In this post, I will be previewing the Chiefs 2011 season using what I call "Real" stats, which are different from "Conventional" stats like yards and touchdowns by the fact that "Real" stats, like Yards per Play (Y/P), tell you more about what's happening with the offense and defense since they depend less on things other than what we're trying to evaluate.(Check out my last post for more info)
For example, most "experts" measure defense by yards allowed or points allowed, and using these measures the Panthers are 18th and 26th in the NFL, respectfully. So a person using conventional stats would say that They had a pretty bad defense. But after a little bit of thought it should be obvious that that may not be right. I mean, what if their offense was terrible so that the defense spent a lot more time on the field and faced more plays? This would make the defense look very bad, even if they were one of the best in the league, just because their offense couldn't stay on the field.
So what's the truth? Well, judging by the fact that the Panthers defense had 1060 plays (5th in NFL), it indicates that maybe their defense did suffer not from being bad, but from a poor offense. When you look at it with the Y/P stat, it turns out that the Panthers actually have an excellent defense (5.1 Y/P, 6th in NFL) and that their 2-14 record was due almost entirely to their poor offense (4.3 Y/P, 32nd in the NFL), or more specifically their passing offense (4.3 NY/A, 32nd in NFL by a wide margin. NY/A is net yards per pass attempt, which is like yards per attempt but includes sack yardage lost).
It should be now obvious how powerful these stats are. After reading these two paragraphs you now know more about why the Panthers went 2-14 and how they can fix it than almost all the "experts". So, now that I have taken your blindfold off, here's what the Chiefs really did last year.
Before we get started with real stats, let's consider one I essentially made up a while back. The idea is that, for every game in a season, I plot the point differential in the game against the number of wins the other team ended up with and put in a line of best fit. Here's what I got for last season.
I did a bunch of these a while back, and I found they were pretty useful in saying how good a team "really" is. The idea is that where the line crosses the x-axis is the number of wins a team "should have (or, more technically, at what number of wins an opponent would need to be to expect a tie). As you can see, we were at almost exactly 8 last year, which seems pretty reasonable considering we won 10 games against a really easy schedule. Unfortunately, the correlation is much lower than most of these were (they were usually between .15 and .3), but after jiggling the numbers, I've concluded that the 8 wins mark is pretty close.
With that detour out of the way, let's look how the Chiefs did on offense and defense.
Offense: 5.3 Y/P, 15th in NFL
This is not very surprising. I imagined our offense was pretty average, and that's exactly what it was. This number by itself doesn't say too much, but it does get very interesting once we break it down into passing in rushing.
Our passing offense was, sorry to say, not that great (5.9 NY/A, 19th in NFL). But there is a little bit of redemption in the fact that ex-Chief Brodie Croyle played some snaps and did pretty terrible, which brought that number down. So it's probably a little more telling to look at Cassel's numbers for passing instead of the team's, although it's important to keep in mind that Cassel missed a game against the Chargers who had an excellent pass defense last year, so we should say that Cassel probably would have had slightly worse numbers had he played that game.
Cassel had 6.2 NY/A (14th in NFL), which is pretty average. But this is somewhat concerning considering that last year Cassel had one of the best wide receivers in the league, a running back who had one of the best seasons in NFL history, and a very good pass-catching tight end. Very few QB's in the league have a situation as good as Cassel's, yet he continues to be average. So, when somebody says that Cassel sucks, they do have a bit of evidence to back that up.
However, I think that viewing him as a failure is wrong. He was brought in to be an average QB who didn't make mistakes, and that's exactly what he did last year (He had the 4th best Interception percentage last year with 1.6%). This is also why I think that drafting Stanzi was an excellent move. When Cassel was brought in we were in desperate need of a QB who could at least be consistently average while Pioli and Haley built a team around him. Now that the team has some stability and talent elsewhere, Pioli can concentrate on upgrading the QB position, which Stanzi will hopefully do in a year or two.
But looking into the passing game a little deeper it becomes obvious that QB is not our biggest need there, which is why our first round pick was a WR and not a QB. To see this, compare us to the Falcons, who also drafted a WR in the first round despite having one of the best WR in the league. These are the top 5 players in receiving yards for the Falcons and Chiefs (Note: Yes, I'm using conventional stats for WR's. This is the one case when conventional stats really are the best at measuring ability.):
WR Roddy White; 1389
TE Tony Gonzalez; 656
WR Michael Jenkins; 505
RB Jason Snelling; 303
WR Harry Douglas; 294
WR Dwayne Bowe; 1162
TE Tony Moeaki; 556
RB Jamaal Charles; 468
WR Chris Chambers; 213
WR/RB Dexter McCluster; 209
(Note: The Falcons had a lot more passing attempts than the Chiefs, so their leading receivers should have a bit more yards than ours.)
From these numbers it's obvious that we have basically nothing other than Bowe at WR while the Falcons had a pretty solid #2 guy. In other words, if the Falcons need another WR opposite White so badly that they had to trade virtually their entire draft to get one, we sure as heck needed one opposite of Bowe. And now that we have that legit #2 opposite Bowe, we should expect to have at least a top 15 passing game again (remember, our numbers should go down since we're facing harder teams).
As far as our running game goes, we're 4th in the NFL with 4.7 Y/A. This already tells us a lot considering Charles made Adrian Peterson and Chris Johnson look like me running around out there. In short, this tells us we need to address Thomas Jones who, quite frankly, was terrible last year.
This, in my opinion, is the one thing I'll be looking at once the lockout ends, since it will say a lot about how Haley runs his team. At best, Jones should get fewer and fewer carries as the year goes on until he gets none or very few. At worst, he should be cut. Luckily for us, we have Jackie Battle, who has shown potential, and Dexter McCluster, so we can cut Jones and be perfectly fine at running back. (He had 245 carries last year, so one solution would be to give 75 each to McCluster and Battle, 50 more to Charles, and throw 45 more passes, for example.)
I'm worried, though, by Haley's giant man crush on Jones, and this is why it will be such an important issue to follow. If Haley ignores the evidence and keeps Jones as a feature back, it is an indictment against Haley's ability to impartially run the team while the reverse would show a great deal about his willingness to set aside his emotions in order to make the best decision for the team.
This point is amplifies when we take a closer look at Charles, who was literally less than an inch from breaking the all time record for yards per carry ( he was .02 Y/A short, which is less than an inch per carry). To see how magnificent this achievement is, let's consider why teams run at all, since passing nets more yards than running. The answer is partially to make passing easier, but it's also because the risk of turning it over is much greater when passing. So, in theory, if you found a running back who had a Y/A number as large as the best NY/A numbers in the NFL, you would want to run almost every down, since passing would get you fewer yards and more turnovers. But surely finding a running back that good is impossible, right?
Well, as you probably guessed, Charles does compare very favorably to many of the top passing teams. His 6.4 Y/A is equal to the Eagles' 6.4 NY/A, which is 11th in the NFL. So, with Vick, Maclin, and Jackson, the Eagles still get the same number of yards per pass as Charles does per run. And, of course, Charles Y/A blows the Chiefs' passing numbers out of the water.
This has led me to reconsider my position that saving Charles was smart. Sure, giving Charles a ton of carries could run him into the ground, but I'm starting to think that Charles is so good it's worth the risk. Why would we want to pass when we can get more yards rushing with a lower risk of turning it over. Sure, saving him is important, but our team would benefit greatly from Charles getting 350 or 400 carries next season. If Haley thinks we can win the Super Bowl next year, he must give Charles more carries. What would we be saving him for?
Now, with the offense out of the way, let's look at defense.
Defense: 5.1 Y/P, 6th in NFL
This stat surprised me a little, since I thought our defense was pretty average last year, but it turns out that we were actually pretty good. For comparison, the Ravens and Packers both also had 5.1 Y/P. Defense was clearly the strength of our team last year, which helps explain why we waited until the third round to pick a defensive player. But, like the offense, things get more interesting when we break it down to passing and running.
As far as the passing game goes, we were top five (5.7 NY/A, 5th in NFL). Considering we had approximately one and a half players who could rush the quarterback, this number says a lot about how good our secondary is. We were 10th in the NFL with 39 sacks, but considering our defense faced the seventh most pass attempts, we probably had an average sack percentage (I'm too lazy to calculate every team's sack percentage for a rank). So, again, this shows that we have one of, if not the, best secondaries in the NFL. I don't know about you, but after realizing this and that our secondary consisted of two third year players and two rookies, I'm really excited for the future of that group of players in the future. Consider that three of the Conference Championship teams were in the top four passing defenses last year, with the Bears being the lone exception at #9. Even with this low sample size it's quite evident that good passing defenses mean good teams.
Now that you're feeling good about our defense, I think it's a good time to point out that the Chiefs were 17th in the NFL for rushing defense (4.3 Y/A). This number should improve with Berry's development, but indicates that we need some improvement out of our front seven. To be quite honest, I don't see a whole lot of room for improvement here out of Tyson Jackson improving and getting a bit more depth for the D-Line in the draft. However, rushing defense isn't as important as passing defense (the Packers were 31st in rushing defense last year), so we may be able to get away with mediocre numbers there if the rest of the team does well.
It does raise the question, however, of why we draft an outside linebacker who is poor against the run with our first defensive pick. Part of the answer is that we needed somebody else who could rush the passer and that passing defense is more important, but I think the answer is simply that he was the best player on the board so Pioli took him and ran. Since teams change so rapidly, you never know if the player who doesn't fill a need now will fill a need three years in the future.
Before I move on, I noticed an interesting and very surprising stat. As I mentioned in the intro, Y/P is better than Yards at measuring an offense or defense since the number of plays can skew the latter number. I was curious if the "real" numbers would over or under estimate the Chiefs, so I looked to see how many plays each side of the ball had. I was shocked to find that both the offense and defense had above average numbers of plays (1063, 6th in NFL and 1028, 11th in NFL, respectfully). Considering that we ran more and passed less than most of the NFL, we should expect fewer plays. After a little bit of thought and watching some games from last year I think I know the answer. Part of it is caused by the fact that Charles seems to go out of bounds all the time (I'm guessing at Haley's suggestion) and partly do to our relatively low completion percentage and our great passing defense (54.9% of passes completed, 3rd in NFL). Therefore, our defense will be viewed as being worse than it really is and our offense will be viewed as being better by those who use conventional stats.
Now we finally get to what I call "Mistakes", which is basically everything other than offense and defense. It includes Special Teams, turnovers, and penalties. I put these all in one category because they depend much more on luck than offense and defense do, so a team that does very well in this category one year should expect to drop off a bit the next year, since those good results will most likely reverse back to the mean the following year. Consider this graph I made:
The x-axis is turnover differential in 2009 and the y-axis is increase (or decrease) in number of wins from 2009 to 2010. As you can see, there is a pretty good correlation between the two. Unfortunately for the Chiefs, we had a very good +9 turnover differential last year (5th in NFL). This is negated somewhat by the fact that the differential was built upon our lower number of turnovers on offense (14, 2nd in NFL) and was actually hurt by our opponents being more disciplined than average (23 turnovers, 23rd in NFL). Since it's far easier to control your own turnovers than it is to force your opponent to turn it over, we may be in a good spot despite the high turnover differential last year.
As far as penalties go, we were 11th in the NFL in committing them (5.6 per game) but were helped greatly by our opponents' 6.6 penalties per game (8th in NFL). I ran some numbers on how well these correlate from one year to the next, and the former correlates pretty well while the latter correlates very poorly. So we can safely expect to not be penalized much again next year, but our opponents will probably commit fewer.
In my last post I said there wasn't a good way to measure special teams, and while I still think that's the case, I did manage to find a stat that gives a little bit of insight into them. That stat is yards per point (Y/Point). It isn't the greatest stat in the world, since the strength of the offense and defense does affect it, it can still be heavily influenced by very good or very bad special teams. The Chiefs did pretty well on both offense (15.3 Y/Point) and defense (16.2 Y/Point) compared to the league average of 15.2 (you want it to be lower on offense and higher on defense). So there's not a whole lot the stats say about them concerning the Chiefs. But I did notice while watching some games that Arenas rarely fair caught the ball, even if defenders were right on top of him, so his conventional special teams stats are going to look a lot worse than they should.
Since our schedule is so hard, it is very unlikely that we will get a wild card spot. If we want to make the playoffs we will have to win the division again. I'm not too worried about the Broncos (there's no reason to believe they will improve enough to compete) or the Raiders (they're going to take a massive hit in free agency). I am, however, very worried about the Chargers. They had the #1 offense (6.1 Y/P) and the #2 defense (4.6 Y/P), so clearly they suffered from the Mistakes category (which, again, is the one that depends the most on luck). They were -6 in turnover differential (23rd in NFL) which is bad, but not bad enough to explain a 9-win season. As far as penalties go, they were 7th in the NFL with 5.2 per game and 15th in opponents penalties with 6.1 per game. Clearly special teams is there problem.
They did very well on offense in terms of yards per point (14.4), so getting good returns wasn't the problem. The problem arose on coverage, since their defense had 13.5 Y/Point, which is an extremely poor showing for the #2 defense in the NFL (remember the average was 15.2 and defense wants higher numbers). I think that, even though this stat isn't the best in the world, that the Charger's season last year was ruined by turnovers and bad coverage on returns.
This, in my mind, is the key to our playoff chances next year. If the Chargers can fix their special teams and turnover issues without hurting their offense or defense there is nothing we can do to stop them from winning the division. On the other hand, they are still coached by Norv Turner, who had a "Who can do the least with the most talent" competition with Dallas and Minnesota last year, so it's not completely unreasonable to expect them to shoot themselves in the foot once again next year.
Personally, I think 8-wins is a reasonable expectation for next year, which could very well get us into the playoffs. How we do will depend largely on five factors:
1. Will Haley act like David Blaine and make Thomas Jones disappear?
2. How good will Baldwin be in his rookie season?
3. Can Cassel maintain his excellent interception numbers?
4. Can we improve our run defense despite not doing much in the draft in that area?
5. Can our young defensive backfield continue to develop and become a top 3 pass defense?
Depending on how these play out, we could go back to double-digit losses or win 10 or 11 games and contend for a Super Bowl. I don't know about you, but I'm ready for some football.