With one game left to play ahead of the 2020 postseason, the Kansas City Chiefs, who secured a franchise-record 14th regular season win on Sunday, are having one of their most dominant seasons on paper.
However, a new column from Washington Post sports reporter Neil Greenberg on Monday paints a much gloomier picture for the defending Super Bowl champions as they continue their quest to run it back for the second time in as many years.
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Defensive Relapses at the Heart of Chiefs’ Red Flags
The story, which analyzes a few different advanced statistics to paint a more accurate picture of Kansas City’s season to date, suggests that the Chiefs have been “luckier than normal” due to a higher difference between the team’s actual and expected win rates, with the team’s current 452-324 scoring differential also pointing to a what-should-be 10-5 record instead of its current NFL-best 14-1 mark.
With the Chiefs leading all offenses in total yards per game by a nearly 30-yard margin, Patrick Mahomes and company are the obvious engine propelling the league’s Super Bowl favorite. But it’s the defensive side of the ball that is of most concern to Greenberg:
Kansas City’s defensive line stops opposing rushers at or behind the line of scrimmage 12 percent of the time, the second-worst mark this year behind the New England Patriots. They are also allowing a 68 percent conversion rate on third down via rushing plays. Only the Detroit Lions are worse this season. Last year the Chiefs allowed a 52 percent conversion rate, much closer to the league average of 49 percent.
The Chiefs have allowed opponents to score a touchdown a league-high 78 percent of the time in the red zone this season. Since 2002, no Super Bowl winner has ended the regular season with an opponent red-zone efficiency higher than 60 percent. Kansas City has the third-worst stop rate in goal-to-go situations, as well, with opponents earning six points 89 percent of the time in 2020. For comparison, the team had a red-zone efficiency of 51 percent last season (ninth-best) and allowed a touchdown in goal-to-go situations just 62 percent of the time (seventh-best).
Despite the Chiefs defense being low-hanging fruit for criticism compared to its historic offense, Steve Spagnuolo’s unit has held nine of its 15 opponents to 20 points or fewer this year and the sixth-fewest points allowed (324) of any team overall. Though according to the data, Kansas City is surrendering more than an extra touchdown compared to expectations from in-game scenarios since Week 9 — the start of the team’s current record streak of seven consecutive single-digit wins.
And unlike last year, when the Chiefs defense improved in the second half of the season, this year’s squad is getting worse as the season continues. For example, Kansas City’s defense cost the team 2.5 points per game during the first half of 2019. During the second half of 2019, the defense saved 2.6 points per game. This year, the unit saved 2.1 points per game in the first half but in the second half it’s allowed 7.6 more points per game than expected based on the down, distance and field position of each opposing play.
While trending in the wrong direction since the season’s midway point, the defense was a primary reason behind Sunday’s win despite missing both veteran starting linebackers.
Andy Reid Will Rest Some Starters in Week 17
With the Los Angeles Chargers coming to town for a January 3 season finale and nothing significant left to play for, much of the attention in recent days has turned to whether head coach Andy Reid will elect to rest his starters on Sunday. After sidestepping the question during his December 23 press conference, Reid was asked again during his first media appearance of Week 17.
“In the past I’ve been ok with it, right,” Reid told reporters on Monday. “The way we’ve gone about it, the way we’ve practiced, in between that dead period there – the bye week period – so I feel comfortable if needed here to rest guys which I’m leaning in that direction then I’m confident that we can do it the right way and I’m not worried about that. Getting guys freshened up, I think can be a positive for you, so these guys aren’t going to forget the plays. We got a number of plays on both sides of the ball there. They won’t forget how to play. I think in some cases, a little bit of rest helps out.”
Andy Reid confirms some of the key starters won't play Sunday against Chargers. "Certain guys will have the opportunity to rest up,'' he said.
— Adam Teicher (@adamteicher) December 28, 2020
Without mentioning any names outside of saying backup QB Chad Henne is expected to see playing time at some point against the rival Chargers, the veteran coach tipped his hand pretty early in the week. One player who is a pretty safe bet to rest though is injured WR Sammy Watkins, as confirmed by NFL Network’s Ian Rapoport on Monday.
#Chiefs WR Sammy Watkins suffered a calf injury yesterday, but the belief is he did not suffer a major injury, source said. He’ll likely rest next week, then have the bye. Good chance he’s back by that point.
— Ian Rapoport (@RapSheet) December 28, 2020
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Chris Licata is an NFL contributor covering the Kansas City Chiefs from enemy territory in Denver, Colorado. Follow him on Twitter @Chris__Licata or join the Heavy on Chiefs Facebook community for the latest out of Chiefs Kingdom!