During the time I have been watching the Kansas City Chiefs at a deeper level, I have always looked for statistical trends. I love looking at where the Chiefs rank in statistical categories — and then compare that to what successful NFL teams have previously done. Depending on the metric, it can help us can draw conclusions about how Kansas City is doing in certain areas of the game.
I love looking at third downs — especially in the modern NFL. It’s my favorite bucket of plays because it eliminates most schematic factors; defenses are more likely to play tight man coverage, while offenses are more limited to true dropback scenarios. So third down represents a personnel battle rather than a schematic one; while system players can win on first and second down, it takes truly elite players to win on third down.
So I decided to see how the Chiefs have been doing on third down in 2022 — and some of the numbers are staggering. Let me show you why these numbers make the team a true contender this season.
Over the last few years, reading Arrowhead Pride film reviews inspired me to keep track of success rate statistics. I like to see what they are on both sides of the ball — and break them down by quarter and down and by down-and-distance.
Here’s how success rate is determined in different situations. Penalties are not included.
- On first down: the play gains at least 50% of the yards required to convert
- On second down: the play gains 70% of the yards required to convert
- On third and fourth down: the play gains 100% of the yards required to convert
Here’s how that looks for Kansas City in 2022.
|Q2 2 Min||175||6.5||40.74%|
|Q4 2 Min||36||4.5||37.50%|
|1st and 10+||44||5.5||37.50%|
|1st and 10||1089||6.2||43.75%|
|1st and 6-9||23||3.8||33.33%|
|1st and 5-less||12||0.8||62.50%|
|2nd and 12+||111||10.1||45.45%|
|2nd and 8-11||437||7.0||48.39%|
|2nd and 7-4||265||5.8||54.35%|
|2nd and 3-1||78||2.5||51.61%|
|3rd and 12+||126||14.0||33.33%|
|3rd and 8-11||294||16.3||61.11%|
|3rd and 7-4||223||8.9||48.00%|
|3rd and 3-1||114||4.4||57.69%|
|4th and 12+||0||0.0||0.00%|
|4th and 8-11||0||0.0||0.00%|
|4th and 7-4||0||0.0||0.00%|
|4th and 3-1||12||3.0||75.00%|
After seven games, the one area that stands out is third down. On offense, the Chiefs are averaging 9.7 yards per play on third down — with a 52.6% success rate that is second only to the Cincinnati Bengals. In EPA (expected points added) per play, Kansas City leads the league on third down.
The Chiefs are very efficient on third down with between four and seven yards to go. There, the team has been averaging 8.9 yards per play — with a 48% success rate.
But what’s even more jarring is what Kansas City has done when even more yardage has been required. On 18 third downs at distances between eight and 11 yards, the Chiefs have converted 61.1% of their attempts. While that — by itself — is an insane figure, the Chiefs have also been averaging an astonishing 16.1 yards per attempt in these situations.
It’s just not normal for a team to be more efficient on longer third downs — but the Chiefs’ offense breaks math.
3rd & 7+ conversion percentage in 2022:— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) October 11, 2022
1) Chiefs: 52% (!)
2) Bills: 48.1% (!)
3) Dolphins: 38.5%
NFL Average: 24.5%
30) Panthers: 12.5%
31) Rams: 10.3%
32) Broncos: 9.8%
the league average through Week 5 since 2012 is 26.4%.— Nate Tice (@Nate_Tice) October 11, 2022
only five offenses have converted on 48%+ of their 3rd & 7+ attempts through the first 5 weeks of a season since '12:
1) '20 Bills: 55.6%
2) '13 Broncos: 53.8%
3) '22 Chiefs
4) '12 Steelers: 48.3% (4 games)
5) '22 Bills
Then I decided to look at the third-down EPA and success rate numbers for teams that made a conference championship game in each of the last 10 years. I chose this criterion because if a team makes it to a conference championship game, you can reasonably say it was a Super Bowl-caliber team in that season.
Here are the offensive numbers for those teams.
Over the last 10 years, 38% of teams that made conference championship games were ranked in the top 5 for offensive EPA on third down. If we expand that to the top 10, 70% of teams fit the criteria. We see similar results with success rate, with 45% of teams ranking in the top 5 and 60% in the top 10.
Over the last decade, 14 championship-game offenses have been top 5 in both EPA and success rate. Seven of those teams made the Super Bowl — including four winners (the 2016 New England Patriots, 2017 Philadelphia Eagles, 2019 Chiefs and 2020 Tampa Bay Buccaneers). With the Chiefs ranked currently ranked first in EPA and third in success rate, they’re well set up to make another Super Bowl.
Here are the 2022 numbers for the Kansas City defense.
|Q2 2 Min||162||4.2||69.23%|
|Q4 2 Min||179||5.3||55.88%|
|1st and 10+||56||5.6||60.00%|
|1st and 10||1011||5.6||54.19%|
|1st and 6-9||2||1.0||100.00%|
|1st and 5-less||8||0.9||66.67%|
|2nd and 12+||114||7.1||62.50%|
|2nd and 8-11||393||6.7||42.37%|
|2nd and 7-4||288||6.9||47.62%|
|2nd and 3-1||191||5.5||40.00%|
|3rd and 12+||74||6.7||90.91%|
|3rd and 8-11||79||5.6||50.00%|
|3rd and 7-4||90||3.3||70.37%|
|3rd and 3-1||125||3.4||40.54%|
|4th and 12+||0||0.0||0.00%|
|4th and 8-11||0||0.0||0.00%|
|4th and 7-4||13||6.5||0.00%|
|4th and 3-1||114||8.1||53.85%|
So it’s not just the Chiefs' offense that is playing well on third down. Kansas City has been successful on 57.3% of its defensive third downs, which ranks 12th in the league. The team is also 10th in third-down defensive EPA per play at -0.098. (In defensive EPA, negative numbers are better than positive numbers). While the defense hasn’t reached the same lofty heights as the team’s offense, the third-down defense has nonetheless been good this year.
This aligns with what prior defenses under coordinator Steve Spagnuolo. Since 2019, the Chiefs’ defense has ranked 12th, 11th, 12th — and now 10th — in third-down EPA. In defensive success rate, Kansas City ranked 15th, 15th, 10th — and now 12th. While the defense hasn’t been a top-tier unit on third down, it has consistently performed above average.
Similar to the Chiefs’ offense, the Kansas City defense has also been great on third down with between four and seven yards to go. On 27 such downs, the Chiefs have surrendered only 3.3 yards per attempt, with an outstanding 70.4% success rate.
Considering some of the injuries the Chiefs have had in their secondary, those numbers are remarkable.
Here’s how Super Bowl-caliber defenses have performed on third down during the last decade.
Using the same criteria, 42.5% of all teams had a top-10 defensive EPA on third-down, while 47.5% were within the top 10. Here, the Kansas City defense is only slightly out of range.
14 championship-game defenses have ranked in the top 10 in both third-down EPA and success rate. Seven have made Super Bowls, including four winners (the 2012 Baltimore Ravens, 2015 Denver Broncos, 2016 Patriots and 2017 Eagles).
10 teams have been top 10 in third-down EPA on both offense and defense. Four have made Super Bowls, but only two have ended up winning it (the 2016 Patriots and 2017 Eagles). Using third-down success rate, nine teams have ranked top 10 in both offense and defense. Four of those made the Super Bowl. Those same two Patriots and Eagles teams won it.
While the Chiefs are slightly out of the top 10 on defense, some defensive improvements and better health could give the team a good chance to crack the top tier by the end of the season. If Kansas City can do that, it will be in even better shape for another Super Bowl.
The bottom line
Examining third-down stats allow us to remove some of the schematic crutches that coaches can present, helping us see which teams have better personnel. The differences between the good and great offenses come down to third down. On defense, the trends are similar: the best ones are able to get off the field on third down.
To begin the season, the Chiefs have been successful in both offensive and defensive third-down situations. In third-down offense, Kansas City is in historical territory. Having Patrick Mahomes will tend to help your third-down stats — but this season, he’s been at another level, posting a .698 EPA per dropback on third down. By far, that’s the best in the NFL.
It’s not just the offense, though. The defense once again is approaching the top 10 in EPA and success rate on third down. There are issues with Spagnuolo’s scheme, but it’s still been good on third down every season. Once some defensive players return from injury after the bye, there’s even a chance those numbers could improve.
Statistically, Kansas City is set up well to make another championship game. After that, the matchups will likely determine how the season will end. Still, statistical indications show the Chiefs have a great chance at making another deep postseason run.