No one should evaluate a football team solely on statistical analysis and intricate data. It’s a physical and intangible sport; there’s a lot going on that is nearly impossible to quantify.
So when we do 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 could factor into the team’s success in 2021.
In an article on Monday, I broke down five statistics. Now, I’ll look at five more:
Patrick Mahomes was responsible for 29% of the team’s regular-season pressures — the most of any full-time starting quarterback
This stat is courtesy of Pro Football Focus. They track all quarterback pressures, assigning responsibility for each one to either a blocker or the quarterback himself. Responsibility for a given pressure may be shared between multiple players.
The idea that Mahomes brings pressure on himself is not a revelation: you can often see the young quarterback drift too far back in the pocket, giving edge rushers an easier angle to reach him. He also tends to trust his playmaking ability well enough to hold onto the ball, trying to escape pressure so he can make a late throw or scramble.
It’s important to understand that he’s been responsible for a large number of pressures — but not sacks. He was responsible for only nine of his sacks. Six quarterbacks tallied more, while five others tied with Mahomes. Overall, there were 21 quarterbacks who were sacked more often than Mahomes during 2020.
We know that while under pressure, Mahomes can still do his thing. When pressured last season, he led the league in PFF’s “Big Time Throw” category — but with some improvement in his pocket presence, he can make life easier on himself. That’s a lot easier to do if he has strong confidence in his offensive line — and that should be more true this season than last.
Taco Charlton earned a pressure on 21.4% of his pass-rushing snaps
Before suffering a season-ending ankle injury, Charlton collected 90 snaps over six games — and in those, he was statistically effective as a pass rusher from the edge. He earned a pressure on 12 of his 56 opportunities to rush the quarterback: a rate of 21.4%. For reference, 2020 edge-pressure leaders Shaquil Barrett and T.J. Watt had rates around 15%.
It’s obviously a very small sample size — and the lack of opportunities he had in those games could indicate something — but Charlton passed the eye test. In those pass-rushing reps, he exploded around the edge and showed a lot of natural bending ability. At times, you could almost be convinced he had the purest pass-rushing talent of any of the team’s edge players.
If he can expand that rate over an entire season in 2021, it could be a real plus for a Chiefs front four that needs to get more pressure on the quarterback.
Mahomes earned an 85.4 passer rating when targeting Clyde Edwards-Helaire
This statistic points to Edwards-Helaire’s ineffectiveness as a receiver during his first NFL season. Even though he ended the season (playoffs included) with 39 catches, 320 yards and a score, he wasn’t as efficient in his production as past Chiefs running backs.
In 2019, Mahomes’ passer rating when targeting running back Damien Williams was 116.9 on 41 receptions. LeSean McCoy’s was 100.7 on 28 catches. In 2018, Kareem Hunt's targets produced a 154 passer rating on 26 catches — and Damien Williams turned 33 receptions into a 129.3 rating.
When Edwards-Helaire wasn’t schemed into the passing game as much as many thought he would be, it was noticeable. Most of his receptions seemed to come from dump-off plays rather than designed routes. He only saw six targets in the screen game; none of the other backs I mentioned had fewer than 10 screen targets.
One way the Chiefs’ offense can be taken to new heights? The second-year back becoming a more significant part of the passing game.
In the regular season, the Chiefs’ defense had the league’s second-fewest tackles for loss
They were one of only two teams below a rate of three tackles for loss per game.
This stat backs up what most Chiefs fans have thought about the second level of the defense over the last few years: they aren’t as aggressive in attacking downfield as they need to be. But it also points to the defensive line not being stout and disciplined on the line of scrimmage. If defensive tackles can’t absorb run blocks — as they must sometimes do — offensive linemen can reach the defense’s second level, blocking linebackers ahead of the play.
All of that said, I still believe that more than anything, the statistic points to linebackers. The second level needs more rangy, explosive athletes who can get into the backfield quickly — or beat an outside run to the edge and stop it there. With its draft selections of Nick Bolton and Willie Gay Jr. over the last two years, the team acknowledges this problem. The athleticism they display should eventually improve the defense’s ability to make stops behind the line.