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The Chiefs defense with and without Justin Houston

Every Chiefs fan is probably wringing their hands at the thought of starting the 2016 season without Justin Houston. Like the Eric Berry article previously, I thought it would be a good idea to compare how the Chiefs defense has performed with and without Justin Houston.

Which Games Will Be Used?

We are only going to use games in which the opposing QB was a consistent starter. I chose to do this because it helps put the data in more of a vacuum. The games are from the Bob Sutton era in Kansas City (2013-15.)

Using those numbers, Justin Houston has played in 23 games and missed nine since 2013. If you would like to see the list of games just click here. Please note, even though Houston played eight snaps against the Patriots in the 2015 divisional playoff game, I did not count him as playing that game.

The First Set of Numbers

I took passing yards allowed, rushing yards allowed, points allowed, and sacks in games where Houston did and did not play. I compared the allowed stats against the opponents average stats. The point is to see if the Chiefs defense performed better with or without Houston.

For instance, on September 3, 2013 against the Cowboys the Chiefs offense allowed 281 passing yards, 37 rushing yards, 16 points, and accumulated three sacks. The Cowboys averaged 255.2 passing yards, 94.0 rushing yards, 27.4 points per game, and 2.2 sacks allowed per game during the 2013 season. The Chiefs with Justin Houston starting, held the Cowboys to 110.1 percent of their average passing game, 39.4 percent of their average rushing game, 58.4 percent of their average points scored, and 137.1 percent of their average sacks allowed.

I calculated these numbers for all of the games mentioned above. Click here to see the numbers.

The numbers were puzzling to say the least. Remember this is only for games that meet the criteria above.

  • On average the Chiefs passing defense did 5.2 percent better with Houston playing.
  • On average the Chiefs rushing defense did 17.5 percent worse with Houston playing.
  • On average the Chiefs scoring defense did 4.9 percent worse with Houston playing.
  • On average the Chiefs pass rush got 9.0 percent worse with Houston playing.

Now that just doesn’t make any damn sense. Are the numbers really saying the Chiefs defense is better without Justin Houston on the field? Normally I stick to the numbers, but I just refuse to believe these.

I mean, everyone can see Houston’s presence on the field. I can only come up with three possible reasons for this:

  1. Bob Sutton is a phenomenal defensive coordinator who can game plan around an injury to a star player like Justin Houston (or Eric Berry).
  2. A single player, regardless of how good they are, cannot drastically alter a teams defensive performance.
  3. Small sample size ruins everything.

Speaking of Small Sample Sizes

After being confused by the results I decided to go back and gather stats from every game during the Bob Sutton era. During this time Houston has played in 39 games and missed 12 games — keep in mind I am including the 2015 divisional playoff game against the Patriots as a missed game.

The first stat I calculated was the following:

During the Bob Sutton era the Chiefs average 2.9 sacks per game when Houston is playing and 2.3 sacks per game when he is not playing.

While I continued digging through the numbers I came across two very telling stats for the Chiefs during the Bob Sutton era.

The Chiefs are 6-13 in games where they record one sack or less.

The Chiefs are 22-3 in games where they record three or more sacks.

Over the past three seasons, the Chiefs have lived and died by getting after the quarterback. The Chiefs are 4-3 in games where they record two sacks.

The question is, how well do the Chiefs reach three sacks when Houston is playing, or not playing? Also, how well do the Chiefs stay away from one sack or less when Houston is playing or not playing?

This is Where Houston Earns His Paycheck

I went back and looked at all of the games one last time and found the following:

The Chiefs have gotten three or more sacks in 9.6 percent more games when Houston is playing.

The Chiefs have gotten one or fewer sacks in 16.7 percent less games when Houston is playing.

Essentially what this means is; Justin Houston’s play can and has won football games for the Chiefs.

Here is a graph, I can’t help my addiction.

Final Thoughts...

Justin Houston may not drastically affect the Chiefs defense’s statistical numbers, but he does help the Chiefs reach the magical third sack 10 percent more often than his replacements have. Houston also keeps the Chiefs from getting one or fewer sacks as well. Both of these help the Chiefs win games.

The fact the Chiefs defensive statistics haven’t changed drastically with Houston out should be comforting. However, Chiefs fans should also be concerned with their pass rush getting completely shut down with Houston out. Without Houston playing the Chiefs are likely to lack consistency with their pass rush.

If the Chiefs want to really boost their chances for winning they’ll need Bob Sutton to pull out all the stops and find a way to sack the quarterback consistently without Justin Houston on the field.

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