No one should evaluate a football team solely on statistical analysis and intricate data. It’s such a physical and intangible sport; there’s a lot that goes into the sport that is nearly impossible to quantify.
When we research through a statistical lens, it’s important to try and give as much context as possible. That’s what I’ll do with these statistics from the Kansas City Chiefs’ 2020 season; I’ll explain how they translate to the on-field personnel and how they factor into the team’s success in 2021.
In part one of this topic, I looked at five stats:
Chiefs had the worst “Power Success Rate” among all NFL offenses in the regular season
This metric is courtesy of Football Outsiders — a great site to get unique and relevant data. The following is the direct definition of the stat:
“Percentage of runs on third or fourth down, two yards or less to go, that achieved a first down or touchdown. Also includes runs on first-and-goal or second-and-goal from the two-yard line or closer.”
The Chiefs’ offense succeeded on 51% of those qualifying plays — the worst number in the league by three percentage points. This passes the eye test: the Chiefs struggled to punch in touchdowns inside the 5-yard line all season. In fact, the running back group had a combined three rushing scores from inside the 10-yard line.
It’s safe to assume that won’t be as big a problem this season. The Chiefs have the potential to have a starting five full of bigger, people-moving types of blockers:
- Left tackle Orlando Brown Jr. is a more powerful player than Eric Fisher.
- Left guard Joe Thuney doesn’t fit the profile as much — but he’s much better than anything the Chiefs have had at that spot.
- Both top competitors for right guard — Laurent Duvernay-Tardif and Kyle Long — are bigger, more powerful players than Andrew Wylie (in my opinion).
- If Lucas Niang wins the right tackle spot, he’s a “really big man, with beautiful feet,” as head coach Andy Reid put it.
A higher success rate in this area will make life easier on the red-zone offense; they ranked 14th in percentage of red-zone possessions turned to touchdowns. It was one of the only situations the Chiefs weren’t elite at in 2020.
Speaking of the red zone...
The Chiefs defense allowed touchdowns on 77% of their regular season red-zone drives — the highest rate in the NFL
There’s important context for this one right out of the gate: the Chiefs’ defense allowed the sixth-fewest red-zone possessions in the league last year. Unlike the days of defensive coordinator Bob Sutton’s “bend but don’t break in the red zone” tendency, this unit is more boom-or-bust.
Like any defense, it had the most success when they could get ahead in the downs and work the offense into a third down with more than five yards to go. However, the Chiefs’ are terrible in short-yardage run defense situations: in that same Power Success Rate metric referenced above, the Chiefs’ defense ranked last with an opposing success rate of 78% on qualified plays.
One way to improve in these areas is for the pass rush to be more effective in a four-man pressure — allowing there to be more coverage defenders on the red-zone plays and to keep themselves out of short-yardage, third-down situations.
The addition of Jarran Reed proves that the Chiefs’ are aware of the need to get better there.
Tyreek Hill and Travis Kelce were the two regular-season leaders in yards/touch
Hill finished at 14 yards per touch (rushing attempts plus receptions), and Kelce finished at a rate of 13.5. The third-highest rate among NFL players was 12.1 by DeAndre Hopkins and Allen Robinson. There’s a bigger gap between Kelce and those two players than there is for the next five players on the list.
The craziest part is that neither were far off from their career-average rate, even though they were relied on as much as any NFL player. If the Chiefs can delegate more responsibility to other skill-position players — something they need to do — these two could be even more efficient.
The special teams unit ranked 17th in DVOA for the regular season
If you’re not familiar with Football Outsider’s main efficiency statistic DVOA, it’s explained here.
The Chiefs’ were middle-of-the-pack among NFL special teams units in a regular season for the first time in coordinator Dave Toub’s Kansas City tenure. In fact, they’ve only finished below fourth in this metric one time: a ninth-place finish in 2015. They’ve ranked first twice, and second twice as well: in 2018 and 2019.
The unit still produced two return touchdowns, and kicker Harrison Butker had a 93% accuracy rate on field goals — including going 3 for 3 on attempts of 50 or more yards. However, the unit allowed a return touchdown, Butker missed six point-after attempts, and rookie punter Tommy Townsend had an up-and-down year.
A shift closer to the average result in Toub’s tenure could make life easier on the other two units.
L’Jarius Sneed allowed a 53.4 passer rating in coverage — the third-lowest mark among all qualified cornerbacks
Sneed's coverage translated to the third-lowest opposing passer rating among all NFL cornerbacks with at least 20 snaps in coverage, per PFF. As the Chiefs’ primary slot defender, he played in that position a lot, where the opposing passer rating rose to 70.4 — but that points to him performing well in coverage in the 174 snaps he had at outside cornerback.
Among qualified rookie cornerbacks, he was tied for the most interceptions (3), had the fewest yards allowed per receptions (7.6) and obviously led in opposing passer rating.
Whether he stays in the slot or finds himself on the outside more, numbers suggest the 24-year-old being one of the best young defensive backs in the NFL.