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4 Chiefs’ statistical trends of note from 2022

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NFL: Los Angeles Rams at Kansas City Chiefs Denny Medley-USA TODAY Sports

Learnig much from the Kansas City Chiefs-Los Angeles Rams game film was always going to be a difficult task.

The Rams were too injured and basically played with a practice squad for an offense. While their defense was competitive, Chiefs head coach Andy Reid wasn’t going to put too much on tape when all he needed was 20 points to win the game. In the grand scheme of this season, this contest will be a mere footnote on what the Chiefs actually accomplish.

So this week, we are diving into some statistical trends for the Chiefs this season — and how they might inform us about what they’ve accomplished so far while also potentially looking forward to what will be important in the playoffs.

Here are four statistical trends from this season:

1. Is this Travis Kelce’s apex?

Travis Kelce has been unbelievable this season. Kelce currently ranks sixth in receiving yards and first in touchdowns for all receivers in the NFL. Even at age 33, Kelce continues to be the best tight end in the sport, and the gap between him and the second-best tight end (likely Mark Andrews or George Kittle when he is healthy) seems to grow every week.

To me, it’s not interesting to discuss whether Kelce is the best tight end in the league — historically or currently — but instead, whether this is Kelce’s best season to date.

Throughout a 16-game season (to keep it consistent with his other seasons), Kelce is on pace for 148 targets (most since 2018), 107 catches (career high) and his third-highest receiving output at 1,327. What’s staggering about this version of Kelce is his touchdown output. Kelce already has passed his single-season record for touchdowns at 12 and is on pace for 19 touchdowns. Touchdowns tend to decline with older ages, but Kelce is setting records in his 10th season.

The tight end has already caught 15 catches of 20-plus yards, which ranks sixth in the NFL. If he keeps up the pace he’s on, Kelce will finish just one catch behind his personal record for 20-plus yard catches at 22 (23 in 2020). Kelce’s on pace to generate 81 first downs, the most of his career.

The counting stats look great, but his advanced numbers have been off the charts this year. Kelce’s averaging 5.8 yards after the catch, the second-highest of his career. His average depth of target is his lowest at 7.1, but he is still generating explosive plays at his age. He’s already broken more tackles this year than he ever has over an entire season. Kelce’s targets are also generating the highest passer rating at a staggering 130.0 passer rating per target.

It’s going to be challenging for any season to beat what Kelce did in 2020, but it’s also challenging to argue 2022 isn’t his best season. When you add in the fact that wide receiver Tyreek Hill is off this roster and Kelce is everyone’s No. 1 threat, the fact he’s having this season is marveling.

There’s still some time left this year, but I feel comfortable saying this is Kelce’s apex.

2. Chiefs’ passing with heavier personnel

One of the themes of this season has been the Chiefs' usage of heavier personnel on offense. When the Chiefs traded Hill, the Chiefs pushed their offense to be less spread-oriented and more focused on putting more tight ends on the field. That shift has been reflected in the numbers.

The Chiefs have already used 75 snaps of 13 personnel (three tight ends and one running back) this year, which is around 10% of their snaps. This doubles the frequency from last year. Their 12 personnel (two tight ends and one running back) has seen an uptick in frequency this year at 27%, the highest since 2019. The Chiefs are using 11 personnel (one tight end and one running back) on only 57% of their snaps, the lowest since quarterback Patrick Mahomes has started.

When you use heavier personnel, that generally means less passing, but the Chiefs don’t follow that tendency. Their 13-personnel pass rate is 59%, and their 12-personnel pass rate is 64%. For comparison, the 2021 Las Vegas Raiders had a 49% pass rate out of 13 personnel, which was the highest in football. The 2021 Cleveland Browns had the highest 13 personnel rate in the NFL at 17% but passed only 36% of the time.

This number remains consistent with 12 personnel. Only the 2021 Atlanta Falcons had a higher passing frequency than the 2022 Chiefs out of 12 personnel. The Falcons had a pass rate of 65% out of 12 personnel, while also using it 27% of the time.

What the Chiefs are doing with heavier personnel isn’t normal for the league. They’re passing out of heavier personnel but to great success. They’re averaging .13 expected points added (EPA) per play in 12 personnel, and a staggering .36 EPA per play in 13 personnel. For reference, the Chiefs' offense averages .196 EPA per play, the best in the NFL.

The Chiefs are forcing teams to put heavier bodies on the field to match personnel, and have shredded teams through the air when they do that.

3. It’s the best third-down defense in Steve Spagnuolo’s tenure

Since Steve Spagnuolo has taken over as defensive coordinator in 2019, his defenses have always been good on third down. It has been above league-average in EPA, success rate, dropback success rate and dropback EPA every year since 2019. It has ranked around the top 10 in every category, including four straight years in the top 10 of dropback EPA (including this year). Spagnuolo’s defenses have had some struggles on early downs, but in high-leverage situations, they have consistently performed.

This year, the Chiefs’ defense has performed the best on third downs in the Spagnuolo era. They’re allowing -.162 EPA per play and -.150 EPA per dropback on third downs, the best since being in Kansas City. This is also his best success rate on third downs at 42.0%, and his second-best dropback success rate at 38.9%. In every major statistical category, this defense is performing better on third downs than any other Spagnuolo-led defense with the Chiefs.

The Chiefs are allowing a stingy 3.7 yards per play on third downs, and when you combine that with their advanced stats, they’re performing well on the most important downs. When you face Joe Burrow, Josh Allen and all the great quarterbacks in the AFC, winning on third down is important.

That aligns well with the strength of this defense and should propel them to success for the playoffs.

4. Converting pressures to sacks

Going into the season, there was an emphasis from the Chiefs on getting more sacks. The Chiefs have always done well at generating pressure and getting quarterback knockdowns (top 10 in quarterback knockdowns every year in Steve Spagnuolo’s tenure), but they’ve had trouble getting sacks. The Chiefs ranked 11th, 19th and 29th in the first three years of Spagnuolo’s leadership, so they felt the need to get more sacks.

This season, that goal has been overachieved. The Chiefs already have 35 sacks, which is more than either of their last two years. They’re currently fifth in sacks, the highest since they led the league in sacks in 2018. Their pressure rate is only 23.7% — still fifth in the NFL but lowest since 2019 — but they’re doing a better job of generating negative plays off that pressure.

There’s been plenty of awesome debates about whether pressures or sacks are a better way of measuring how a quarterback is affected in the pocket, but I would argue the 2021 Chiefs are a prime example of why finishing pressures into sacks is such an important ability.

The Chiefs generated a lot of pressure last year, but when they needed sacks in the AFC championship game, they couldn’t finish the job. They had a goal of making sure that doesn’t happen again — and so far, they’ve succeeded.

The bottom line

When you’re one of the best teams in the NFL, you’re bound to have good stats — on both sides of the ball. The 2022 Kansas City Chiefs have put up great stats so far, and it reflects in their performance on the field.

The offense has put up staggering numbers this year, but they’re doing it in different ways. They’re leaning on their tight ends — particularly Kelce — more than they ever have. Instead of trying to replace Hill with more receivers, they’ve leaned into heavier personnel to compensate for his loss — and to great success.

Defensively, the Chiefs are doing a great job getting pressure and on third downs. They put a massive emphasis on getting off the field this offseason, and it’s paying off. Even with a lower pressure rate, the increase in negative plays has helped the defense.

Overall, the Chiefs are in great shape as they head toward the stretch run. If these stats continue, they should be viewed as heavy favorites to win the Super Bowl.

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