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How the Chiefs stack up to important Super Bowl factors

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I’ve been writing here for a number of years now, and one of the benefits of that is I can re-visit older articles and use past information. One such series of articles I want to look at today was written in the 2016 off season.

I collected Super Bowl data through the post-merger era and looked at traits among each Super Bowl winning team’s passing offense, rushing offense, and defense. I found numerous trends and am going to see where the Chiefs line up with those trends so far in 2017.

We’ll start by looking at the defense.

Rushing Defense

In my 2016 series of articles I discovered there was a shift in the NFL run game after the year 2000. Essentially, the run game became a less important feature for Super Bowl teams. Because of this, the running stats we will just look at years between 2000 and 2016.

Rushing Defense Ranks of Super Bowl Winning Teams Since 2000

Rank Yards TDs Y/A
Rank Yards TDs Y/A
26+ 0.06 0.12 0.12
21-25 0.06 0.12 0.18
16-20 0.24 0.00 0.00
11-15 0.00 0.06 0.00
6-10 0.24 0.24 0.35
1-5 0.41 0.47 0.35

For some quick clarification, the table shows 41 percent of Super Bowl winning teams after the year 2000 had a top five NFL defense in terms of rushing yards. So if the Chiefs are trying to maximize their chances of winning a Super Bowl they need a top five rushing yards, TDs, and Y/A defense.

Let’s see where the Chiefs are at nine games through 2017.

Yards - 31st, TDs - 30th, Y/A - 30th

Buzz, your girlfriend..... Woof.

From the data you can see very few teams win Super Bowls with that poor of run defense. Here’s why that is a red flag:

So the bad news is the Chiefs run defense has been terrible, and that really hurts their chances of making it to the big dance.

If there is one positive about the Chiefs run defense, Sutton clearly changed his scheme against Dallas and the Chiefs held Ezekiel Elliot to 3.4 yards per attempt. We’ll see what happens in the future, but as of now it’s not looking good.

Passing Defense

Now lets take a peek at Super Bowl passing defenses. We’ll use the same format below, but with data from all of the post-merger Super Bowls (1970-present).

Passing Defense Ranks of Super Bowl Winners Since 1970

Rank Yards TDs NY/A
Rank Yards TDs NY/A
26+ 0.04 0.02 0.00
21-25 0.09 0.04 0.00
16-20 0.21 0.02 0.09
11-15 0.13 0.15 0.11
6-10 0.17 0.21 0.17
1-5 0.36 0.55 0.64

Quick note — we shouldn’t take too much stock in the yards column. I discovered this offseason that yards have no correlation to winning games in the NFL. That would also explain why the yards column data doesn’t have a clear pattern.

So where does the Chiefs defense add up in terms of passing TDs and NY/A allowed?

Passing TDs - 24th, Passing NY/A - 23rd.

Buzz, your girlfriend ... isn’t looking any better.

Once again this is a problem. Initially when I began writing this I thought the Chiefs run defense was the sole problem, but it turns out the Chiefs passing offense is also a major problem.

In fact, due to the importance of passing in the NFL, the Chiefs pass defense is equally guilty when it comes to helping the Chiefs chances of winning a Super Bowl. Which brings me to the last stat we’ll look at: passer rating.

Passer rating is the most highly correlated stat in terms of winning football games that I have found in my years of research. Unfortunately I didn’t track passer rating in my Super Bowl data gathering from years ago, but thus far in 2017 the Chiefs are the 13th best in the NFL in passer rating allowed.

Going a little further....

Avg Passer Rating vs Passer Rating Against KC

QB AVG VS KC
QB AVG VS KC
Brady 106.5 70.0
Wentz 104.1 83.0
Rivers 88.4 37.2
Cousins 102.0 116.7
Watson 103.0 119.8
Roethlisberger 82.7 97.4
Carr 91.8 101.2
Siemian 76.8 43.5
Prescott 97.9 106.8

I believe this table tells a story. If you look at the first three games, Sutton and the Chiefs defense did a solid job against opposing QBs. In five of the past six games the Chiefs have allowed greater than the opponents average passer rating. Here’s my story:

Sutton had good success at the start of the season with his defensive scheming. Other teams began to find ways to beat this scheme and Sutton was slow to change due to the early success. Sutton is currently working on other schemes, or will perhaps revert back to what was working in years past.

Long story short, Sutton’s defensive experiment has failed and now he’s probably back at the drawing board.

In regards to the Chiefs chances of winning a Super Bowl in 2017, the Chiefs defense needs significant improvement, but there are two glimmers of hope:

  • The run defense did great last game against Ezekiel Elliott. This is more promising because it appeared the Chiefs defense employed a different scheme.
  • The Chiefs pass defense has played some great QBs and have only allowed an 85.3 passer rating. This is good because passer rating has a strong correlation with winning and losing.

Rushing Offense

Let’s look at the Super Bowl winner table again, this time for the rushing offenses.

Super Bowl Winning Rush Offense Rankings Since 2000

Rank Yards TDs Y/A
Rank Yards TDs Y/A
26+ 0.18 0.06 0.24
21-25 0.12 0.12 0.24
16-20 0.18 0.06 0.12
11-15 0.12 0.24 0.24
6-10 0.18 0.35 0.12
1-5 0.24 0.18 0.06

Whoa, those numbers are all over the place. This is going to be a short section.

Kareem Hunt started the season on a tear, but then he began to slow down. Since the rushing numbers of Super Bowl winners are all over the place, it’s safe to say that Kareem Hunt and the rest of the rushing offense’s contributions are in order. In terms of winning a Super Bowl the Chiefs rushing offense is on par.

Since there wasn’t much to say in this section, here’s a graph of Kareem Hunt’s declining production so far in 2017. I’m hopeful he will turn it around.

Passing Offense

Here comes the big one, the passing offense. Let’s take a look at the table for Super Bowl passing offenses.

Super Bowl Winning Passing Offenses Since 1970

Rank Yards TDs NY/A
Rank Yards TDs NY/A
26+ 0.02 0.02 0.00
21-25 0.15 0.04 0.06
16-20 0.11 0.09 0.06
11-15 0.17 0.23 0.13
6-10 0.17 0.17 0.19
1-5 0.38 0.45 0.55

Once again, passing yards don’t matter! We figured that out in a prior article that showed there was no correlation between passing yards and winning football games. This is why the passing yard data is all over the board.

The NY/A and TD stats are still relevant and here is where the Chiefs rank in 2017.

Passing TDs - 4th, NY/A - 5th

Then there’s passer rating, which is the most important stat towards winning football games (as far as I’ve found) and the Chiefs have the best passer rating in the NFL.

Also to note is that the Chiefs are in the top five in each of the important categories of NY/A and TDs. The Chiefs are doing great in the most significant area when it comes to helping their chances of winning a Super Bowl; passing the ball.

Where do the Chiefs Stand?

So do the Chiefs have a legitimate shot to win the Super Bowl? Just off face value, the answer is no because of the defense. Which reminds me of this:

The Chiefs defense doesn’t have to be great for the Chiefs to have what it takes to win the Super Bowl thanks to the way the offense is playing, but they do need to improve. If the Chiefs can do the following they will give themselves a really good chance to go all the way.

  • Somehow, fix the run defense
  • Get a little better against the pass
  • Keep it going on the offense.

Normally when I write these types of articles I go into them with one mindset and come out with another. My mindset coming in was that the Chiefs defense was holding the team back, and that is the same mindset I am leaving with.

The Chiefs have to improve down the stretch or they just won’t cut it in the playoffs unless some kind of fluke happens, and I don’t like leaving the Chiefs chances to flukes.