The Kansas City Chiefs had one of their best defensive performances on Sunday against the Cardinals, but is the unit really improving?
The Kansas City Chiefs moved to 9-1 on the season on Sunday as they defeated the Arizona Cardinals 26-14 in Arrowhead Stadium. It was easily one of the best defensive performances the Chiefs have had this season as they held the Cardinals to just 14 points and 260 total yards of offense.
If you look at the defensive numbers from the past four games, the numbers certainly are much better than the first six games of the season. With the record-setting Patrick Mahomes at quarterback and one of the most explosive offenses in all of the NFL, the Chiefs really just need an average defense. So the question that Chiefs fans now have to ponder is: has the defense really improved?
The last 4 weeks
First off, let’s look at just how much better the numbers have been over the past four weeks. Below is how many points per game, yards per game, and yards per play the defense allowed both over the first six games and the last four games and where those averages would currently rank in the NFL.
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The first six games:
- 28.7 points/game (30th)
- 468.2 yards/game (32nd)
- 6.5 yards/play (tied for 30th)
The last four games:
- 17.0 points/game (2nd)
- 324.5 yards/game (7th)
- 5.0 yards/play (tied for 2nd)
So it is not hyperbole to say that the Chiefs defensive numbers the first six games were worthy of being called one of if not the worst defense in the NFL and their numbers the past four games are worthy of being called one of the best in the NFL.
The quality of K.C.’s opponents
Now, I am certainly not sitting here and telling you that the Chiefs defense has transformed into one of the premiere defenses in all the league. I think the eye test tells us that much. Clearly the caliber of offenses that KC has faced over that stretch has played a key role in their defensive success. So I thought it would be interesting to see the season averages for their opponents in those same three areas.
Offensive season averages of K.C.’s first six opponents:
Offensive season averages of K.C.’s past four opponents:
Clear, the offenses the Chiefs have faced the past four weeks are less prolific than those they faced to start the season. It backs up the assumption that at least part of the Chiefs’ recent defensive success is due to playing less talented offenses.
Still looks promising
However, if you look at how K.C.’s defense performed compared to the averages, you do see some promising trends. In their first six games, the Chiefs allowed significantly more points, yards, and yards per play than those teams are averaging on the season. The opposite is true over the past four games. Even though they were facing worse offensive teams, the Chiefs defense did at least hold them below their season averages.
The fact that K.C.’s defense has gone from allowing significantly more points and yards than teams have averaged over the course of the season to now allowing less is a sign that there is actual improvement as opposed to just inferior competition.
The real test will come next week when the Chiefs go toe to toe with the Los Angeles Rams in Mexico. The Rams boast one of the best offenses in all of the NFL. Thus far, three of the worst defensive performances that K.C. has had have come against the three best quarterbacks that they have faced in Philip Rivers, Ben Roethlisberger, and Tom Brady. Those three quarterbacks averaged 36 points per game against the Chiefs. When you look at Jared Goff‘s numbers this season they are right there with those of the three quarterbacks I just listed and much better than the numbers of Andy Dalton, Case Keenum, Baker Mayfield, and Josh Rosen, against whom the Chiefs have had their recent defensive success.
So has the Chiefs defense really improved? Well, their numbers certainly have and some of those numbers point towards some of that improvement being legitimate and not just about the opponents. However, before we start talking about this defense really being dependable enough to help win playoff games, they need to get the job done against a high powered offense like that of the Rams.
If they do that, I think Chiefs fans can start to believe in this defense. If they allow 40 points and give up 500 yards next week, then it will certainly be reasonable for fans to ask if any of this recent defensive success was actually K.C.’s doing. So basically, this defense has a lot to prove next week in Mexico.
If Chiefs fans want to hold out hope that the improvement is legit, it may be the pass rush that could prove them right. Dee Ford and Chris Jones have combined for 10 sacks over the past four games after combining for 6 in their first six games. They are both amongst the league leaders at their positions in both sacks and total pressures. You combine that with Justin Houston‘s return this past week where he showed some signs of life both in pressuring the quarterback and coming up with a nice interception on a screen pass, and you could have the makings of a front seven that can get after the quarterback, regardless of who they are facing.
In fact, the Chiefs are now tied for first in the NFL in team sacks (although they have played one more game than the other teams they are tied with). That will come in very handy for the Chiefs since they typically put up a lot of points and force their opponent into having to pass to keep up. So if the Chiefs can score on the Rams and then get pressure on Jared Goff next week the defense may just have a chance to prove themselves as clearly improved from the beginning of the season.
That is, if they don’t allow Todd Gurley to run wild on them, but that’s a topic for another post.