By the time the 2023 season kicks off in early September, nearly everything about last year will have faded from the memories of players, coaches and fans. Everyone will be looking forward, touting their team’s strengths while embellishing any lacking features.
That’s why I’ll use numbers to keep fans of the Kansas City Chiefs honest. Statistics can tell the story of the sport; the positive ones can be built around, while the negative ones have to be addressed in some capacity.
I went back through the 2022 regular season to find four notable stats, and added how they relate to the current team. I started on the defensive side of the ball:
The obvious stat to recall is the Chiefs’ sack total: 55, the second-most in the NFL and the most in a season since defensive coordinator Steve Spagnuolo took over the unit. Yet, I want to point out the high pressure rate, because it is more indicative of continued success as a pass-rush unit than a sack total is.
When defensive tackle Chris Jones wasn’t securing one of his 15.5 sacks, the Chiefs found a variety of ways to make quarterbacks uncomfortable. The defensive line’s creative alignments on pass downs created opportunities for defensive ends George Karlaftis and Mike Danna to rack up 11 sacks combined; all six of Karlaftis’ came in the last seven weeks of the schedule.
The frontline was aided by an aggressive, but effective blitz scheme: it accounted for 18 of the team’s 55 sacks. Safety Justin Reid finished with the second-most blitz attempts by a safety in the league, but he still wasn’t used as much as his teammate in the back end.
The second-most blitzes by a cornerback was 30. It may not be a shocking statistic, but it’s one that represents a bigger point about Sneed’s role with the team. He has been the team’s primary slot defender since his rookie year, which has given him a quicker route to make plays at the line of scrimmage and in the back field.
Towards the end of the 2022 season, the Chiefs began keeping Sneed as an outside cornerback at times, allowing Trent McDuffie to step into the slot. McDuffie’s true coverage ability is what made him a first-round talent, and that can be more important to have in the slot depending on the matchup.
If McDuffie continues to eat into Sneed’s slot snaps, it naturally limits how often Sneed can be blitzed or used as a force defender. If that’s the case, these numbers may be lower in 2022.
I don’t have league rankings in this statistic, but I can tell you that giving up nearly five yards per handoff on an obvious run down is not good.
This was prevalent throughout the season. The lack of beef in the Chiefs’ interior defensive line caused a domino effect on inside handoffs. Defensive tackle Derrick Nnadi would lose ground, which blocked up the paths of linebackers Nick Bolton and Willie Gay Jr., which allowed ball carriers to gather momentum and hit the second and third levels of a defense at full speed.
To help improve on this number, the Chiefs drafted Texas defensive tackle Keondre Coburn in the sixth round. It was their only attempt at improving the nose tackle spot. He, Nnadi, and veteran defensive tackle Danny Shelton are the three primary hopes for stouter run defense.
When opposing offenses crept inside the 20-yard line, the Chiefs’ defense became a much lesser version of themselves. Creative blitzes can more easily be countered with a quick throw, and the youth of the secondary was not as easily hidden.
That’s an area I would expect to see significant improvement in for 2023. We’ve talked all offseason about the defensive backfield having a year together under their belt now, and that should translate to scenarios like the red zone. Communication and instinct are vital when the space is that condensed, and both of those skills should come easier now.
I also believe an addition like linebacker Drue Tranquill could be a difference maker here. The Chiefs have their run stuffer in Bolton, but Tranquill’s experience and athleticism could be important on these crucial downs.