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Digging into whether the Chiefs actually struggle against running quarterbacks

Let’s dive deeper into the narrative that the Chiefs defense struggles against rushing quarterbacks.


We’ve all heard the narrative before.

“Well, we know the Kansas City Chiefs really struggle with a mobile quarterback.”

The narrative has been repeated so many times that it’s worth wondering if this is the truth, especially with the prevalence of the mobile quarterback in the game of modern football.

To better understand this claim, I decided to do a deeper dive into the data to see if there was any correlation between the two:

What qualifies as a “running QB?”

The NFL is full of quarterbacks who can scramble and punish defenses with their legs. In fact, the true pocket passer is becoming a rarity in the game today. But in this activity, I wanted to really separate “mobile” and “running” quarterbacks.

While several quarterbacks are right on the threshold of being more than “mobile,” there’s a clear line of demarcation. For this data set, I focused on quarterbacks who have had 400 or more rush yards in their last three seasons. Some of the notable players this excluded are Justin Herbert, Dak Prescott, Derek Carr, Aaron Rodgers and Tua Tagovailoa. Additionally, this data is set for the Chiefs defense from 2019 and on to measure specifically Steve Spagnuolo’s defenses.

For this activity, the quarterbacks that qualified were:

  • Josh Allen ( 4 games)
  • Lamar Jackson (3 games)
  • Deshaun Watson (3 games)
  • Kyler Murray
  • Daniel Jones
  • Jalen Hurts

One observation to make right away is the quality of quarterbacks that are in that list and the number of games they’ve played. Seven combined games of Josh Allen and Lamar Jackson will influence any defensive metric. Even Kyler Murray and Jalen Hurts have been MVP-caliber players at certain points in their careers.

So there’s no shame in a defense struggling against this group of players. I had considered lowering the rushing total threshold for this activity, but that doubled the amount of players for the data set. Additionally, we are digging into quarterbacks who can win a game with their legs — true game-changing rushers, not just mobile “move the sticks” types of passers.

The results

There’s good news and there’s bad news: the good news is the Chiefs, on average, hold rushing quarterbacks to just 58.6 yards rushing per game. The level of athlete we are focused on shows that Steve Spagnuolo prioritizes keeping these quarterbacks in the pocket. In the case of a lesser player, such as Daniel Jones, that is a great strategy. Force them to throw the ball to beat you.

Unliked players like Jones, Allen, Watson and Jackson are capable of winning a game with their arm alone. The attention given to their running certainly impacts the passing game as well.

The bad news? The Chiefs essentially turn every running quarterback into a good passer as a thrower. As a passer, rushing quarterbacks average 238 passing yards, three total touchdowns (rushing and passing) and half an interception. That’s a passer rating of 92.3 (158.3 scale) and a 61.3 QBR rating (100 scale).

In other words, the Chiefs' defense turns opposing quarterbacks into a quality quarterback when faced with the threat of rushing. Some of the notable numbers here are the yards, which are reasonably low for a quarterback in 2022 — and the passer rating, which is about league average. Since I decided to tally rushing and passing touchdowns together, it’s clear that the red zone is an area where rushing quarterbacks have an advantage against defenses.

The bottom line

If there is something else positive about this data, it’s that the Chiefs seem to do what they always do: win. Despite the lofty passing numbers, the Chiefs are 10-3 in these games, with the three losses coming against the three best quarterbacks (Allen, Jackson and Watson).

While there certainly is a correlation between the defense’s struggles with running quarterbacks, it’s good to know that this typically occurs through the air rather than on the ground.

The hopeful return of Trent McDuffie could assist the Chiefs' defense against the electric Allen. Another good piece of news for the Chiefs is that this will be their last quarterback with that type of running capability that they face in the regular season.

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