From the FanPosts -Joel
You read that right. We all know there was a rather drastic split in the way the Chiefs offense played during the first half of the season and the second half. This split emerges in various ways, but today we are going to focus on the most important single stat in football for an offense: points scored.
Conveniently, if we split Kansas City's season at the Bye Week, we get 9 games to start 2013 where the Andy and Alex offense, with lots of turnover help from their defense, including an historic sack pace and great field position, managed to score 23.9 points a game.
We then get 8 games after the Bye where the defense did not do as well, field position was worse, and the Chiefs offense at times had their backs against the wall. During this stretch, the Chiefs averaged 32.4 points a game.
Now, 32.4 a game is incredible. If the team could manage that for an entire season, they would become one of only 15 teams to do so. As it turns out, the Chiefs managed over 30 points a game during their last 10 games. Not bad.
Still, averaging that much for even half a season is special -- but is it sustainable? Can Andy Reid's second-year offense match its previous year-end output? Can it at least do better than the 23.9 they started with?
In order to get a sense of perspective on these questions, we will take to Pro-Football-Reference to find every NFL team who, in the last 8 games of their season, managed at least 30 points a game. This is a collection of the 33 greatest 8-game offensive stretches to end a season in NFL history.
The questions we want to ask with this list are: where did these offenses come from, where did they go, and did they, like Kansas City, make any big changes at quarterback or head coach prior to making the list? In other words: was their great ending to a season the direct result of changes at key positions?
To do this, we can put all the teams in a Google spreadsheet and tally up their points scored during the list-making season, as well as in the preceding and succeeding years. Then we can note if they made any changes at the relevant positions, and what effect (if any) this had.
NOTE: One team from the list, the 1981 San Diego Chargers, was excluded in the spreadsheet because the 1982 season was strike-shortened, thus negating any predictive benefit.
Okay, so what's going on here?
Open up the spreadsheet, if you haven't already, and read along.
The "PF" column is the Points For scored by the offense during the same 8-game stretch to end their season that the Chiefs had: from the 10th game to the 17th game. This means, for every team with 8 games played, it includes their first playoff bout, but nothing after that (except two teams -- the '04 Bills and '85 Chargers -- who did not make the playoffs, and so one more regular season game was added).
Keep this in mind because it is important: "PF" is the ridiculous 8-game stretch the team had where they put up tons of points. We would not expect to see numbers higher than this number anywhere else, because it is historically already very high!
"PF N-0.5" refers to the first 9 games of that same season. For the Chiefs, this means all games up to their 2013 Bye Week.
To clarify, PF N-0.5 is the first 9 games of last year's Chiefs season. PF is the second 8 games, including one playoff bout.
"PF N-1" refers to the year prior to the study year. For the Chiefs, this means 2012.
"PF N+1" is what happened the following year. This is the relevant bit for predicting Kansas City's offensive output in 2014.
The "New?" column indicates whether a team changed their quarterback or head coach in any of the years analyzed. The purpose of this, of course, is to see where production might have altered because of a major firing, hiring, injury, etc.
A head coach is considered new if he's a new head coach. Simple as that. Whether he was promoted from within the club or hired from outside, we just want to establish if there is a new man in charge and how things improved / regressed as a result.
A quarterback is considered new if he was not on the team in the preceding year(s) with the same head coach and taking significant snaps. As above, we want situations where a new guy comes in out of nowhere and is suddenly in charge, because this will help us find teams comparable to last year's Chiefs.
In other words, we don't want Montana/Young situations where Young takes over. That is not what happened with Kansas City last year. Nor do we want situations like in Detroit, where Matthew Stafford started a year, played a few games the next year, and then started again the following year -- all under the same head coach. These two situations strike me as more continuous than, say, the situation of Kurt Warner and the Rams in 1999, or Nick Foles and last year's Eagles.
To continue, the "PA" and "PD" columns are, respectively, Points Against and Point Differential during the 8 game stretch of the study year. They are there for curiosity's sake.
Taste the Rainbow
Various rows under PF N+1 are coloured red, yellow, green, or neon for specific reasons:
- If a team's N+1 year average (i.e., the following season) is below PF N-1 and PF N-0.5 then they are red.
- If a team managed to beat one of those columns the next year, then they are yellow.
- If they beat both, they are green.
- Two teams managed to beat their PF average and are coloured neon green. For the Chiefs to do this they would need to average at least 32.5 points per game all of next year!
If a team is red it means they regressed "heavily" relative to their previous outputs.
For most "red" teams, this is a product of how well they were doing before. For example, notice the Indianapolis Colts of 2004, or the 1994 49ers -- these teams averaged high Points For in all three columns, so anything below that, while technically a regression, is still really good.
Then there were a few teams, like the '95 Lions, '07 Jaguars, and '04 Bills who basically reverted all the way to their worst numbers. For Kansas City, this would mean 2012 stats -- or 13.2 a game -- and I don't see that happening.
If a team is yellow, it means they regressed a little, as we would expect, but not a lot.
If a team is green, however, it means that, yes, while they still regressed from their PF numbers, they did not regress a lot and still beat the previous year and half-year's stats. This is what we want the Chiefs to do. For the Chiefs this means, not just beating 13.2 per game (highly likely), but beating 23.9 per game (a more interesting task).
26.9 points per game notched the Chiefs 6th in scoring last year, so the goal this year is to improve on that, if we can, and consider our offense a consistent, top 5 unit. Up there with the perennial Broncos, Patriots, Saints, and Packers.
Now, let's get to the news:
The Bad News
Only two teams on our list beat their PF averages (the Broncos in '98 and then again last year). This means that it is very unlikely that Andy Reid and Alex will average more than 32.4 points a game next season. We would not expect the output that ended last year to continue, especially given the tougher defensive schedule.
But, okay, that still doesn't seem so bad. After all, 32.4 points a game all season would be ridiculously good. I think most of us here would just like to see "good."
The Good News
The average PF N+1 score of all teams in the study is 26.1. That is right around where we hope the Chiefs can land to be a top 5 offense and would net them, regardless, a green score.
None of the previous years' or half-years' scores correlate much with the PF N+1 score. So the fact that Kansas City scored 13 in 2012 doesn't indicate anything about where they are going, especially since they made changes after that.
Speaking of changes, if you go ahead and organize the chart by PF N-1, worst to best, you'll notice the Chiefs come in with the worst score, followed by the 2004 Bills, last year's Eagles, and then the '99 Rams, the '07 Packers, and the '12 Broncos and Seahawks. These were the only teams to score less than 21 per game in the preceding year.
But then you'll notice something else... all the teams who made changes like Kansas City did appear here, and every team who is here made changes (except Green Bay, who did not switch to Rodgers until the following season). Basically, despite coming from bad offensive backgrounds, once these teams made changes, they sprouted into something great.
Well, at least all of them did except Buffalo, who then made another change the following year and no longer had Drew Bledsoe at the helm. I think it's safe to say that if Kansas City loses Andy Reid or Alex Smith heading into next season, then all bets are off. I can only be led to believe, since the 2004 Bills averaged 17 points a game in the first half of the season, that their second half success on offense was due to some crazy luck as opposed to real improvement. Sure enough, if you look at their PFR page, their defense managed 29 turnovers in their last 7 games, for 4 a game.
You will also notice, however, that (other than the Bills) all these teams scored green next season. The key is to make the change, and then give it a year and more to develop. The teams in our study who did that garnered continued success.
And it gets even more fun below...
The Kool Aid Approved News
The part you've been waiting for.
The Chiefs spent 2011 and 2012 averaging about 13 points a game with the worst offense in the league. Suddenly, Alex Smith and Andy Reid show up and the team ends last season averaging over 32.
I can say, with much confidence, that this is the greatest offensive turnaround in NFL history. Nowhere else in our list did a team climb to such heights from such lowly lows. As Nietzsche says in Thus Spoke Zarathustra:
"Whence come the highest mountains? I once asked. Then I learned that they came out of the sea. The evidence is written in their rocks and in the walls of their peaks. It is out of the deepest depth that the highest must come to its height."
And this team, this franchise, as well as Andy Reid and Alex Smith individually, have come from some pretty bad depths.
So, drink it up, AP. And while you're feeling full I am going to shove some more Kool Aid down your throat.
Here are the teams whose jump in PF, just like Kansas City's, corresponds with a change at QB or HC, and who kept that combo for at least the next season (and, therefore, scored green):
- St. Louis Rams, 1999. Green. Went on to win the Super Bowl that year, made the playoffs the following season, and lost the Super Bowl in 2001.
- Seattle Seahawks, 2012. Green. Went on to win the Super Bowl the following season, 2013.
- Denver Broncos, 2012. Neon Green. Went on to lose the Super Bowl the following season, 2013.
If the Chiefs can pull off a green score next year, they will be only the 4th team (following a change at QB or HC) to do so, with all previous three notching a Super Bowl appearance somewhere in that run.
Get it on the Green
Here are the other green or better teams, regardless of any changes:
- San Francisco 49ers, 1993. Went on to win the Super Bowl the following season, 1994.
- Denver Broncos, 1997. Went on to win the next two Super Bowls, 1997 and 1998.
- Green Bay Packers, 2007. Switched QBs the next season, 2008. Did not win the Super Bowl until 2010.
- New England Patriots, 2010. Went on to lose the Super Bowl the following season, 2011.
- New England Patriots, 2011. Went on to lose the Super Bowl in 2011, and lost the AFCCG the following two seasons. Do you think Brady and Belichick have one more Super Bowl in them? Their offenses appear on this list more than any other yet they have, for myriad reasons, nothing to show for it.
Next year, four teams will have a chance to "go green." Two of them will try with offensive schemes they've been in for multiple years now: New England and Denver. And two will attempt to show consistency and further development in their second year systems:
- Kansas City Chiefs, 2013. Green? Went on to...?
- Philadelphia Eagles, 2013. Green? Went on to...?
Let me end this with random musings...
I look to the Seahawks, specifically, and I see hope. They play in a defensively tough NFC West division for 6 games, and looked, therefore, pretty putrid in some of those bouts last year. While averaging 26.1 across the season, they averaged 21.8 in their NFC West contests.
The mark of a great offense, to me, isn't necessarily blowing out great defenses, but playing tough and smart against great defenses, limiting mistakes against them, and then "blowing out" poor and average defenses. The Seahawks do this, especially at home. Arrowhead can provide a similar advantage.
Alex Smith has made a career and a reputation out of limiting mistakes but, under Reid, he has also shown an ability to blow teams out. The Chiefs won 4 games by at least 20 points last year, and another 2 by at least 10. I hate to bring it up, but we all know where that playoff game was heading before injuries: another blowout.
When it comes time to buckle down verse Seattle, Arizona, St. Louis, and San Francisco, Smith will limit those costly mistakes and play patient. Bradford, Palmer, and Kaepernick will give him the ball back with mistakes of their own. This is why the scariest game next year is certainly Seattle, and not just because of their defense, but because Wilson knows how to be a "game manager" when the time is right. I think Wilson is hugely underrated for that reason. Just look at his receiving corps in the Super Bowl and also look at the job he did. Like 7 guys you've never heard of had receptions. Just like Smith, who connected with 4 different guys for touchdowns against Indy. That's more players with touchdowns in one single game than Kaepernick managed all last season.
A quarterback is, above all else, a ball distributor. You're going to be looking at a situation where Smith steps on the field and, at any one time, can dump it off to Charles, throw it to Bowe, go down-field to Avery, hit Davis on a wheel route, get to his reliable tight ends inside, or hit a speedster like De'Anthony Thomas underneath. Our receiving corps can get the job done, if you ask me. Reid thinks so, too; hence very little effort to change it.
What does concern me more is the o-line, but Smith has played behind bad o-lines his whole life. Last year, with an o-line learning to gel and certainly improving as the year went on, Smith excelled with his feet and scramble ability. For quarterbacks with at least 300 passing attempts, Smith was 5th in rushing attempts, 5th in rushing yards, and 5th in rushing yards per attempt. For passing stats, he was 9th in Adjusted Yards per Attempt, or AY/A (this is good), 10th in TDs, and 3rd in interceptions (i.e., third fewest INTs). Smith was also 6th in Football Outsiders DYAR rushing rank.
The one time Smith played behind a really good o-line happened to also be his second year in the same system; which means it was also the second year in the same system for that o-line. In 2012, The Phoenix was on pace for the NFL all-time completion percentage record and completed 39 of his last 50 attempts (78%) for 444 yards (8.88 Y/A), 5 touchdowns, and 1 interception (9.98 AY/A) against, what opponents exactly? Seattle, Arizona, and St. Louis. And he didn't get the whole St. Louis game to add to that, though he did manage a touchdown on his last drive despite suffering a concussion previously.
These numbers are not sustainable, of course, and they don't tell the whole story -- but they are a glimpse of what Smith can do when he and those around him are able to find some consistency in a scheme. We would expect this whole offense to be better by Week 17 of this coming season than Week 1, and being able to see a second season through is not a luxury Smith has ever been afforded.
But this is year two under Reid and the two have already helped accomplish something incredible -- nay, historic! -- in year one. It is just like the historic year Alex had with Harbaugh in 2011. Maybe he'll actually get to finish what he started this time. There's a reason the same QB managed to be a part of two historic turnarounds, with two different franchises, and two different coaches -- one with NFL-record safe play and NFL-record clutch play; and the other with 32 points a game production one year removed from the worst offense in the NFL and book-ended with the greatest quarterback playoff performance in Chiefs history.
Andy is back. Alex is back. Bowe is back. Charles is back. Call it the ABCs and drink 'dat Kool Aid! This is just the beginning.