8||4 & 1||22.6||14|
|KC||148.8||3 & 1||19.2||14.2|
|Jax||146.8||3 & 2||21.4||27.4|
|Hou||142.4||3 & 2||23.6||27.2|
|Ten||138.2||3 & 2||26.4||19|
|Oak||134.2||2 & 3||22.2||26.8|
|Pit||133.5||3 & 1||21.5||12.5|
|Min||131.5||1 & 3||15.8||16.8|
|Totals||26 & 16||22.2||19.3|
So the top 9 rushing teams combined have a winning percentage of about 62%, are also scoring 22.2 points/game, and allowing 19.3 points/game.
Interesting to note that the top 9 passing teams and the top 9 rushing teams are averaging the same amount of points/game, but the rushing teams are winning a higher percentage of games. It's also worth noting that none of the passing teams has a great defensive PPG number, but the rushing teams are a mix of very good and very bad numbers in that department.
Now let's specifically look at what are considered the top teams in the NFL right now. If you look at all the different power rankings you find a lot of different opinions. However, the top four teams on almost every list are some combination of Balt, Pitt, NYJ, and Atl. After that you see several different teams in the number five spot. So let's look at those four teams and compare them to the Chiefs so far this season.
|Team||Pass Off.||Rush Off.||PPG||Op PPG|
So these four teams are considered the best in the NFL right now and are only averaging a combined 185.9 passing yards/game. Now, let's throw out the Steelers number since Big Ben's return will soon bring that number up. If you throw their number out the other three are averaging 202.5. Better, but still not exactly the Colts or Saints of last season. So the Chiefs are 45 passing yards and a FG away from having stats equal to the best teams in the NFL.
Now let's specifically look at those teams QBs and how they compare to Cassel. Again we'll exclude the Steelers, since their QB is just now returning this weekend.
I realized after I typed these numbers in that they don't include the negative sack yardage. So that is why Cassel's yardage is higher then the KC team number above.
Now Cassel is definitely low man on that totem pole. However, the distance between him and the other three is not SO big that it can't be overcome. It certainly looks better then comparing him to the Peyton Mannings of the league. It becomes even more promising if you look at Cassel's career passing yards/game numbers. For his career he is averaging 193.9 per game. That would put him on equal ground with those other three. Even if you take out his NE years, his Chiefs average is 174.4. You would think with the schedule ahead and Weis working with him he will at least get up to and pass his current Chiefs average and maybe even work up closer to his career average.
So if the best teams in the league right now aren't quarterbacked by massive yardage producers and the dominant running teams are winning more games then the passing teams, then why does everyone (not just Chiefs fans) think it's all about the big time QB?
Well, after looking at the numbers I think last season has a lot to do with it. Take a look at this chart of all of last season's playoff teams.
|Team||Pass Off.||Rush Off.||PPG||Op. PPG|
Last season, 9 out of the 12 playoff teams averaged over 250 yards/game passing. Only two teams that averaged under 200 yards passing/game made the playoffs. Those are some monster numbers. The two Super Bowl teams were both over 272 yards per game. So the question is, what is the norm? So far this season the rushing/defensive teams are leading the way. Last year it was clearly the passing teams. So I went back another year to see what the 2008 numbers looked like.
|Team||Pass Off.||Rush Off.||PPG||Op. PPG|
That is a HUGE difference in the passing numbers. In 2008 only 2 playoff teams averaged over 250 passing yards/game and 5 teams that averaged under 200 passing yards/game made the playoffs. Let's go back one more season to see if we can find some kind of norm to go off of.
|Team||Pass Off.||Rush Off.||PPG||Op. PPG|
So now we seem to be finding some middle ground. Four teams that are over 250 passing yards/game, four teams that are under 200, and four teams that are in between. I think when you look at all three of those seasons you can get a pretty good snap shot of what the overall playoff team makeup is. There seems to be room for both pass happy and run oriented teams in the playoffs.
Finally, let's zone in on the Super Bowl winners from those three seasons.
So only New Orleans really racked up huge passing yards in their Super Bowl winning season. The Steelers and Giants were both right around the 200 mark. It should probably be noted however, that both of those QBs won the Super Bowl with game winning drives, so the passing game was not a weakness.
So now we're back to the question at hand. If the run game, defense, and special teams all continue to play well what kind of numbers do we need from the QB position to be a legit playoff contender? Do you think that last year represents the future of the league and by year's end most of the playoff teams will be over 250 passing yards/game again? Are the early season "power teams" that aren't airing it out every game for real? Will they continue to dominate all season? These are the questions that I would really love to hear your thoughts on.
My take is that we at least have to be averaging in the 180's to make the playoffs. If Cassel stays down around 150 teams will take the run away and we will lose games even if the defense keeps it up. If we can get up to about 200 per game then I think we win the division and go to the playoffs. Will Cassel be able to get there? I don't know. As I said before his career average is 193.9 so I'd like to think it's possible, especially given our easy schedule.
My hope is that more Chiefs fans will realize that we don't need a pro bowl 300 yard/game passer to be a legit team. We definitely need Cassel to step up his game. I just believe he only needs to take a couple steps to get the job done as opposed to the giant leap that some seem to think is needed. Either way, let's hope Cassel starts taking those steps on Sunday versus the Texans. Go Chiefs!
UPDATE: I forgot to include the following section that I think is also an important part of this discussion.
In these three seasons there were 9 teams that made the playoffs with defenses that held their opponents to under 17 points per game (KC is currently allowing 14.2). Those 9 teams averaged 204.7 passing yards per game. The overall average for those three seasons among all the playoff teams was 229.5 passing yards per game. The only teams to hold opponents to less then 17 points per game and average over 250 yards per game passing were the 2009 Cowboys and 2007 Colts. Otherwise there seems to be a direct relationship between having a shut down defense and keeping the ball on the ground.