One of the reasons we like sports is their simplicity. There's a clear winner and a loser. Whoever scores the most points, runs the fastest, throws the furthest, jumps the longest, or wins three sets first wins. We use numbers not only to keep score, but to talk about how the games went; a seven game series is more exciting than a four game sweep, a six-overtime thriller (a la Syracuse-UConn in the Big East Championship in 2009) is more exciting than of a 30-point blowout, a 55 yard run is more exciting than a mundane four yard run up the middle.
What I want to do this season is look at some of the most important numbers from each Chiefs game and talk about both their impact on the game and their context in the bigger picture of the Chiefs season. Some of them will be from the box score or something I notice watching the game, and others will be from something I read or hear during the broadcast. So, without further ado, lets get to the numbers for Week 1:
54 and 46. Bill Parcells came up with an interesting formula during his football career: in order to win a game, a team's rushes and completed passes needs to add up to 51 or more. Throughout the season I'm going to call this the "Tuna Score". In this game, the Chiefs' Tuna Score was 54 and the Falcons' was only 46, so the Chiefs should have won the game according to Parcells.
Disclaimer: I haven't seen any statistical analysis on how accurate the Tuna Score is, so I did a brief survey from week one. Of the 14 week one games, the team with the overall higher Tuna Score went 10-4 (a .714 win%, good for 11 wins over a 16-game season). Eleven teams scored above 51, going 8-3 (if we include Detroit, who scored 50, it's 9-3). In the three "upsets", Jacksonville lost to Minnesota 57-49 (because Blane Gabbert is the Jags' quarterback), Seattle lost to Arizona 51-40 (presumably because Kevin Kolb used Tom Cuse's witchcraft), and our beloved Chiefs lost to the Falcons. However, it seems like a Tuna Score of 51 or above is a good indicator that a team should win a game. So let's look at some other important numbers from the Chiefs' first game:
23, 84, 3.7. The Chiefs did not suffer the loss of four defensive starters (Tamba Hali, Brandon Flowers, Kendrick Lewis and Anthony Toribio) as badly as everyone thinks. The Falcons rushed the ball 23 times for only 84 yards in the game, an average of 3.65 yards per rush. Part of that was due to the Falcons' passing game working so well, but Glen Dorsey, Tyson Jackson, Dontari Poe, Derrick Johnson and Jovan Belcher did a nice job of shutting down the run. However...
1. Without Hali, the defense only managed to sack Matt Ryan once during the game. The Chiefs really did miss the four defensive starters as much as everyone thinks, as three of those starters directly effect pass defense (Hali, Flowers, Lewis). Before the game, NFL.com's Mike Lombardi wrote this:
The Kansas City Chiefs have a huge challenge facing the Atlanta Falcons without Tamba Hali, who is serving a one-game suspension. The Chiefs are banged up on defense as is, with their best corner (Brandon Flowers) missing most of the preseason due to injury.
Hali's absence was readily apparent throughout the game, as the Chiefs managed only three quarterback hits as well and their three and four-man rushes couldn't pressure Ryan at all. He had all day to find Julio Jones, Tony Gonzalez and Roddy White. The defense should be much better next week, with Flowers and Hali expected back. The presence of Hali especially will help the Chiefs' passing D, as will playing against Former Harvard Quarterback Ryan Fitzpatrick.
There isn't really much else to say about the defense. Dontari Poe played well in his first NFL game, recording two tackles (one solo, one for a one-yard loss on a Michael Turner rush up the middle). The bottom line is the defense was crippled without Hali, Flowers, Lewis and Jalil Brown (what went unnoticed is that not only was Flowers out, but so was Brown. So they had to start Jacques Reeves, who hasn't played since 2009) so they got shredded in the passing game.
32, 106, 3.3. The Chiefs had limited success on the ground, running for only 106 yards and averaging 3.3 a carry. "Wait a minute", you might say. "The Chiefs ran for over 150 yards that game." Technically, yes. However, 46 of those yards came on Jamaal Charles' 46-yard outburst. Outside of that one run, the Chiefs didn't have a rushing play longer than 14 yards the rest of the game. I feel like it is a much more accurate portrayal of the Chiefs' success running the ball to exclude that outlier. Peyton Hillis (who was supposed to be the bruising, up-the-middle load carrier) only rushed seven times for 16 yards. Brian Daboll clearly knows how to get the most out of Hillis, so I would expect him to find more success as the season progresses.
0, 0, 6. The first two numbers are how many catches and targets Jonathan Baldwin had in the game. This is something that has been mentioned in every commentary about the game, because it needs to be talked about. How could a player who assumed the No. 1 WR role throughout most of the preseason during Bowe's holdout, who coaches and the media raved about his improvement and offseason, only be on the field for 32% of the Chiefs' snaps? Possibly more importantly, how was there not a single designed play to try and get him the ball? Is he in Daboll's doghouse for some reason? Is he just not that good? Was he sick yesterday? It could be any number of things, and we will find out more about Baldwin's role in the offense as the season progresses. But it was definitely not a good start to season for the Chiefs' former first-round pick.
The third number, 6, is how many deep passes Matt Cassel threw in the season opener. Overall on deep passes he was 4-6 for 90 yards and a TD. Now, a little bit of football philosophy here. The Chiefs are a running team. That's not going to change and Crennel and Daboll make no bones about the fact they are going to fun the ball - a lot. In order to be successful though, Cassel has to make teams respect the fact he can throw the ball to his numerous weapons. And unless they want every team they play bringing the safeties into the box to help defend the run, two things need to happen: 1) Cassel has to get better at throwing deep balls. He had a pretty good day at it Sunday, but it's a critique that has dogged him his entire career. 2) Baldwin has to be on the field more. The Chiefs drafted him with the 26th pick of the 2011 draft with the intention that he would be the number two option behind Bowe; someone who could stretch the field and be a deep threat for Cassel. Simply put, he has to be on the field more for that to happen. That's going to be part his responsibility and part Crennel and Daboll's. This is a very important development to watch for the offense to reach its full potential.
10, 6, 83. The first two numbers are the number of targets and catches, respectively, Dexter McCluster had against the Falcons. He tied his career high in receptions with 6, and was only seven yards shy of his career high in reception yards. The third is the percentage of snaps McCluster was on the field for the Chiefs. After not having a defined role in his first two years, it seems that Daboll has finally figured out how to use McCluster, and it appears he's going to be on the field a lot this year. Several times in the game McCluster seemed to be Cassel's safety valve as he was going through his progressions, so I would expect more games like this in the future from McCluster.
3. The Chiefs had three turnovers in the game, two on interceptions and one lost fumble. The Falcons didn't turn the ball over once. If you're looking for the biggest reason the Chiefs lost (other than the missing defensive starters), look no further than those three turnovers. One interception wasn't entirely Cassel's fault, it was a tipped pass Atlanta's safety happened to make a good play on. The other was just a bad decision. He was running away on a busted bootleg and threw across the defense into traffic. You're not usually going to win if you're -3 in turnovers, and that was the case yesterday even though the Chiefs had the higher Tuna Score.
Big-picture, here are the things to take away from the Chiefs' first game:
- Better turnover margin. The Chiefs can't turn it over as much as they did Sunday and not force any turnovers themselves. The closer to 0 and the + side of the ledger they get, the more games they will be in and have a chance of winning the whole season.
- Better yards per carry average. Listen, 3.3 yards/rush just isn't going to get it done if the Chiefs hope to win the division. If they don't get closer to 4-4.5 yrd/rush the offense will struggle, and will force Cassel to throw more than Daboll wants.
- Better pass defense. The Chiefs were the 6th best team against the pass last year, and they can't give up almost 300 passing yards a game if they hope to repeat that kind of success. Getting Hali, Flowers and Lewis healthy will help. The development of Poe will also be worth watching to see if he can provide penetration into the backfield to help Hali and Houston pressure opposing QB's from the middle. If he can consistently draw double teams it may also help improve Dorsey and Jackson's play against the pass.