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Is the Chiefs’ defense likely to improve its 2021 sack totals?

On the latest ‘Out of Structure’ podcast, we discussed how much more we can expect from the Kansas City pass rush.

Dallas Cowboys v Kansas City Chiefs Photo by David Eulitt/Getty Images

We’re inching closer and closer to Kansas City Chiefs training camp in St. Joseph, Missouri. Players begin reporting on Friday, July 22, with public practice sessions beginning on Thursday, July 28. To fill some of the time that remains, Matt Stagner and I are answering the questions you submit on Twitter for the Arrowhead Pride Mailbag.

(Listen to the podcast above or by clicking here. It is also available on Spotify).

One of the questions on this week’s episode centered around the defense and its ability to get after the quarterback. Simply put: can 2022’s Kansas City defense collect more sacks than it did in 2021?

The facts

Last season, the Chiefs ended the regular season with 31 sacks — the fourth-fewest of all NFL teams. However, according to Pro Football Reference, they finished with the fifth-highest pressure rate by creating pressure on 26.4% of their snaps. They also knocked down the quarterback on 9.7% of opposing pass attempts, which was the league’s eighth-highest rate.

Defensive lineman Chris Jones led the team with nine sacks, while defensive end Frank Clark finished second with 4.5. No other player had more than three.

Jones was primarily a defensive end for the first six games of his season, playing only 17% of his total snaps from the interior. But from Week 9 on, Jones lined up as a defensive tackle for 63% of his snaps. Six of his nine sacks came after the transition, while a similar percentage (nearly 65%) of the team’s regular-season sacks also happened after Week 9.

The logic

The discrepancy between the sack total and the pressure numbers is a reminder about how volatile sack production can be. There are many factors that can prevent a pressure from becoming a sack, ranging from facing a quarterback who deals well with pressure to a simple missed tackle by the pass rusher.

Unfortunately, we all remember the AFC Championship, when Cincinnati Bengals quarterback Joe Burrow slipped through Jones’ fingers. That wasn’t the only time last season that a Kansas City defender didn’t finish a sack — and this season, that sounds like a point of emphasis.

Overall, there should be some positive regression for the Chiefs’ sack numers. A team’s pressure rate is more indicative of what to expect from that team’s pass rush on a year-to-year basis. They were one of the league’s best at creating pressure, so it’s fair to project that more of those will turn into sacks in 2022 — but how many?

The bottom line

Last season, the Chiefs’ 31 sacks represented quite a drop-off from the league’s top shelf. To crack the top 10, the team would have needed 43. Are the Chiefs going to notch 12 more sacks based on the law of averages and a few more finished tackles? Probably not.

Besides... the Chiefs may not have improved the unit’s talent as much as they would have preferred. The selection of George Karlaftis just fills the hole made when veteran defensive end Melvin Ingram left — while the only addition was former Indianapolis Colts’ defensive tackle Taylor Stallworth.

I believe Jones’ impact as an interior rusher for an entire season will help boost the team’s sack numbers — but generally, the Chiefs’ pass rush may become more productive. It’s hard to see them being productive enough to finish in the top half of the league. If that happens, it will likely be because individuals like Clark and Karlaftis played much better than we expected.

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