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The secret to the Kansas City Chiefs success: Negative plays

During the Kansas City Chiefs five game win streak I felt as though I noticed a tendency: The Chiefs have been limiting the number of negative plays on offense.

Now I could have just sat on my couch and ate Funyuns and believed my pre-concieved notion to be true (which would have been awesome), but instead I chose to do the research and write an article. I had been itching to step out of the grading Andy Reid cave for a bit anyways. Is that sunlight I see?

We're going to be looking at a number of graphs in this article and I hope you enjoy them. The goal of this article is to see if the Chiefs have in fact lowered their percentage of negative plays on offense, and if they have what are the side effects are of doing so.

So what is a negative play?

The following are what will be considered a negative play. Keep in mind this focuses only on the offensive side of the ball.

  • An offensive play from scrimmage that results in a loss of yardage.
  • An offensive play that results in a turnover.
  • An offensive penalty that is accepted.
We'll be using these factors to calculate the percentage of plays each game that was negative for the Chiefs offense. If a total of 50 plays were ran on offense, and the Chiefs committed five penalties, then the percentage is based on 55 plays. This is because penalties are typically logged as a 'non-play.' I had to go through each play to get this information and I loved every minute of it.

The findings

We'll start by looking at a graph that strictly counts the negative plays.

As you can see during the Chiefs five game losing streak, they had more negative offensive plays than usual. The Bears game was the fifth game of the season, and is the exception to the trend. It is interesting to note the Chiefs are 6-1 when they do not commit a turnover.

Now let's look at a table that shows the negative play percentage for each of these games during the two five game winning and losing streaks. Remember, the negative play percentage is the total number of negative plays (plus penalties) divided by the total number of plays (plus penalties.)

Negative Play Percentages
Game Win Loss
1 9.1 27.9
2 16.9 18.2
3 9.2 18
4 13.1 6.9
5 6.3 16.7


If you prefer a graph, here you go.

The Chiefs cut down on their negative plays on offense during the winning streak.  If you don't believe me here are the averages during the two winning streaks.

Average Negative Play Percentage During Losing Streak: 17.54 percent

Average Negative Play Percentage During Winning Streak:  10.92 percent

So we can see the Chiefs really cut down their negative plays after their five game losing streak. Does anyone remember Reid mentioning that one of the reasons for the Chiefs turnaround was working on the fundamentals? Working on fundamentals could cause fewer mistakes, fewer mistakes means better execution, and better execution results in fewer negative plays.

But how much has this been helping the Chiefs on both sides of the ball, offense and defense?

I'm not saying the following tables are direct causalities, but I will say they must certainly have played a factor. As you can see in the graph below the Chiefs offense has scored more points thanks to fewer negative plays on offense.

If you look at the trend lines, you can see the Chiefs points scored on average have moved up as the season progresses, while the negative plays have decreased on average. This makes sense because fewer mistakes on offense should result in more points scored.

The interesting thing is how the fewer negative plays on offense have affected the defense.

While the percentage of negative plays on offense drops, the amount of points the defense allows also drops (on average). I believe this is due to two factors. The first factor is during the losing streak the Chiefs played some very good offenses. The second factor is that a more effective offense is capable of moving the ball more. If the offense moves the ball more then better field position can be obtained, which in turn helps the defense.

Conclusion

Reid made an excellent choice to "get back to the fundamentals." The Chiefs have lowered their number of negative plays on offense and a direct result of that has been a much improved Chiefs team. I believe the Chiefs ability to lower their negative plays on offense is one of the most significant factors in why the Chiefs have made the turnaround. If they continue to limit the negative plays they will not only make the playoffs, but they should also have a good shot at doing some damage when they get there.