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Helping the Chiefs Chances for Winning a Super Bowl: The Defense

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Welcome to Part IV in our four part series detailing what the Kansas City Chiefs need to accomplish to give themselves the best shot to win a Super Bowl. This part will focus on the defensive aspect of the Super Bowl. We'll look at all the teams since 1970 who have won a Super Bowl and what level their defense was playing at.

Like the previous articles, we'll look at the evolution of NFL defenses over time. They should look fairly similar to the passing and running game graphs.

The Evolution of NFL Defenses

As we learned from before, NFL passing offenses have grown substantially over the course of the NFL's history.  At the same time the running game has been slowly becoming less prevalent. Note: All of these numbers used below were normalized to 16 game seasons.

Passing numbers have gone up, rushing numbers have stayed nearly the same, and turnovers have gone down. The graphs showing defensive growth mirror the same trends offenses have seen throughout the history of the NFL.

Just in case no one heard me before, I'll mention the 1978 NFL rule change that introduced illegal contact as a penalty. Passing defenses didn't all of the sudden start playing terribly in the late 70s, instead the rules were set so it was easier to pass the ball.

NFL rushing offenses have not played a major role in Super Bowls since 2000. After look at these graphs I wonder if the reason for the downward turn in run heavy Super Bowl teams isn't because of a deficiency in the NFL's running game, but more of a function of the proficiency of the NFL's passing game. Food for thought I suppose.

Super Bowl Winning Teams by Total Defensive Ranks

Some people love them, some people hate them, but the tables are here anyways. For starters we're going to look at total defensive ranks of teams who have won the Super Bowl. Like before I have blocked them off into groups to see which ranges of ranks have the best shot of winning a Super Bowl.

Super Bowl Winners by Total Defensive Rank Since 1970
Rank Yards Allowed Points Allowed
25+ 0.02 0.00
21 - 25 0.07 0.02
16 - 20 0.07 0.04
11 - 15 0.07 0.07
6 - 10 0.20 0.26
1 - 5 0.59 0.61

What this table says, is that 61 percent of all Super Bowl winners since 1970 were in the top five in NFL for defensive points allowed. A team has a substantially higher chance of winning a Super Bowl with a top 10 defense, and the chances are even better with a top five defense.

Just to be safe, I went back and checked the numbers for Super Bowls before 2000 and Super Bowls after 2000.  I found for the most part top 10 total defenses have remained important regardless of the era.

Below are the Chiefs total defensive ranks since Andy Reid came to town.

Chiefs Total Defensive Stats Since 2013
Year Yards Allowed Points Allowed
2013 24 5
2014 7 2
2015 7 4

When it comes to total defensive numbers, the Chiefs have had a Super Bowl caliber defense for at least two seasons in a row.

My biggest fear is this window will close and the Chiefs will squander their opportunity.

Running Defense

Here's the same format table as above, but for the running game.

Super Bowl Winning Team Percentages by Defensive Rushing Stat Rank Since 1970
Rank RushYards RushTDs Rush Y/A Fumbles
25+ 0.02 0.04 0.07 0.13
21 - 25 0.02 0.09 0.07 0.09
16 - 20 0.13 0.02 0.09 0.17
11 - 15 0.07 0.11 0.09 0.20
6 - 10 0.24 0.24 0.30 0.15
1 - 5 0.52 0.50 0.39 0.26
Very strong evidence shows that having a rushing yard, rushing touchdown, and rushing yards per attempt defense in the top 10 greatly helps a teams chances at winning a Super Bowl. It is even better to be in the top five.

Many people view fumbles as somewhat random events and this data shows that Super Bowl teams don't particularly do exceptionally well at forcing fumbles. If the Chiefs are ever relying on fumbles to win games, they're probably not in a good spot.

Once again I went back and checked the numbers before and after the 2000 season. After the 2000 season, total rushing yards became less important in regards to defensive rank. We'll use this information later when we set our goals for the Chiefs defense next year.

Speaking of the Chiefs, this is how their rushing defense has fared over the past three seasons.

Chiefs Rushing Defense Ranks Since 2013
Year Rushing Yards Rushing TDs Rushing Y/A Fumbles
2013 22 6 24 1
2014 28 1 27 21
2015 8 3 16 27

Once again by looking at the information above, the Chiefs defense has done it's job in regards to rushing TDs, but their rushing yards and yards per attempt defense could use some work.

Passing Defense

Rank PassYards PassTDs PassNY/A INTs Sacks
25+ 0.04 0.02 0.00 0.00 0.02
21 - 25 0.09 0.04 0.00 0.02 0.04
16 - 20 0.22 0.02 0.09 0.17 0.02
11 - 15 0.11 0.15 0.11 0.07 0.17
6 - 10 0.17 0.20 0.15 0.30 0.26
1 - 5 0.37 0.57 0.65 0.43 0.48

If you want to have the best chances for winning a Super Bowl, I suggest finding defensive players who are great at stopping passing touchdowns, can pick the ball off, and can get after the quarterback.

When I compared the numbers before and after 2000, one stat was much different.

After 2000, Super Bowls have been won by teams who are in the top five in preventing touchdown passes 69 percent of the time.

This goes hand in hand with John Dorsey wanting to get larger cornerbacks who can contest jump balls in the end zone.  Stopping quarterbacks from chucking touchdowns is a huge component in today's NFL.

Chiefs Defensive Rankings Since 2013
Year Passing Yards Passing TDs Passing NY/A INTs Sacks
2013 25 14 14 3 6
2014 2 6 3 30 5
2015 9 15 4 2 4

It seems as though the Chiefs haven't been able to put together a complete best case season in regards to Super Bowl success.  Last season the Chiefs were the worst where it hurts the most -- passing touchdowns.  If they can maintain all of their other passing statistics while at the same time lowering the amount of passing touchdowns they give up they will be in fantastic shape.

That being said, the Chiefs have really done a great job with their passing defense over the past two years.

Do the Chiefs Have a Super Bowl Caliber Defense?

Right now I'd like to take a small break think about what we have with the Chiefs defense. They've been great every year in a number of different categories, and no defense is perfect in every category. Even the 2000 Baltimore Ravens were 22nd in the NFL in sacks.

Given everything above, the Chiefs did have a Super Bowl caliber defense in 2014 and 2015, make no mistake However, their offense could not pull their fair share. Realistically for the Chiefs to have their best shot at winning a Super Bowl they will need to do a little better against the pass while the offensive side of the ball needs to also do better with the pass.

The Chiefs are very, very close. Opportunity only knocks so often and the Chiefs need to make the most of their current situation. No one knows how long the Chiefs defense can keep playing at this level.

What Would Give the Chiefs the Best Chances Next Season?

Using all of the information above, I created what I believe to be realistic goals for the Chiefs defense next season:

Total Defense:  19 PPG, 318 YPG

Passing Defense:  214 YPG, 19 TDs, 20 INTs, 45 Sacks

Rushing Defense:  104 YPG, 9 TDs

The biggest jumps the Chiefs defense needs to make mainly relies on their passing touchdown defense and passing yards defense. Last season the Chiefs allowed 231 passing yards per game. The Chiefs also allowed 25 passing touchdowns last season.

Can the Chiefs Defense Improve Their Passing Defense Enough?

What has the Chiefs defense LOST going into 2016?

  • Justin Houston will be out for an indefinite stretch
  • Sean Smith
  • Hussain Abdullah
What has the Chiefs defense GAINED?
  • A healthy Phillip Gaines (hopefully)
  • More experience for young players like Nelson and Peters
  • A slew of draft picks (maybe one will pan out)
The Chiefs defense will have their work cut out for them next season. I cannot stress enough how much of an impact Justin Houston makes in the passing game. The Chiefs will need to find a way to make up for his absence.

I believe the Chiefs defense may have a difficult time until Houston comes back. This creates a scenario where their defense will be playing at an elite level at the end of the season once Houston is clicking on all gears. As far as the passing numbers go though, I doubt the Chiefs can reach the goals mentioned above next season. If they do, I'll be ecstatic!

Part V - The Conclusion

In the final part of the series we will combine everything we have learned and try and find out which means of winning a Super Bowl would be the best route for the Chiefs.