The Kansas City Chiefs are officially 3/4 of the way through the 2015 regular season, and what a doozy it has been. After the Chiefs put a hurting on the Oakland Raiders, they now sit in the fifth playoff spot in the AFC with a 7-5 record. Much has been made of the team's turnaround from a 1-5 start, and it is in no small effort to the Chiefs defense achieving the form that many of us expected this year. Back in July, I wrote an article about the expectations for this defense, and I made a few way-too-early predictions about the performance of the squad. I'll return after the season to sum it up, but needless to say, things are going well.
But just how well is the defense performing? Over the past two years, this has been a team that has standout performances from the defensive side of the ball. In 2013, the Chiefs held their first nine opponents under 17 points per game and took the ball away seemingly at will. Last year, the Chiefs didn't allow a 300 yard passer ALL YEAR, nearly had a player break the sack record, and finished second overall in the league at 17.6 points per game. Needless to say, there are some spectacular feats for this year's team to chase.
So how close are they? I'll take you through several Chiefs defensive statistics and how they compare to the previous two years, then tell you what they need to do to beat the numbers in the final quarter of the season, as well as my opinion on whether or not they'll be able to achieve those goals. Gimme your opinions on which ones you think they'll beat, and which ones they won't in the comments.
So let's do this ... the numbers may surprise you.
1. Rushing Defense
Anybody who's followed along with me over my years as a writer here at Arrowhead Pride will know that I have an affinity for a strong run defense. Over the past years, I have repeatedly criticized the team for too easily getting stretched out in sub packages and allowing the opposition huge holes to be able to run through. The defense gave up far too many yards on the ground for my liking. But through 3/4 of this year...
WOW. All of the sudden, the Chiefs are stopping the run with the best of the league. And they're not necessarily staying out of the sub package defense, either. They've really focused on gap discipline and edge contain when they're outmanned in the sub package fronts. The return of DJ and Mike Devito has helped, but the safeties have been tackling well (thank you, Eric Berry), and the SILB spot has had a surprising improvement. I'm man enough to admit it, Mr. Mauga ... you've done well out there this year.
As far as besting the previous years, this one was an easy one to start with. Keep doing what they're doing, and this team has 13-14 beat by a mile. Looking ahead at rushing numbers, the Chiefs have the Chargers (30th), the Ravens (21st), the Browns (32nd), and the Raiders (22nd) left on the schedule. I'm not going out on a big limb here to say that they're going to crush the previous years' numbers.
2. Passing Defense
If there's one thing the Chiefs did surprisingly well last year, it was stopping the opponent's aerial threat. This was especially surprising, given that the Chiefs were missing Eric Berry most of the year, didn't figure out where to place Ron Parker most of the year, and had to have a rookie step up to claim the No. 2 CB slot. In 2013, the Chiefs had some issues with the safety position and gave up some really big deep plays, but were great at batting the ball away. They were pretty polarizing years against the pass, and 2015 is right in that sweet spot.
That's right, the Chiefs lead the league in passes defensed through the first 3/4 of the year. Defensive backs and linebackers are doing a great job of locating the ball and getting their hands on the passes coming their way. The 14th ranked passing defense isn't great, but it's a yard and a half from being top 10 this year (parity, right?). This is due to exceptional play from rookie Marcus Peters on the outside, Sean Smith having more good games than bad, and the safety play being above and beyond what this team has seen in a little while. All of this with the Chiefs losing Phillip Gaines (PG-23, y'all) early and having Ron Parker play more of a hybrid safety / corner role.
So what do the Chiefs need to do to catch previous years? First of all, the passing yards per game mark is pretty staggering. The Chiefs can only allow 355.2 yards TOTAL for the rest of the year to catch last year's unbelievable mark. Looking ahead, the Chiefs have the fourth, 10h, 13th, and eighth ranked passing offenses on the schedule. All average over what the Chiefs allow per game. That'll be tough to keep the ranking where it is, but I think they'll do enough to beat 2013 in this one. Seeing as the Chiefs have already topped the 2014 mark in passes defensed, they'll have to average 7.75 per game from here on out to catch that one. It'll be a close one, but I don't know that they can quite pull together enough in the remaining games to beat 2013.
In my preseason primer, I wrote that the Chiefs would take the ball away at a better rate than the 2014 Chiefs, but I didn't think they'd quite touch the mark set forth by the 2013 squad that seemed to come up with big play after big play. I wagered they'd finish this season in the mid-20's, but so far...
Wasn't that 2013 squad ridiculous? 15 fumble recoveries seems ridiculous, and with 21 INTs, that defense was constantly putting the team in good spots or wiping points off the board. 2014 was the anomaly, where the secondary played very well, but couldn't come down with the tide-turning plays. Already this year, this Chiefs defense is beating down the door to claim the top spot on INTs, but they aren't getting the opposition to put the ball on the ground.
There is no doubt in my mind that this Chiefs team will beat the 2013 squad's interception total. This team is flying around and making the most of every tip drill. Even though they play the 21st, second, 25th, and 15th ranked teams at throwing picks, there's little doubt in my mind that this team will come up with another four INTs in the next four games. Heck, they might get four against Baltimore. The fumble stat is a fluky one, but it seems Bob Sutton has this team more focused on getting the solid, wrap-up tackle than focusing on trying to pull the ball loose. There's no way they catch 2013 here.
4. Sacks / Third Down Defense
I threw sacks in alongside third down defense for this category. We all know that the Chiefs rush the passer VERY well with the best set of OLBs in the league, Justin Houston and Tamba Hali. The 13-14 defenses got after the passer relentlessly, and the totals set by those teams were big numbers. I claimed there was no way the Chiefs, as a team, could touch the previous two years' sack numbers in my preseason post. However, the 13-14 Chiefs were also excellent on third down, ending drives before they started. Let's see where 2015 stacks up...
|3rd Down %||34||37||34|
LOOK AT THAT CONSISTENCY! Since Bob Sutton got to town, the Chiefs have owned third downs. This year is no different, stymieing nearly 2/3 of the third downs they face. And yes, they're still getting after the quarterback at a ridiculous rate, averaging 2.83 sacks a game thus far. On top of that, they're not as top heavy as last year. No player is above eight sacks on the season in 2015, but eight players have two or more. Pretty impressive.
I'm calling my shot here: The Chiefs are beating the 2013 sack mark. I said there was no way they touched the previous marks, and I was proudly incorrect. The Raiders and Ravens are both top five in sacks allowed, but San Diego at 22nd and Cleveland at 32nd are ripe for the picking. This defense might get six-plus in both of those games with Houston back and Hali on a tear. Mix in a couple in each of the other two games, and they're pushing 50 sacks. This, of course, will lead to better third down defense, a stat that only the Ravens (sixth) are above the top 25 in amongst the offenses left on the Chiefs schedule.
5. Overall Defense
Finally, the big one. The one that matters. The Chiefs have set a very high bar over the last two years with the points that they have allowed. It's the main reason for 2013's 9-0 start, and a big reason for the 2014 team being competitive against some of the league's best squads. The yardage may not have been great, but the team was keeping the opposition out of the endzone and giving the Chiefs offense a chance to win. 2015 had a really rough stretch early on, but let's check out how they've compared overall.
First off, 2013 was a weird year. I've heard of bend-but-don't-break, but that team was bend-and-get-a-turnover. 2014's scoring mark was obviously very impressive, allowing 281 total points on the year, against some solid offensive opposition. That squad's total would currently sit at 17th in the league, despite playing four more games. The 2014 yardage total also had a lot to do with the passing defense being so good, but the 2015 team has seemed to make up for what they lost there in their run defense, leading to an overall more balanced team.
So, can they beat 2014? From a points perspective, they've got 41 points to give up over the next four games to beat last year's mark. This defense is quite good, but I don't know that they'll be able to lock down their remaining opponents at under 10 points per game. On average, the remaining opponent scores 21.25 points per game. If the Chiefs allow that, they'll be above both the 2013 and 2014 totals. I'm going to say they do enough to get under 2013's mark, but don't quite hit 2014's spectacular numbers.
Yardage is a different beast, though. The Chiefs have to allow less than 1,238 yards in their next four games to set Sutton's best season in KC. That's 309.5 yards per game, on average. Every one of the teams on the schedule averages more than that per game, but with little running threat left on the schedule, and the Browns / Ravens with backups at the QB spot, the Chiefs can achieve that mark by bottling up Philip Rivers and Derek Carr. It won't be an easy task, but I'm sticking my neck out and saying they just barely beat the yardage mark.
The 2015 Kansas City Chiefs have a VERY good defense. I truly believe that this can be Sutton's best overall effort in KC, even if he doesn't beat all the stats from his previous two years. This is the most balanced (in a positive way) that the defense has been since Martyball made us all fall in love with third and long in Arrowhead. They say defense wins championships. If the Chiefs close it out like they should, it's looking like a damn fine championship defense to me right now.